Why did the tiger cross the road? So that my camera could get its fill of her majestic frame!!!
The slender jungle trail was swarming with rows upon rows of safari jeeps full of people filled with anticipation. They had heard that she was near and no one wanted to miss out on the sight. People waited with hushed breath and barely contained excitement. As if knowing that the jubilation of so many humans was at stake, she did not disappoint. Roaring in a couple of short bursts to herald her arrival, she emerged regally from the undergrowth. Oblivious to the collective gasps of amazement, she nonchalantly crossed the track between the jeeps and went over to the other side.
And which jeep did she choose to perform her catwalk in front of? Well the gods of the jungle sent her right in front of mine and I allowed my jaw to drop to the floor as I focused my camera on her as she strolled past regally just 2 feet from my feet, as if on a mission to go meet her subjects. The air was filled incessant clicks that perturbed her not at all. And just like that, with a swish of a tail and a quick backward glance, she disappeared into the thicket.
Collarwali, the 15 year old famous tiger of Pench, walking past Carol’wali!!! Starting my safari with Collarwali Bhagin (tigress) … I cannot even bhagin to tell you how happy I was!!!
As astounding as this incident was, Pench of course is much deeper than that and there are several fulfilling experiences that are curated by the Pench Tree Lodge which we shall explore in this post.
At Pench Tree Lodge they have put together a host of activities that are relevant to the place and concept. They have very well structured methods that help the guest to enjoy everything optimally and their trained, professional, in-house naturalists spend time with everyone, scheduling various programs.
They also have the intelligent system of orienting the guest via audio visual presentations and maps so that one can clearly anticipate the scope of the activity. Some of their experiences are within the premises, some are outdoors in the villages or nature trails and of course the main one is the safari.
Certain activities are complimentary and some are chargeable depending on the booking plan. All information regarding the pricing can be obtained at the time of reservation.
Within the property –
Well for one, there is the wonderful option of doing nothing at all. The wooden deck outside the tree house is an ideal place to perform this intense (non) activity and one can truly spend hours gazing out into the grasslands and trees. People who have been lucky have spotted a few mammals like the palm civet, rusty spotted cat, hares, boars etc and also many varieties of birds.
The swimming pool is good for a dip in the warmer months.
One can spend time reading in the library or watching wildlife movies and documentaries.
Want to grab an opportunity to do some gardening, well then grab a spade and rub shoulders with the gardener in his beloved organic farm.
Culinary sessions can be organized right from harvesting the ingredients to watching the chef demonstrate the cooking. Ever felt the pleasure of unearthing crisp, soil laden carrots?
The lodge also offers guided nature walks, birding and photography walks, both inside and outside the premises. An average duration of each of these would be around 2 hours. The accompanying naturalists impart quite a valuable amount of information and these sessions are quite enlightening and interesting.
Nature walk within the lodge –
The naturalist takes you on a round of the property through hidden trails and gurgling streams and identifies several plant and tree species. The organic garden is also a part of the walk and one has a good chance of spotting many varieties of birds here.
Outdoor activities –
Village walks lead you to Sarrahiri the nearest village which is 1 km away. This is an informal activity where you can choose to interact with the villages, visit their homes, click photographs (with consent) and also freely spot various birds which make it quite exciting for people like me from the city, for whose pigeon weary eyes, these winged ones are a refreshing sight indeed. You can even witness a cock fight if the roosters are in the mood (or off mood as the case may be :-D).
While it is difficult to shoot with inadequate lenses, sometimes the little birds have mercy on you and at least pose long enough for you to fumble and struggle and get good shots.
If on an evening walk you linger till the cows come home, then that is exactly what you will get to see, with spectacular sunsets thrown in for good measure.
Nature/birding/photography walks –
One can opt for a morning or evening walk. The guests are accompanied by the naturalist and depending on their area of interest, they are taken into the surroundings, which never fail to delight, with sunsets, sunrises, several species of birds, typical village scenes and gorgeous vistas of golden fields of mustard, emerald stretches of dew kissed wheat and many other local lentils and vegetables. Rural India at its quintessential best.
The big mamma of all of them is the safari which is why most of the guests come to the lodge. The staff make the safari reservations at the time of booking and also escort the guests in their own jeeps with accompanying guides. In my opinion, this makes the experience a far more fruitful and enlightening one as compared to going directly on one’s own.
Do not forget to carry your id when you set out from the lodge.
My experiences –
Day 1 –
Village walk –
Since I arrived at 2 pm, I was not scheduled for a safari on the first day. After a relaxed lunch and visit to my tree house, I was taken by Himani at 4.30 pm to the village of Sarrahiri.
The villagers are mostly from the Gond tribe and are engaged in agriculture and dairy. The mud houses are typically low roofed and painted in dual colors. Green and white or blue and white, the primary color probably signifying the social status. The doors of the houses are very pretty and look like works of art.
The 2 hour session was very interesting where I got to interact with many of the locals and also spot quite a few birds. The village is barely 1 km away and hardly takes 15 minutes to get there.
We returned past herds upon herds of homecoming cows which were quite a sight to behold with their tinkling bells and rapid gait. The sun obliged through crimson skies and the golden orb was trapped in my lens forever.
Once back at the lodge there was time for a quick wash and then a sumptuous dinner.
Day 2 –
This was going to be my first morning safari and my wake up call was prompt at 5 am. By 5.45 am my escort was at my tree house and after a quick bite and beverage at the lobby, we set off in the jeeps at 6 am sharp. The Karmajhiri gate of the Pench National Park is 12 km from the lodge and it takes 20 minutes to get there. It is freezing cold in the mornings so make sure you are well wrapped up since you are in an open jeep. The 10 minute formality at the gate was taken care of by Himani, where we had to provide our id before proceeding.
During the safari, Himani also gave us a lot of information about the flora and fauna and of course the histories of the resident tigers of the park who are all numbered and named and recognized by the trained eyes of the guides, by their unique strips.
My safari began quite auspiciously as I mentioned at the start and I was blessed with the majestic Darshan (view) of Collarwali who is said to be the oldest tiger in this reserve. The 15 year old T-15 was given the moniker Collarwali after a radio collar was fitted on her in 2009 to track her. The embellishment has since fallen off but the name stays. She has also given birth to a record 29 cubs in her life and has also got into several fights that left her severely wounded. But I guess even big cats are at times accorded 9 lives and today she walks proudly with no trace of her past trauma. Her current litter consists of sub adult cubs whom we did not have the fortune to be introduced to.
Well the tiger is not the only thing that one should go to see, for the jungles are rich with many more treasures … but of course there is an unmistakable sense of smugness and relief when at least one major sighting occurs and it makes the rest of the safari far more relaxed and enjoyable 😀
We were also happy to spot several birds like drongos, Indian rollers, flameback woodpecker, red vented bulbul, hoopoes, serpent eagles, owlets and many more.
A lone jackal paraded for us apart from the wild boars, langurs and hordes and herds of cheetal (spotted deer) and sambar deer.
The Pench National Park is a dry deciduous forest with primarily teak trees and a smaller percentage of tendu, mahua, crocodile tree etc and the very startling ghost tree that spreads out its multi tentacled, bare white form.
Breakfast was packed from the lodge and we had it at the designated place called Alikatta where one can say hello to Mowgli who made this land famous. There is also a very clean washroom.
The spread was lovely with sandwiches, rolls, pastries, eggs, fruit, juice, tea/coffee etc laid on the bonnet of the jeep. Picnicking in the jungle is a wildly delightful experiencing.
The safari got over by 11.30 am after which we returned to the lodge and lunch.
Property walk/organic garden –
After lunch I was accompanied by Gaurav, another resident naturalist who took me on a 2 hour property exploration, including a peek at the cottages too. There are hidden streams, several plant and tree species, tiny insects, butterflies etc that one can observe.
We also visited the organic farm where I went into raptures and it was hard for him to drag me out of there 😀
I also visited their upcoming butterfly park.
The trek ended by sunset, which I captured just in time, from the deck of my tree house.
A hearty dinner by the pool in the company of Harish the manager, was a great end to my day.
Day 3 –
After breakfast, I decided to take a look at their audio visual orientation which normally guests do on the day of arrival. This is a very informative session and I highly recommend it, especially overseas visitors. It gives a clear idea of the park and lodge and related activities.
After lunch I met up with Himani at 2.30 pm at the assembly point to set out for my 2nd safari which was an evening one.
Well it is very unusual for me to be lucky when it comes to sighting animals but the wildlife gods seemed to have gone wild with generosity and the good luck that Pench Tree Lodge brought me, showered me with yet another grand sighting.
This time it was the female called Paddev (T-20) whom we came upon, plonked right in the middle of our trail. We had our absolute fill of her as she stretched and purred and yawned and smiled (yeah look at the picture if you do not believe me :-D) for a full 20 minutes, after which she went up and away with a flick of her tail. Ours was the only jeep that was blessed with her sighting and everyone else who drove up after that, went helter skelter in search of her but unfortunately she must have gone to sleep in some thicket, going by her several yawns. We had also hoped to see her cubs but fate apparently decided that I had been given too much already 😀
The rest of the safari was similar to the morning, with not as many sightings and being in the evening, it was a shorter one, since closing times have to be strictly adhered to.
But we did get one last glimpse of Collarwali in the distance as we were hurrying to get back to the gate. Hence the camera could not do its thing.
Nature painted her screen in various shades of red and the skies put on a show as our jeep sped back to the lodge in time for a wash and another wholesome dinner.
Pugdundee safaris has a very informative section on safaris on their website. It is advisable to read through it before embarking on a safari.
Day 4 –
This was my last day at Pench Tree Lodge and I was to leave after lunch. Despite being here for 3 days, there was still so much to see. I decided to go on a sunrise, nature and bird walk with Gaurav who took me in the jeep to a fabulous vantage point. The reddened horizon was pregnant with the impending arrival of the the one that we were stalking and we waited alongside the road as the skies tried to confuse us with various hues.
And just as I wondered if the haze was going to hide the spectacle, the sun quietly began making an appearance. Beginning with a tiny peek as if checking is the coast was clear, it then rapidly emerged in seconds as I tried to capture the motion on a time lapse phone setting. The show was over in moments and the remarkable newborn sun suddenly turned ordinary again.
Show over, we then set off through one of the near by villages to hunt for more elements of the morning. We were richly rewarded by hundreds of birds that launched themselves into the day, from the electric wires and bushes and trees. The flocks of rhythmically rising and settling birds were a sight to behold. Larks, swallows, petronias etc performed an orchestra for us and I watched in fascination, not tiring of the monotony of their numbers.
However, the golden Sarson ke Kheth (mustard fields) beckoned and I did not want to miss the quintessential Bollywood’esque shot. So after a photoshoot where Gaurav obliged the (non) aspiring model in me, we returned back to the lodge 😀
My 4 days seemed to have passed by in the blink of an eye and as I bid farewell to the Mahua that had held me in its embrace, I reciprocated the gesture and hugged it right back, whispering to it that I would return again some day.
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Pugdundee Safaris. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
This itinerary was specially curated hence some of the features might have been personalized accordingly. Before booking, please check the facilities offered in your package.
Feb 12th – 15th, 2020