Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Land of Mowgli

MOWGLI, is a very familiar name to most of us. Many of us have grown up seeing him being raised by a pack of wolves and playing around with Baloo and many more will continue to see the same, over the years to come. Yes, "The Jungle Book" is the reference here.

Not many know that Pench National Park, that gets its name from the Pench river runs through the park and is the original inspiration of Rudyard Kiplings, epic story. The references of the seonee hills also spelled as Seoni, Waingunga river gorge and the village Kanhiwada, where Sherekhan met his end are all locations around Pench.

Positioned in the corner of the Satpura range, Pench National Park homes variety of animals and birds and the national animal of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger. Since 2008, the tiger is listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by poaching, loss and fragmentation of habitat.

It’s March, late spring and till the onset of monsoons temperatures rise and brutal heat envelops the region in central India. The grasslands dry and the water bodies shrink. In this weather the wildlife head out and visit the watering bodies. Some of these are natural and some have been made by the forest department called water holes. Thus wildlife lovers easily get views of these majestic creatures, who otherwise are hidden from prying eyes.

Though the main gate for the gypsy (4WD) safari is Turia, in Madhya Pradesh, we planned to do our first safari from Khursapur gate, which is in the adjacent state of Maharashtra, just about 7-8 kms away.
The terrain was very unique, could see large boulders and the tracks would go at slight gradients and then downhill. The dry and deciduous forest trees had already started to shed their leaves. The forest bed looked serene. The teak trees formed a major part of the forest, apart from Mahua trees that had large and formed beautiful canopies. We did see Langurs and parakeets feeding on them.

Like any other tiger safari the driver and the guide's major focus is to sight the tiger first so no stopping for common birds and mammals, like the spotted deer and sambar. While, we kept driving on the tracks, Gautam mentioned that Pench had shot to celebrity status after the BBC wildlife team filmed the brilliant documentary “Tiger- Spy in the Jungle” which i wasn't aware!

After driving around for few minutes we reached a water-hole which was nestled in-midst of dense forest and small hills. Vehicles who entered first from the gate had already reached parked along the periphery. We also managed to get our slot and the wait began. Durga the tigress was expected along with her two cubs. They were being sighted since few days.
Soon the silence broke, the guide had spotted some movement and we got ready. Slowly, the tigress emerged through the trees.

It was Baras a sub-adult tigress, who again is the offspring of Durga. Though she had grown older (approx 3 years) was still around her mother. The guide whispered that she did have a territorial fight with her mother 3-4 times. Inspite, of this was still around and hopefully would soon venture away to find our own territory someday.

The names of the tigers are usually giving based on some unique marking that is found on them. In this case, the tigress had a mark just above her left eye, which quite resembled the numeric digit 12. In the local language 12 is pronounced as Baras.



She just sat in the waterhole drinking water and cooling herself. Moments later she got up, made a few calls to her mother it seems and moved away.

We kept waiting for sometime and decided to drive through the other regions of the forests, While, we reached another waterhole, a large crowd was waiting along side a small gorge. All we could see was a Tiger walking away from us through the grasslands. Before the sun sets, we have to and started to head out of the park.

The next morning we headed towards the Turia gate. There are three routes and are allotted at the last minute by the forest department. Once you are in and have reached the elephant point, where one can have the packed breakfast, choose any of the routes to return.

Mahadev ghat is nestled beyond the elephant point. As the morning light came over the open landscape sighted the vulture trying to balance itself.


We did hear some saying they had sighted a leopard with two cubs, though we just kept driving around, looking for some tracks and calls.

Luckily could see some raptors of the region. The noisy rufous treepie and drongo can be heard almost everywhere. Red junglefowls were seen in good numbers.


Our afternoon safari was again through Khursapur gate, while we were driving our guide (Ramakrishna) sighted a set of ears in the middle of the densely and dried undergrowth. It took us a while to sight it, only when it started to move.

It was a cub and it was alone, the guide said drive slow and keep safe distance, as during such times the tigress can get very aggressive.

To our surprise the cub, who was just about 3-4 months old, kept walking through the forest. The guide knew it was heading to the same water hole, where we sighted Baras yesterday. So we again parked our vehicle and waited.


The cub was so small and was very careful. He would look around many times and finally must have gathered the courage to enter the waterhole.

He seemed very thirsty and even posed well. He had a strong marking on his forehead that resembled a christmas tree and that had earned him the name "Christmas"

Minutes after the cub left, Baras came in again.
But today she was not in mood to get photographed. She kept her back towards us and once was done quenching her thirst, simply got up and walked away. Yet another day with good sighting came to an end.

Route one was allotted to us today which again after going through many twist and turns reaches elephant point. En-route we did see a dead fawn, it seems a leopard was trying to take it and dropped it and left off on hearing the oncoming vehicle. After waiting for sometime and seeing no activity moved further. Today, we did hear that many sighted a male tiger called Tarzan on route two.

We did drive along the route on our way back, normally Mottled wood owl and Collared Scops Owl are also seen on this route, but in vain. So it was day two in Pench, Madhya Pradesh and we had not sighted any tiger here.

Today was just the day when it came to no sightings, as in the afternoon in the same Khursapur region, where we had back to back sightings, nothing could be sighted. In fact no one sighted any tiger on that day in the region.

During the safari, we did see the Langurs, sitting under the tree with their feet and hands on the tree barks. They do this to cool themselves.
Today was the last day in the Land of Mowgli. Phoolchand our driver was very keen and based on recent sightings wanted to track the queen of the Jungle. They called her ‘Collarwali’. With 7 litters and 26 cubs by the age of around 10 years surely seemed the most potent tigress.

Its indeed exciting to witness how during the safari, the guide and the gypsy driver listen to alarm calls in order to decide which direction to head in for maximum chances of sighting the tiger. From bird sounds, deer calls to monkey calls, one needs to pay attention to practically everything that goes on in the forest.

They would see the pug marks and in which directions they were, how old probably they could be. We did reach a place, when phoolchand was too excited as he had seen pugs marks and other marking, that made it obvious that she was around with her cubs, driving back and forth, turning around at the slightest hint.

Sambar deer are known to have an excellent sense of hearing and their calls are supposed to be the most authentic alarm call, indicating the predator is around in the vicinity. Sambar deer shed their antlers each year.
Surely, the tiger sightings most of the time was by sheer luck or sometimes by good tracking. Suddenly, all went silent and there was no trace of her. We did sight the a small flock of Jackal's, who are known for their clean-up act. They finish the leftovers of the carcasses.

Just then, we came across another gypsy vehicle, who said another tigress "Langdi" was sitting near a natural water hole for sometime now. We were least expecting to see her, as she had given birth to about four cubs recently.

When we reached there, the most magnificent creature in the world, was sitting under a tree. Just a little later could see her crouch and move ahead slowly, assuming she must have sighted the prey. Being the best hunters in the forest, we all very excited and were not sure, what was coming next.

However, she said behind a rock and did not move, the place was getting too crowded and we thought of taking another trail back to the gate. On the final return we sighted a flock of wild dogs. They seemed to be in a hurry and quickly vanished into the forest.

The forest of Pench were indeed one of the finest wilderness areas in India. One can visit the park in summer to get good sightings.

My fellow birder and Tiger lover Gopinath Kollur, along with his friends Gautam Rathor and Shrikant Vipat had planned this trip and were kind enough to accept me as a late entrant to visit this park from the afternoon of 22nd March 2018 till the noon of 25th March 2018.



 Greetings and thank you for reading...
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12 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much Geetha, you have always been very supportive!

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  2. Superb right up with images. Surely to relish and remember this trip in times to come.

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    1. Gautam babu, thanks a lot, surely a memorable trip!

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  3. Beautiful detailed narration and equally amazing images. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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    1. Thank you very much Gopi Anna for appreciating. Glad you liked it!

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  4. Nice trip report. Guide viplub and Gopichand are deadly combo.

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    1. Thank you very much Sudheer. We were lucky to get a good route each time. The divine was very kind!

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  5. Such gripping narration, great combination of wildlife and history :)

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    1. Thanks a lot for appreciating Hayath. Glad you liked the flow of the blog :)

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  6. Very nice and wonderful writing Aseem ji. Lovely images too. Also didn't know that Jungle Book was inspired by this Tiger reserve....you didn't meet Bageera" ?? 😊😊

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    1. Thank you very much Vivek ji for the appreciation. Glad you not only liked the photos but also discovered about the reserve inspiring the author. Bageera and Baloo both managed to give us a slip 😆

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