As I arrived at the entrance of the Pench Tree Lodge (Pungdundee Safari), I was pleasantly surprised. There were more trees than construction around me. There was a huge Mahua tree right behind the reception. In the hot month of June water bowls were kept for birds at various places. The entrance gate is lightly constructed. Other than the reception there is a dining hall and then there are 6 tree houses. Other than that there is Jungle around. I loved the setting from the word go. It was so light on construction and big on trees!
To reach Pench, I landed at Nagpur Airport and then it was a road transfer of 3 hours to Madhya Pradesh. Seoni, spelled Seeonee in Jungle Book is in Pench.
After lunch, we started for Sukhtara Village as it was the day of the local haat (market). We were probably the only tourists around the whole haat, it was a lot of fun!
We did birding all the way to Sukhtara and back. It was possible because there hardly any traffic on the road!
Our tree house was built next to a Mahua tree, the branches came right into the veranda. Squirrels and birds were fond of the tree too. The tree house was comfortable.
It had twin bed, I was sharing the room with fellow blogger Neelima Vallangi. The bathroom was large and comfortable. The best part of the tree house was if we raised the curtains the Jungle came closer to our room! It is prohibited to bring eating items in the tree house as it attracts rodents and you would not like to share the room with them. Similarly one should not leave the doors open or monkeys and other creatures would come in.
The food at the Pench Tree Lodge is excellent. I enjoyed all my breakfasts. They served both Indian and Intercontinental cuisine, however I was partial to the Indian cuisine. I will remember the local drink made of Mahua for a long time. I stopped at one, which is all I could handle of the hot stuff! The staff at Pench Tree lodge was courteous. I particularly remember Mukundi and Negi ji for feeding us with care. As we were in the Jungle the Airtel net connection was not too good. I would not mind it at all but I had some work which could not wait. Make sure you do not end up in the same position as me.
However, the star of the show were the safaris to the Pench National Park. We did an evening Safari and a morning Safari and it rained tigers! In the evening we spotted the collarwali tigress with her cub! I was ecstatic as this was my second sighting of her! Little did we know that the morning would be even better!
We were birding mostly thinking that our tiger quota was exhausted the day before! We came to a spot and realized that there were tigers around. We were the latecomers but then due to some quirk of fate our jeep became the first in the queue, we were directly following Collarwali and her two cubs!
The Forest Office asked us to stop and let others have a view after a while. My then I had anyway watched them to my heart’s content. It was the best tiger sighting of my life at least till date!
I know there is much more to the Jungle than the tigers, like spotting wild dogs. The pack was actually bigger than what I managed to capture.
Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh is stunningly beautiful on its own. With fading light and a peacock it looked dazzling.
As I said, We spotted wild dogs, peacocks, Indian Pita, spotted deer and much more but this time with the Pench Tree Lodge we were extremely lucky with the tigers too!
A big thank you to the Pugdundee Safaris team at the Pench Tree Lodge from my side. It was a truly memorable trip!
— Mridula Dwivedi (@mridulablog) June 16, 2016
Before I close this post, here is a video from the Pench National park’s Collarwali and her cubs!
PS. I was invited by Pugdundee Safari to visit the Pench Tree Lodge.
If you are looking for luxury you are going to love the Taj Safaris lodges. I have now stayed at two of them, Banjar Tola and Bahgvan. They have two more at Panna and Bandhavgarh. Taj Safaris has a tie up African firm &Beyond. Together they create sheer magic. When I visited Banjar Tola I said it and I will say it again after coming back from Baghvan- Taj is beyond luxury. Luxury can be copied but it is the warmth of its employees that completely sets it apart. Both my trips have been on invitation.
Baghvan has 12 cottages. When I asked them if they are identical I was told in features yes but not otherwise as each cottage had to be built according to the space available for it. My cottage (#9) was smack in the middle of trees. In spite of having a beautiful room I spent far too much time outdoors. My cottage (and all other too) had a machan attached to it. It was my favorite haunt.
There was a divan placed in the center of the machan that the good folks at Baghvan can convert into a bed with curtains drawn. I gave it a try on my last night. But as I had an early morning flight from Nagpur I had a wake up call at 2.15 am. I could not settle on the machan and went back to sleep in my cozy room.
As you can see the room was beautifully done. I liked the Ganesha made out of towels. I removed it carefully to a chair. The next morning after I left for the safari, the staff shifted it to the windowsill. I think the only waking hours I spent the room were for drinking tea that came with the morning wake up call! Otherwise as soon as I would have some time I would run to the machan!
Now the bathroom was another story. The luggage area was in the large bathroom. There were two showers, one indoor and another outdoor. A staff from the lodge was comparing it with Banjar Tola and lamenting the fact that they have a bathtub where as Bhagvan doesn’t. I thought it is better to be without a bathtub inside the jungle. I didn’t mind it one bit. I had the outdoor shower. Now I have been lucky to stand beneath a waterfall but it was another kind of fun to stand beneath a shower outdoors with hot water to boot.
To give you a better idea about Baghvan, I captured a video. It is a cell phone video but you can still see how beautiful the place is!
Baghvan by Taj Safaris at Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The only thing I have not mentioned till now is food. Do remember that all the supplies have to be sourced either from far away places like Mumbai or locally. If you like fresh food you would love the stuff they make from their own garden. Both at Baghvan and Banjar Tola they believe in feeding you till you start bursting at seams.
If you are looking for luxury in your jungle lodges look no further than Taj Safaris.
For this one post I am going to turn into a show off and you have to bear with me. You see, I waited across six national parks to sight a tiger/tigress. I have been to Dudhwa, Rajaji National Park, Jim Corbett, Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh before. Initially I was patient. I knew tigers can’t be produced at will. Jim Corbett was a college trip. After the safari one of my students came running and showed me a video footage. I said to him in disbelief that he downloaded it from Youtube. He told me in earnest that he saw the tiger. Then came other students with pictures and videos. They saw it in the same area as we were, where as I did not. That is how lucky I was with tigers, but lions were a different story. The same was the case with Kanha. Others saw it, I did not.
So when I was invited by Taj Safaris to visit their lodge Baghvan at Pench, I did not know what to expect tiger wise. I have been to their Banjar Tola Lodge at Kanha and I was sure what to expect of the lodge. Taj lodges are sheer luxury. If you are willing to pay the price and looking for luxury, look no further. My cottage (and all others) at Pench had an observation deck of its own! It also had an outdoor shower. But more about the lodge in a later post.
I took an evening safari on the day I arrived. It was the usual story, many birds, wild boars, deer but no tigers. In the evening I was cribbing to someone that in all my life I have not seen a single tiger. One of the naturalists told me to be patient and not to expect it. A couple Demmark told me, “So what if you have not seen the tiger, maybe the tiger has seen you.” I replied that after 6 national parks my patience was running thin. I still knew that it could not be produced at will, but I wanted to see one and soon. Little did I know that wish was about to come true.
I had a 5.15 am wake up call for the morning safari. I was really tired that morning. The previous morning I woke up at 3.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Nagpur. Two early mornings in a row do not make me happy. At Taj Safaris they serve you tea in the room before morning safaris. I thought I heard a knock on my door but could not figure it out exactly the first time. The knock persisted. When I got up a young staff member was there with my tea.
All of us, Suraja, Pari, Harsh and I were on time. Ramesh (our naturalist) drove us out. The air was cool and crisp. There was a short wait at the park gate. Motiram ji the park naturalist also joined us. Ramesh casually remarked, “We will try to see the tiger, we are not going to stop for other things unless it is something really special.” We went around for more than an hour without much luck. And then without a warning, it suddenly changed.
No, this was not the first look I got. But I told you I am going to be a show off in this post! As I said before, when I saw it first, I saw its vanishing tail. A jeep full of school children were ahead of us. They had seen the tiger tail and all. They waved their cell phones at us. I told Ramesh that after all I saw the tiger! I was happy just to see its vanishing tail. But he and Motilal ji had other ideas.
Even before the vanishing tail sighting they were excited about the pug marks and the calls they were getting. After the first fleeting sighting they decided to go a little ahead saying she usually crossed from a particular place. I was not hopeful at all. After waiting for a few minutes there was a commotion. Jeeps started coughing to life, there were voices everywhere- woh raha, woh raha (it is there). And then I saw her, walking towards us. We were the third jeep in the row. I could still see her so clearly. After a few seconds Ramesh decided to get out of the queue to give tigress the space to cross. She walked away regally in front of our jeep with hardly a side glance at us! Which was good as well.
They say tigers are creatures of habit. And the naturalists know them. After the tigress vanished a second time into the jungle all the jeeps headed in a particular direction. They thought she may cross the road at another junction! In a while all the jeeps were parked waiting patiently for her royal appearance.
Of course the naturalists sighted her before anyone of us could. This time she crossed right in front of my jeep. Friends have asked me if I was scared. I was quite excited I have to say. I remembered to click pictures and make a video. In my excitement I forgot to get scared. I do remember Pari clicking my picture after the first full sighting, saying he needed to record my tiger grin. I have to ask for that picture to see how I looked! After the tigress crossed into the jungle again the jeeps moved a little ahead to wait for another possible crossing. We were waiting next to a water body and Motiram ji told us she would almost certainly not get into the cold water.
In a while he was frantically pointing to all of us the tigress crossing through the water! The trouble was that apart from Ramesh none of us could spot it. It went on for a while Motiram ji excitedly trying to show us the tigress in the water and we not being able to spot it. Then I too saw it. It was a speck even with my full zoom which is a puny 300 mm. I have cropped the picture heavily to get this faint scene. I clicked for the first 3 seconds and then saw it with my eyes for the last 2 seconds and then it vanished in the bushes again. But the day is never going to vanish from my memory!