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.
Have you ever wondered how do they go about tracking a tiger? We were sitting in a jeep deep inside the zone 5 of Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. This was the zone where in the morning two tiger cubs had been spotted. Above the noise of the the Gypsy I couldn’t hear a thing. Suddenly the driver and Anish said, there was an alarm call of a langoor going on. The driver sprang into action and within no time we are close to the langoor which was giving the call. We could still see nothing. There was no tiger close by. As for scanning the area in front of us, it was vast, it included a nala and a hill as well. There was nothing even remotely resembling a tiger that I could see. All this excitement was happening on the Aircel’s #saveourtigers trip.
The driver, Vinod suddely said, “Woh kya hai?” He followed the gaze of the langoor and located the tiger. Leave me on my own and I would have not heard a thing, much less sight a tiger! All I managed was to botch up the shot when the tiger looked back for a fleeting second.
You have seen the side profile of the same tiger before. When I looked at the pictures I was quite heartbroken, but then I learn another lesson. Earlier, before 2013 when I had not seen a tiger ever, I would often wonder if the signs the guide and the driver look for were of any use. The guide would always get excited about the pug marks. I had seen pug marks on almost every trip,it would just not lead to the tiger. So, after a while I completely stopped getting excited about the pug marks. Remember my first real safari was in 2009 and I saw a tiger in 2013. Now that was a long wait.
Then there was this business of alarm calls. I clearly remember my trip to Kanha. Deer were giving alarm calls like their life depended on it, well hold a minute their life actually depended on it. It was late in the evening, the tiger was taking its own sweet time in coming out in the open and it was the park’s closing time. So alarm calls or no alarm class, we were forced to head back.
When Chhavi and I were at Sariska, the alarm call business was going on again. After a while it stopped. they told me the predatory decided to sit down somewhere in hiding. After all it had no obligation to anyone to come on the road and reveal itself! In Sariska the tigers are collared and yet nothing stops them from sitting deep in the woods rather than close to the tourist jeeps.
But then whenever I have spotted a tiger (a grand total of 4 tigers, managed pictures of two only) alarm calls have played a role. Even pug marks revealed the tiger moment at Pench.
So the next time your jungle experts talk about alarm calls and pug marks, don’t think of them as folklore just because you have not sighted a tiger yet. I have been in both situations where the experts tried to locate it via pug marks, calls etc and when they are collared. In the collared case, all the guide did was to make phone calls to various people who had tracking devices. I think the alarm call, pug mark way is much more fun. And remember as Anish says “a guaranteed tiger sighting is only possible in a zoo.” Now tracking a tiger is altogether a different game!
PS. Bhagte Tiger Ke Punch Hi Sahi means just managed to catch the vanishing tail of the tiger.
When the good folks at Aircel asked if I enjoyed their Save Our Tigers trip to Ranthambore, I told them it should have been obvious to them by my happy state. They then asked what did I like? To me the most valuable part of this trip was the conversations I was privileged to be a part of.
Mr. Yogesh Kumar Sahu (Field Officer, Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan): When asked what did he think of the ban on tourists to the national parks, he said that if Taj Mahal was devoid of visitors it will vanish in time, people will remove it piece by piece. He was of the opinion that the tourists were not a challenge. On the contrary, he told us that there is a temple and a fort right in the middle of the park. If they tried to stop private vehicles people would go to the court. Now some time back a tiger came on the road and due to some agitation attacked human beings. He cannot ban the private vehicles and he cannot ask the tiger not to go on that road, now that according to him, that was a tough task, managing the local expectations along with the interest of the animal. He is a pretty articulate man.
Anish Andheria (Director, Wildlife Conservation Trust, WCT): For its program Kids for Tigers Express (KFT Express) Aircel has tied up with WCT. When Anish was asked how could a lay person contribute to the cause of environment, he said “if you think you cannot talk about the environment without becoming an expert, but you are wrong. You might know more than someone else, and that person will benefit it you shared your thoughts.” That was a seriously empowering statement for me personally. If you follow me on Twitter you will see I am saying much more about environment, even though they might be just my silly thoughts. Before this conversation, I wasn’t even aware of my hesitation.
The Village Surpanch (Head) of Kilchipur: It is a pity that I didn’t catch his name. We were visiting the Dastkar Village near the Ranthambore National Park, he came to meet us. When we asked if he was scared to live in such a close proximity of the tiger, he said when the power comes only at night they are. Because they get just 6 hours of power supply when their turn comes at night, they are scared because of the tiger movement. He said they have petitioned various authorities but to no avail. They feel the villages close to the park should get power during the day time.
Vinod, the Driver of our Jeep on the Evening Safari: As I was sitting next to him, we were talking about various tiger sightings. he told me that when T24, the most famous tiger of Ranthambore, comes on the fort/temple road, entire Swai Madhopur village (the village closest to the park) comes on that road as it is a free road. And as no one is afraid of the tiger people put their cell phones in the tiger’s face to get a better picture. He said there have been times when police has to be called to mange the crowd. Vinodji and Anish also managed to track a tiger for us!
For me much more than anything else, the conversations, the ones I wrote here and many more that I didn’t, were the most enriching part of the trip. And thanks to Aircel’s #saveourtigers campaign for connecting me to all the people.
Whenever I go to the jungle I am stuck by the enthusiasm of the naturalists. I mean, how many people you know who are in their twenties and they wish to work away from the civilization where the nearest cinema might be 70 kilometers away? As I visited three national parks within a month I interacted with a lot of naturalists including Sangita S. Mani the woman naturalist at Taj Safaris. As they go the forest almost every day of the week I often ask then what have been their best wildlife sightings. Their answers amaze me. Here are three stories that amazed me, two from Madhya Pradesh and one from South Africa.
3. Falling Monkeys: Prayatna is a naturalist with Pugdundee Safaris. When I asked him what was his best sighting he told me he once saw a monkey dropping off from a tree because of the fear of a tiger. A tiger was standing beneath the tree, that itself made the monkey so nervous that he fell off. The tiger simply picked it up and walked away!
2. Too Close for Comfort: I was having a chat with Motiram ji at Pench National Park. When I asked him what was his best sighting he mentioned that one day he was driving with another Taj Safaris naturalist Koshtuba. They expected a tiger crossing and accordingly parked their jeep. In other words just what I witnessed this time. Only that tiger had other ideas. Apparently it was marking territory and the jeep was parked next to the tree it wanted to scratch. So it stopped next to the jeep and started sniffing on the driver side! I was told that Koshtuba almost jumped into Motiram ji’s lap. I asked how long did this last? Motiram ji’s estimate was a few minutes but those minutes he said felt really long, they wanted it to end. There was another Taj jeep parked a little away from this scene and they were happily clicking pictures of the people in the stricken jeep. Now this is the kind of sighting I would not like to have!
1. A Pitched Battle: When I asked my South African Safari guides Patrick and Erick about their best sightings, they told me another fascinating story. They said one day there were 7-8 lions at the back of the lodge (as you see in the picture aobe) and they had cornered a Cape Buffalo. However, 10-11 Cape Buffaloes arrived hearing the distress call of their mate and a battle followed. Erick said there were children at the lodge and they hated the cry of the buffalo under attack (I suspect so will I) so he had to take them to Manor House, another accommodation with the Tintswalo Lodges which was five minutes drive. I could see how disappointed he was for missing the action. He said it went on for a few hours but in the end the buffaloes didn’t let the lions carry away the injured bull. The bull later died of the injuries though.
And here I am who thinks just sighting these cats makes for an amazing wildlife sighting! What do you say? What has been your most exciting wildlife sighting?