With all due respect to my beloved motherland, I must say in India, we are used to mediocrity. We are used to see substandard facilities, shabbily maintained places and chaos all around. We are so so so used to see non performing, careless government and government servants. Being an Indian who is used to see frustrating maintenance of most of the tourist places we have, I was shockingly surprised during my visit to Pench!
Pench forest is extended across two of the biggest Indian states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Now I must appreciate MP government for the way they have maintained this jungle – very much like a jungle! I heard from locals that just few years ago, this area was totally neglected without any basic tourist facilities or even electricity. Though electricity is still sporadic, I must say the way the government is preserving park is really commendable. Take this – in our three jungle safaris in different parts of this jungle, we didn’t see a single plastic bottle, a piece of paper or any sign of loitering!!! This sound may be a small thing but if you close your eyes and imagine most of the places that you have visited, you will agree that to keep a natural place intact is such a big deal and truly deserves due appreciation! I also heard that Maharashtra side of this forest is shabby and not so tourist friendly. So if you have any plan to visit Pench, I strongly recommend you to visit part of this forest which is inside Madhya Pradesh.
Now let’s get back to the trip…
Saturday evening around 4.30pm. A very hot afternoon at Pench. After finishing formalities (transferring from a cab to a jeep and having a forest guard allocated to our jeep), a bunch of enthusiastic block entered into an unknown, unfamiliar territory which is ruled by wilds!
The moment you enter inside the jungle, what really strikes you is the difference in landscape. Asphalted roads are replaced by dry and dusty trails, tall building and lamp posts are replaces by dry grass and abundance of trees. Nonstop noise of vehicles and humans all sudden disappears. It’s calm, very calm and serene. In fact except occasional talk inside the jeep, you can feel even your breath! Irrespective of how hot and dry the jungle is, what really makes it thrilling is the just the feeling of it! Wide open your eyes, spread your arms and take a deep breath! Feel it.. Smell it.. Hug it! This is the surrounding that our ancestors lived in once upon a time when your modern day Pepe and Lee brands were nothing but a bunch of leaves for them which they tied around – you know where :-)
When jungle safari starts, there are bunch of jeeps that enter the park driving one after another. However in no time, all of them goes on different trails inside the vast forest and very soon you find your jeep is the only vehicle till horizon! This makes it even more exciting, thrilling and exclusive experience. Take a bow, the jungle is yours!
Dr. Ghosh had made wonderful arrangement for us – that is to have an expert driver / guide who knows jungle more than Prabhu Deva knows dancing or a Punjabi knows aaloo paratha! After all, it’s a jungle and you have to search / spot animals as they won’t oblige you just like that! Aha, who likes infiltrators after all :-)
The moment we entered, all we wanted to see was a TIGER! Guess what, we came agonizingly close to spotting a tiger in the very first ten minutes of our trip. We saw a kill (an animal killed by a tiger) lying in a narrow stretch. All sudden, there was a buzz in the air! Sniff sniff! Tiger must be around! We spent almost 15 minutes to spot a tiger but were left disappointed :-( Guess what, while coming out of the jungle in the evening, we did spot a tiger nearby the kill in almost fading daylight and those forest guard told that the tiger must have been there since last few hours as he doesn’t like to move much.. sigh, we just couldn’t spot him in broad daylight :-(
However the moment we entered inside the forest, we were greeted by – guess what – our ancestors :D They were there, everywhere! Oh yeah doesn’t matter how many times you see a monkey, it’s still interesting and amusing to spot a monkey as they are always unpredictable with their reactions :-).
Now this bunch of wildlife enthusiasts and bugged photographers started shooting every single thing that they happened to see! Trees, birds, monkeys, deer and even just dry and dusty trails! However nothing thrills like spotting and shooting an animal. You may have seen them few times at the zoo and may be a hundred times on TV... but the experience of seeing wildlife with your naked eyes in wild is – as they say in MasterCard ad - PRICESLESS!
I was little surprised to spot monkeys and deer together plenty of times. Our forest guide and driver added to our poor knowledge that a monkey and a deer is always a great friend! Monkey helps deer by breaking branch of trees and throwing them on the ground while deer helps monkey by raising an alarm when he senses danger (read – a predator).
Soon we realized that there are more monkeys and deer in this jungle than memory in our camera. We can run out of memory but certainly not of monkeys or deer! As soon as we realized this fact, we became little sensible in using our camera :D
Pench has beautiful landscape. You are traveling on a trail surrounded by trees and all sudden you find yourself crossing a small bridge over a dry river having vast open ground on either side! Drive down little further and you see shrinking water body with animal’s footmarks all around it. Then there are dry patches, rocks, hills, curvy roads (as they say in VW beetle ad - curves are back :D), sharp turns and everything that you can ask for in a jungle!
There is no way you can hold your enthusiasm and sit like a decent civilized man in a cab. After all, you are in the jungle and you have all the rights to be a beast! BWAHAHAH…! Yeah.. Yeah.. Yeah! When our jeep entered in the jungle, we were sitting on our seat (by the way, these are open jeeps) and within no time, we all were standing in a jeep looking at the beautiful jungle while hot and dry air tried to blow us away! Little later, we were standing on the top of our seat! LOL! After all, you want to stand as tall as possible to have uninterrupted view of the jungle and nothing beats standing on top of your seat! Beasts!
We spent two good hours in the jungle exploring as much as possible, clicking as many photos as possible and feeling every moment of it! Jeep moves on trails. Stops whenever driver spots something or whenever we ask him to do. Pat comes out cameras and then click-click-click-click till we are satisfied! Then jeep starts again and here starts our conversation in hush-hush voice till the jeep stops once again.
So what all we saw during this two hours of our first jungle safari? – Glimpse of a tiger, a kill by the same tiger, monkeys, deer, plenty of peacocks, owls and bunch of other colorful birds which I don’t remember by name.
It turned out to be a satisfying evening. Though we didn’t see a tiger in full glory, we were very happy to have our first feel of the jungle! So what was there in the store for the evening and night? – Dinner, endless funny talks while sitting on the lawn under the open sky followed by a night safari!
And by the time night safari will end (3am), we will be very much on our way to an early morning safari (5am)! So we will have just couple of hours to sleep but, who cares! Who wants to sleep!
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