Pench and Tadoba National Park: An Unforgettable Wildlife Safari
Pench and Tadoba National Park
A couple of days ago, we returned from our annual nature trip to Pench and Tadoba. Both are enchanting forests, providing a diverse mix of hills, lakes, grasslands, bamboo groves and dense trees. In general, Pench located in Seoni and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh is considered better for birding and spotting leopards, while visiting Tadoba’s core area in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra pretty much guarantees tiger sightings. Both parks have many man-made watering holes that, in that dry countryside, have become an oasis for animals; since these watering holes are clearly visible from the path, there are opportunities for excellent animal sightings.
It was such a pleasure to enjoy the clean, fresh air! The trees seemed greener after the early monsoon showers. There were stars visible in the night sky that would never be seen again from Mumbai. It was hot, especially during the afternoon safaris, but not oppressive.
We saw a diverse range of wildlife—from tigers, leopards, sloth bear, jackals, wild dogs, monitor lizards and many species of deer including the shy barking deer to the pretty chousingha. Above our heads, a profusion of birds enchanted us—the ubiquitous babblers, rollers and doves, the brilliantly plumaged Indian pitta, golden orioles darting around like streaks on a Van Gogh painting, the gorgeous racket-tailed drongos that found rare courage in teaming up to chase a much larger eagle away from their nestlings and the water birds that dotted the fringe of the lake at nightfall like little pearl drops around an inky darkness.
Some of the tigresses had recently had cubs, and it was such an uplifting sight to see the little ones playing with each other, gradually learning how to climb, stalk and leap. My favourite was the time when a tigress was grooming one of her cubs, and another one jealously stared at his sibling before going over to demand a share of her affection!
At another time, we were at a waterhole where a leopard had gotten scared by an approaching tiger and shimmied up a tall, thin tree—one of those times when fear lends wings. Unfortunately, once the tiger was gone, so were the wings and the leopard spent the next two hours trying to figure out how to descend. Eventually, thirst won, and it scrambled and tumbled down the trunk and then gratefully went to the waterhole for a long drink. The fascinating bit about this was how monkeys fearlessly dangled around the leopard, just out of his reach, as though realising that the thin tree that it was stuck upon would not give him the purchase to launch an attack.
As it often happens in the forest, serendipity plays a big part. One morning we were early and had to wait alone for 15-20 minutes till the gates opened. Just then, in the early morning gloom, a sloth bear—usually a very reserved creature—ambled across the road less than ten feet away from us and disappeared into the bushes to our left.
Tadoba is a small reserve and gets many visitors. Therefore, very often the tigers here are surrounded by twenty or more cars, and they have grown accustomed to humans. There is almost an air of barbarism in how the Gypsies cut around trying to get the best view. Luckily, the authorities have only opened 20% of the park to tourist traffic; hence it’s just the tigers whose territories fall in this area. All in all, this proximity to tourist traffic means that they don’t have the latent menace that their Ranthambore brethren carry, and that’s quite a pity.
As an interesting side-note, Pench was the inspiration and the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, although he never visited there. In fact, he took the name of the wolf pack in his story from the Seoni range, borrowed many of the topographical features from the region and even modelled the potter’s village on nearby Kanhiwada.
The parks are conveniently located—Pench is about two hours’ drive north of Nagpur and Tadoba is two hours south. Since they feature different habitats, if you do go, I’d suggest visiting both rather than just one of them.
Advance online bookings for safaris (and for hiring better guides) is essential. To experience the best of the forest, visit the buffer zone. However, visiting the core area increases your chances of spotting larger animals. A well-experienced guide can make your experience worthwhile with anecdotes and insights. Be sure to tip your guide and driver well!
Be a considerate visitor: don’t litter, speak softly (so that the animals are not scared away from your group) and give space to others too, to capture snapshots. Chat with other travellers to exchange photos and stories at your hotel; many of them are fellow nature lovers, and they might have interesting tales to share.
Be mindful of the weather, and drink plenty of water.
If you are travelling with a child, engage them in the forest by helping them maintain a log of what they see, ticking off sightings from a pre-prepared list. Older kids can carry a copy of Salim Ali’s Birds of India and, armed with a set of binoculars, to hone their bird spotting skills.
Most importantly, don’t be obsessed with seeing a tiger; there is a lot that the national parks in our country have to offer, so enjoy it all. And when a tiger finally does make an appearance, you will have another treasured memory to take back with you!