Following the scent of a tiger at Pench National Park - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Following the scent of a tiger at Pench National Park

An event of days gone by...last December during my solo all india motorcycle journey...

Pench National Park or the Indira Priyadarshini Pench Tiger Reserve is located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh and is contiguous with the Pench National park in Maharashtra. There's however, no access to the park from Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh, the park is situated in the Seoni district and is named after the Pench river, which flows north to south through the park.

After a long drive from Nirmal in Andhra Pradesh and via Nagpur, my friend and I reached Pench National Park in the evening. As it was Christmas eve, we had a tough time finding accommodation. Prices had been super-spiked due to the Christmas-New year season. Only after we told the hotel manager that we were wildlife enthusiasts did we land ourselves a bed in the hotel's conference room for a fair price. Post settling in, we made friends with the hotel general manager and he was kind enough to offer the services of his hotel forest guide to take us on a night trek through the jungle's buffer zone.

Armed with head lamps, search lights and knives, we made our way through the dense thicket in bitter cold and darkness. As we were crossing a small stream, we saw a large group of spotted deer. As soon as they sensed/saw us, they looked up in apt attention and then went back to their grazing. After 45 minutes into the night trek, our forest guide told us to freeze in a hushed tone. It was only after a short while, did we get to know that we were very close to a "ROYAL BENGAL TIGER". We could see the tiger clearly thanks to the searchlight, but none of us could pull up enough guts to go any closer. We just stood there and treasured the moment!! Our return was fairly uneventful while the tiger sighting occupied our thoughts.

Pench forms part of a 2,500 sq km area called the Satpura-Maikal landscape, which includes Melghat, Pachmarhi, Kanha, Chattisgarh and Bandhavgarh. There are 3 gates to the park: the Turia gate, the Karmajhuri gate and the Jamtara gate (which one doesn't typically use as they are located far away from the hotels). One can either opt for a forest jeep/gypsy or drive their own four wheeler into the park, but in the company of an authorized guide.

It was a pre-dawn wake-up call for us as we rode our way to the Turia gate. Due to the Christmas rush, we could not get entry into the park for the morning session. However, after waiting in the queue for an hour and finding 4 additional tourist passengers (permit is given for a total of 6  people per jeep), we somehow managed to get entry permits for a jeep for the afternoon session. The entrance into the jungle was not pleasant as we felt as if we had been dragged into a dust bowl. But, once we let the gypsies pass ahead of us, the dust came to rest and we could enjoy the pretty surroundings. We sighted the king vulture, Indian roller, blue jay, collared scops owl, spotted deer, wild boar, jackal and sambar deer while we made our way to the Pench River. On our return journey, most of the jeeps stopped as there was frenzied alarm calls going. We could only hear the monkey's alarm call, but could not see the predator. It was only when we came out of the park, did we realize that we had a near close encounter with a leopard.

A great national park, but badly run and managed by the forest department. The dust and the diesel chugging jeeps add to the misery. But, having said that, the nature in this place beckons me to visit again and to taste the country mahuwa liquor made from the mahuwa flower.

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist's lens, visit the album below.
my solo all-india motorcycle journey

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