Wild times in Pench National Park – sleeping in a machan in the buffer zone of Pench Tiger Reserve and haunting stories of collarwali.
I woke up to a distant roar, and felt a chill run down my spine. Sitting up, I slowly moved the curtain behind me, half expecting two fierce eyes staring back.
Much to my relief, the only glow in the pitch black night was from the million stars twinkling above. A cool breeze tingled my face, and the stillness of the surrounding forest washed over me.
I oriented myself in the dim light of a lantern, reminding myself that I was sleeping in a machan in the buffer zone of Pench National Park.
My love affair with Madhya Pradesh’s forests began a couple of years ago, when I lost myself in their wild ecosystem. It made me question whether encroaching on tiger territory on safari is the environmentally responsible thing to do. Surprisingly, I learnt about the precarious connection between wildlife tourism and conservation, not just in India but also in Africa.
Also read: Wildlife Tourism: Are We Saving the Tiger?
The Taj Pench experience at Baghvan
So when Taj Safaris‘ invitation to experience the dramatic forests of Pench National Park landed in my inbox while I was away in Central America, it went right to the top of my India cravings.
Now, with a friend in tow, I was tucking back into the comfy machan of our hut at Taj Pench – Baghvan. A wilderness lodge that took me completely by surprise.
Having indulged at Taj in Delhi and Bombay, I expected to be pampered and wined and dined. And that we were, even in the middle of the forest.
What I didn’t expect was the rustic yet classy way in which the lodge is built. The logwood huts with private machans, the lantern-lit pathways, relaxing khatiyas by the swimming pool, a little library with wildlife books, open air dining at the edge of the forest! As someone who loves the wilderness as much as creature comforts, this was like my handcrafted version of heaven.
Also Read: Kanha National Park: Stories from the Wild
Pench jungle safari
At the first light of day, we jumped into our custom fitted land rovers (I remember envying them from the backbreaking seats of our regular gypsy on past safaris!) and entered the core zone of Pench National Park.
Breathing in the pure forest air, gazing at the teak trees looking over me, hearing the sounds of the jungle, I felt alive. Unlike Panna, Bandavgarh and Kanha, the forests of Pench are younger and drier, letting us peek deep into the forest, witnessing more intimate moments.
We saw a newborn, hairless langur baby clinging on to its parent, another digging into the soil for minerals to replenish itself in the dry heat. A solitary jackal stride down the road after casting us a shy glance. A male sambhar trying desperately to untangle its antlers from a twisted branch. A bald sea eagle plunge into the sea and catch a fish. Peacocks open up their magnificent feathers and dance to attract females, for this is their mating season!
The closest we got to Collarwali, the most fearless (and hence most popular) tigress in this forest, and her cubs, were fresh pug marks and a sambhar deer call. But the feline creatures came alive in our imagination through our naturalist’s exhilarating stories. He once witnessed a showdown between a tiger and a pack of wild dogs, which after much roaring and threatening, ended in a truce.
Penning this post at a cafe in Bombay, I almost skipped a heartbeat thinking of the forest come alive with warning calls of langurs and spotted deer, indicating that a big cat is on the move.
The call of the wild, as much as those candlelight dinners in the wilderness and hikes in the buffer zone, linger in my mind long after saying goodbye.
Pench National Park: Travel tips
Pench national Park location and how to get there
The closest railway station and airport to Pench National Park is in Nagpur. From there, it’s an easy 1.5 hour drive.
Where to stay in Pench National Park
Minimize your impact on this beautiful forest by choosing an environmentally conscious accommodation.
Taj Pench – Baghvan
I enjoyed my stay at Baghvan, which harmoniously blends into the surrounding forest. It remains quiet and dimly-lit, and has been built using local materials. I just wish the food focus was on local dishes and produce, rather than fancy food from other parts of India and the world.
Pench Tree Lodge
I’ve heard great things about Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee Safaris. Hope to experience it in person someday!
Pench safari booking
Safaris in Pench National Park can be booked on the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department website, or through your accommodation.
Pench safari cost
The safari vehicle costs INR 1500-2000, while the guide fee is INR 480. Please tip your guide to encourage guiding that goes beyond just chasing the tiger.
Is Pench National Park on your wildlife wishlist?
Note: I was hosted by Taj Safaris in Pench; lucky me!