Deja Mow … that familiar feeling of having posed with the same Mowgli before 😊
Little did I know three years ago in February 2020, that the world was going to abruptly be halted by a deadly virus which would likewise put a pause on all travel and life as we knew it. I had been fortunate to just about visit Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee Safaris, Seoni, Madhya Pradesh, India and to experience my very first and fruitful tiger safari in the Pench National Park.
Known as Mowgli land after Mowgli from the The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, the Pench forest has installed a figure of the little man-cub in the rest area. This of course is a big attraction for children and adults who queue up to pose with him and preserve their rendezvous on the camera lens, mainly to show off on Show’cial Media I suppose 😉
My two years of covid imposed stagnation were made easier to bear with help from the memories of the tigresses I sighted, namely (the late) Collarwali and Paddev, my ‘meeting’ with Mowgli and of course the warm and excellent hospitality of the Pench Tree Lodge.
Hence you can imagine my elation when I was scheduled to travel to this luxurious resort again, after the ‘end’ of covid (or so we hope). While I usually do not repeat places because there are so many new destinations to travel to in this world, in the jungle, no two experiences are the same and every time it is like visiting a new location. Besides, the lodge also promised a bit of novelty this time, with a hidden surprise that it had … or should I say Hide’Den. Well for the revelation of that secret, you will just have to read further.
So let us go on a second round of Pench Tree Lodge and be as charmed as we were the first time.
It would be advisable to go through Part 1 of Pench Tree Lodge before proceeding because the prequel always makes the sequel more meaningful 😉
And be awed by the brains behind this brand in this post on Pugdundee Safaris.
And for good measure, also familiarize yourself with the locale where all this action is taking place, the Pench National Park!
The park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna and of course the majestic tiger which draws visitors from all over the world.
My experience –
Ok now that you have hopefully obediently brought yourself up to date, let us get back on track with today’s story.
We reached Pench Tree Lodge quite late in the evening. Our night was to begin with a open air dinner in a clearing in the bushes, aptly named Bush dinner.
We were welcomed by the manager Harish and team whose hospitality warmed us like a cloak in the cold December air. Of course the blazing bonfires also helped 😉, besides creating a fairyland like setting, along with the glow of myriad lanterns that adorned the trees and wooden tables.
Our night was made merry by numerous goblets of wine, painstakingly curated hearty dishes, great company and conversations filled with joy and laughter … I would have expected nothing less from Pench Tree Lodge 😍
The prospect of getting up early for the safari, was the the only reason that we eventually called it a night.
The stay –
At Pench Tree Lodge, one has the option of getting high (even without the wine) … up in a treehouse or choosing to stay in the cottages below. Having experienced the gorgeous tree houses earlier, I was curious to see what the cottages would be like.
These cottages are the epitome of luxury, providing modern facilities within the deep jungle. Unlike the treehouses, these are built on the ground and consist of 2 levels. The lower floor features a massive hall cum bedroom with a king size bed, lounger, writing desk and some casual seating.
There is a generously big washroom and a very charming open deck which overlooks a waterbody.
A wooden stairway leads to a mezzanine floor with stone walls and wooden flooring, where there is another queen sized bed.
As with the tree houses, the cottages too provide features like air conditioning (cooler cum heater), tea and coffee maker, hairdryer, torches, hawai (rubber) slippers, organic toiletries and bathroom essentials etc.
Of course there is the ever present dedication to the environment in all the facilities offered. Some of the items like tooth brush, shaving kit etc can be specifically asked for if needed. In order to reduce plastic and wastage, they have common dispensers for the bath toiletries and steel bottles hold drinking water which is refilled by daily by the staff.
My Stay –
My night passed by with the help of a room heater, aided by multiple hot water bags which kept the cold at bay, until it was time to plunge into the chilly outdoors even before the crack of dawn, to embark on the Pench National Park safari.
Experiences and Safaris –
One mostly visits a jungle lodge for the wildlife and related rural and adventure activities. Pugdundee specializes in curating every possible permutation and combination of programs that will be of interest to visitors with a range of interests.
My first Pench safari in Feb 2020, was truly a fruitful one (or should I say animal’ful), where I was blessed with excellent sightings of 2 of the important tigresses, The Collarwali and Paddev. Please allow me to continue showing off by posting them again here.
This time too, Pench did not disappoint and it gave us our tiger, even though it was just a single cub belonging to the tigress Runijhuni and even though it gave us a fleeting 1 second darshan (view), as it bounded across the road in between the waiting jeeps. Fortunately I had my video camera running and hence managed to capture sufficient proof of not having broken my ‘Tiger winning streak’ in Pench 🐯
Below is a hazy screen grab from that video.
The hunt did take quite long though and I was actually beginning to think that I had to make do with pictures of claw marks on trees, as proof that tigers do exist 🐅😏
But fortunately this cub jumped in and saved us from total disappointment.
To be fair to the other mammals and birds who gave us better views and poses and to not indulge in Tiger partiality, let me also commemorate them by posting their pictures here.
Indian Gaur, wild boar and a bazillion langurs and spotted deer, were the fodder for my camera, apart from a few birds like the ever obliging Indian roller and a drongo who graciously and gracefully provided a bit of drama with a timely spreading of its wings.
I also captured what seemed like an polite argument between a peacock and 3 spotted deer.
The scenic beauty of the jungle also makes for pretty pictures.
As always, breakfast on a safari from Pench Tree Lodges, is an elaborate and pleasurable affair. Vishal our guide helped us with setting up the food on the jeep’s bonnet.
I could not leave without the mandatory pictures with Mowgli who stands faithfully in the rest area. This time he had changed position, which made the pictures look a bit different from before 😎
After the thrilling safari, let us embark on an equally exciting dining experience.
Food is my thing and regional and hyper local food is my passion and obsession.
At Pench Tree Lodge, Chef Pankaj Fulera always manages to present the most local of ingredients in an utterly extraordinary manner and the wholesome and flavorsome meals also have the distinction of reducing carbon footprint, being mostly sourced from the nearby localities and from their flourishing organic garden.
I was so impressed by the food last time, that I gave it its very own blog post, which I urge you to read, mainly to tantalize you 😉
This time at lunch, we were the beneficiaries of their Panch Gaon Andar theme, which takes inspiration from what is referred globally as the ‘Under 100 miles’ menu. The name translates to ‘under 5 villages’, indicating that the produce is sourced from the surrounding places. Likewise, the dishes too are created from local and traditional recipes, the flavors of which are enhanced by the freshness of the ingredients and of course by the talent of the kitchen team.
Some of the items that found their way into the dishes (and subsequently into us 😎) were corn, local rice, red spinach (amaranth), free range chicken etc.
We had the pleasure of partaking from the Paanka (Shallow fried tikki made with fresh corn), Aloo papad, Chatpata salad, Bhune lahsun tamatar ki chutney (chutney of garlic and tomato charred in charcoal), Laal bhaji (red spinach), Mung Dal Bafouri, Dal Tewda with bhaji, Desi Murg ka rassa (country chicken curry), Bhaat (local rice), Jowar/Bajra roti (millet flatbreads) and for dessert it was Lapsi sweetened with jaggery (a broken wheat dessert).
Dinner that second night was their famous Farm Barbeque, similar to what I had experienced during my earlier visit.
This setting is created once in 3 days, where they serve a rustic style dinner at the organic farm in a magical ambience that is modelled on a typical local village home, with a yard complete with traditional embellishments, bonfires, lanterns, live cooking stations etc. Guests who are here for a longer duration are sure to partake of at least one such meal.
New Features – The Hide
So I promised you a surprise and it was not sadism that made me hold it for the end. It was just get the other details out of the way before focusing on this. Believe me 😉
An exciting addition to the lodge is the interesting Photography ‘Hide’ which has been constructed at the edge of the property, adjoining the forest and hence holds great potential for good sightings of animals and birds during the appropriate seasons.
Known as the Kipling hide, of course in honor of Rudyard Kipling, this little underground hideaway is professionally designed and well equipped to house 4 photographers at a time, with its comfortable seats, drinking water, coffee station, charging points and other facilities which a photographer might need.
Of course it goes without saying, that the wildlife related rules need to be strictly followed.
Information regarding the charges for using the hide, can be obtained from the office.
General Information –
Most of the information below is common to my earlier blog but I have posted it here to for easy reference.
Phone and internet connectivity –
You are in the middle of a jungle and connectivity should be the last thing on your mind 🙂 However, in case you are like me and cutting off your internet is like cutting off your blood supply, fear not, for the the lodge provides you with your personal portable Jio WiFi router that you can cling on to. Regular phone signals for Vodafone are quite non existent. However, the staff is ever ready to help out in case of any necessity. The router itself is not the epitome of reliability but is not too bad either.
Visitor profile –
The lodge is opened to all visitors. It is suitable for a range of guests right from families, to solo travellers, to photographers, to wildlife enthusiasts and so on.
There are no age restrictions but be aware that the place is fashioned to blend with the rusticity of the region. Though the cottages and tree houses have all the modern luxuries, the approach trails are dirt tracks and those who might have disabilities or difficulties in such terrain, may find it a challenge. Cottages are a great option for those who will not be able to climb the steps to the tree house.
Also if it is the safari that is the aim, then please know that it requires some level of mobility to clamber in and out of the jeeps.
If it a a quiet holiday that you seek, then the place is ideal for people of all abilities and agility.
Children should be supervised at all times and it is not advised to walk around on paths other than the designated. Night time movement is always performed with torches and the assistance of the staff.
Social and environmental commitment –
Pugdundee safaris as a brand is committed to safeguarding the environment and this in fact is their raison d’etre. Hence they leave no stone upturned in achieving their goal.
The lodge is fashioned after the concept of sustainability and safeguarding of the environment and certified with ‘Eco practices audits’ by Travel operators for Tigers (TOFT).
Natural materials like waste and repurposed wood and stone and local labor are used in the construction. The built up area is a mere 4.5 acres which is barely 10% of the entire space. One time use plastics are shunned and steel water bottles perform the job ably. The water filter is maintained as per norms. The coffee and milk powders are provided in bottles rather than individual sachets and likewise there are common dispensers for bathing toiletries. The laundry bag is of fabric and handcrafted by local women from garment factory discards.
Likewise, they are also dedicated to the upliftment and development of their surrounding habitations. They maintain a symbiotic relationship with the tribals and other inhabitants of the surrounding villages. Around 80% of their employees are from the nearby localities and they also support traditional arts, crafts and other cultural elements by partnering with artisans and artistes.
Local schools are supported frequently with stationary, books and other items and they also participate in small development works in the villages.
Guests are also welcome to contribute to these school and village projects, in any form if they so wish to.
More about these initiatives in this post on Pugdundee Safaris.
Best time to visit –
The park and lodge are open for only 9 months a year. July 1st to Sep 30th is the monsoon and breeding season during which the animals are left undisturbed and the park remains closed.
However do check on the official website for exact opening and closing dates.
October sees a lot of visitors due to school holidays and November and December are also good months to visit. January is a bit lean due to temperatures that drop as low as 4 deg c. Feb and March are very pleasant and also produce good sightings of mammals and also birds.
April and May see temperatures of around 45 deg c but are still popular months among hardcore wildlife lovers and photographers since this is the optimal time for wonderful sightings because the animals come out to the watering holes. Also, the dry deciduous forest is rather barren and offers hindrance free views.
Keep in mind that the park is closed for evening safaris every Wednesday.
What you should carry –
A sturdy pair of walking shoes, a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, a backpack, a camera etc are the things I carry without fail.
The type of clothing you need, is weather dependent and the lodge circulates very clear and detailed instructions to every guest during booking. They are super diligent and organized like that.
So summers will require light, cotton wear and winters drop to 4 deg, so a layered set of warm wear will be appropriate.
Also make sure to carry the same id with which your safari has been booked eg passport, aadhar card etc.
For everything else, there is Pench Tree Lodge 😀 and that includes torches, umbrellas, hawai (rubber) slippers, insect repellents, bath toiletries and all those things.
Getting there –
Pench National Park is accessed quite easily via Nagpur which is an important city 80 km to its south. This is well connected by air, rail and road to many major parts of India. The airport also has direct flights to some middle eastern countries.
The Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport at Nagpur has a comfortable lounge, sufficient retail outlets and restaurants that are priced quite reasonably.
There are also food stalls outside the terminal area.
Jabalpur which is around 200 km to the North, is also another option. It is also connected by air, rail and road but not as well as Nagpur.
From Nagpur and Jabalpur, the most convenient way to get to Pench is by cab or private vehicle.
My journey –
I flew into Nagpur from Bangalore and was picked up at the airport by the cab arranged by Pugdundee Safaris and we left immediately for Pench.
The National Highway 7 (NH7) is a beautiful stretch of road and is excellent throughout, especially after the construction of the new and impressive 37 km long elevated road which flies over a stretch of the Pench wildlife corridor. This was under construction when I last visited. The 140 km drive took around 3 hours including a rest room and snack stop.
The MHKS Plaza is around 40 km from the airport and is pretty much the only decent place for a wash room stop. It also has a restaurant with a good range of items and a store where most essentials are available.
After this there is really no appropriate place for such facilities, so I would suggest stopping over here en route Pench.
Booking and contact –
Pench Tree Lodge, Village Sarrahiri, Seoni, Madhya Pradesh.
Email id – firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Nov 30th – Dec 2nd, 2022