Sun, 18 Dec 2016  11:55 AM

The Arrival

We are on the road again. These back to back vacations are giving rise to gossips that we are involved in some sort of laundering of office leaves. Even though we would love to, it is just the accumulated leaves over the year that we are trying to finish up now, having taken hardly any vacation throughout the year. So we are off to see ‘Bharat ka Dil’ – Madhya Pradesh. After a day of train journey, through 120 km of mostly incredibly bad roads and a night of peaceful sleep, I am now sprawled on an easy chair at the lovely Ken River Lodge in Panna, writing my account of this journey.

The night was very cold for someone like us who have gotten used to living between 20 and 30 degrees and we got the first taste of it as soon as we got out of the car. The boys at reception were quick to notice that we were only in our t-shirts and promptly dispatched us to the comfort of our climate controlled ‘hut’. After a quick dinner at the ‘Treehouse’ kitchen, which we made a mental note to explore later in daylight, it was time to retire for the night to lose the weariness of the journey. We slept for nearly 12 hours !

The comfort of our cottage seemed like heaven in the cold.

The morning started late and we were finally able to appreciate the beauty of this place under the lights of the sun. The Ken River Lodge is one of the first lodges started by Pugdundee Safaris, and like their lodge in Satpura, is a delight to stay in. As we had our breakfast on the deck of The Treehouse, with the Ken river by the side, we could clearly see the hard work that goes into making places like this.

The Treehouse, an almost 30 years old treetop restaurant which precedes the lodge in is the finest in Panna.

The breakfast was followed by a walk to the riverside which is just besides the place. The glassy-green waters of the Ken river are so perfectly still that you start worrying about a small ripple disturbing its symbiotic balance. There were a few water birds and butterflies to give us company as we took photographs. While Ekta went back to the hut to freshen up, I strolled around the area, basking in the quaint silence of the nature, broken only by the chirping of birds.

A mynah basking in the lovely warmth of the winter sun.

Reflections in the waters of the Ken River, as seen from the Treehouse.

So, now I sit at my chair, largely at peace with myself, interrupted by the grim thoughts of taking a shower (that’s a precondition for me to exist beyond today, set by Ekta). The jungle safari is to start at 2:30 PM but I just feel a little too lazy to get up.

Sun, 18 Dec 2016  06:15 PM

The Jungle Safari

We have booked two jeep safaris for this trip and the first one happened to be the evening safari, starting at 3:00 PM and ending by 5:30 PM. The good old Maruti Gypsy was ready at the parking with our Naturist for today, Mr. Swami. For getting the entry passes, we first need to go to a Tourist booking centre, which also houses a small museum of local natural history, and then accompanied by our soft-spoken guide – Lakhan Ji, we proceeded to the main gate of the park.

As we started the drive, Lakhan Ji started explaining a few things about the park. Flanked by the Vindhyas, Panna National Park has terrain ranging from lowlands with tall trees to plateaus with Savannah type grasslands. There are three plateaus in, each higher than the other, and two of them can be visited by the safari jeeps. The forest is deciduous is nature and is dominated by Teak, Catechu and Crocodile bark trees.  Though we were not able to identify a catechu tree, the other two were seen in abundance.

A group of peacocks were the first to be seen as we entered the jungle.

An important feature of any Jungle safari in India is an understandable obsession with Tigers. First we hunted those mightily beasts into near extinction, and when they became extremely rare, the whole cosmos around these reserves seem to be built over that coveted glimpse of the yellow and black stripes. Ours was no different; though we managed to spot various  other proud representatives of the animal kingdom like deer, sambar, wild boar, neelgai, crocodiles etc., the drive essentially remained a quest for the elusive masters of the Jungle.

The area is which the safaris take place are dominated by a tigress named T1, her daughter and a male tiger who makes occasional appearances. So while we were at it, report came that the daughter is near a nullah, apparently taking an afternoon nap; so we rushed there. We waited there for a long time, but her majesty just refused to show up, even though she was nearby. After that, we heard another report that T1 was seen going up the plateau so we went in search of her, but  she proved to be as elusive as her nakhrewali daughter. Finally it came to naught. I sincerely believe that  enjoying the jungle without expectations of a tiger sighting will make the experience more fun.

When the sun sets over the grasslands of Panna, it takes the colour of a beautiful golden. This and serpentine Ken river navigating its way through the Vindhyas made for a pretty sight as we returned back, to try another day.

Mon, 19 Dec 2016  01:00 PM

The Jungle Safari, Reloaded

Here I am slouched in my easy chair again, slightly dejected, a little tired, but still largely at peace. We are back from our morning safari, and though we could not see a tiger even after a lot of efforts, it was a great experience. The craze to see the striped beast is infectious and so is the disappointment resulting out of a failure.

The preparations for today’s safari started with the 5:00 AM alarm. To get it in the right perspective, we were huddled under heavy quilts till then with the outside temperature below 10 degrees. To prepare for the open jeep drive, we came out in at least 3 layers of clothing, woolen caps, mufflers, gloves etc. Only the nose was exposed to the elements and within no time, it was red and running ..

The Jungle glowed in the morning sun

The waters of the pond were enveloped in a thin blanket of morning mist

After the regular drill of getting the passes and a guide, we were at the gates of the park at exactly 6:30 AM, the first to enter. At the very beginning, the guide made it clear that our target for the day would be to spot a tiger or leopard, since we have already seen most other animals the previous day. Thus began the chase.

The forest look so different in the morning, fresh and seems untouched to the point of being almost virginal. The morning mist lends a mysterious aura to the jungle, creating invisible curtains on the way.  While the animals have survived one more night to start the new day, the nocturnal predators will go back to their waiting positions. It lifts the mood immediately and brings a sense of tranquility, that is till you are jolted back to reality with a biting gush of cold air.

The morning safari turned out be another Tiger chase. Our guides informed us that tigers were sighted on the plateau and we would be going there. So here we started again on a race which seems meaningless to me. Some 4-5 jeeps were running around looking for tigers, rushing to a place with the smallest bird call or any rumour that a tiger might be present.

We managed to see a Jungle cat and a few deer but the tiger still eluded us. At this point, we asked the guide to abandon the quest for tiger sighting and show us the jungle instead. After this, the safari became more laidback and much more enjoyable.

Jungle Cat

Chinkara

Dhundhua

Panna is not only rich in bio-diversity but also boasts of remarkable landscapes. One of those natural wonders is Dhundhua Seha – a 200 m high gorge referred as the Vulture’s Point by the guide. Very steep with rocky outcrops, the cliffs of this gorge are best suited for the nesting of many varieties of vultures, most notable being . We were told that a beautiful waterfall forms at the gorge during the monsoons and tigers frequent the stream during the drier seasons. When the water falls from the cliffs, a beautiful mist rises in the air, thus giving it the name (Dhundh-Mist) and (Dhua-Smoke). Alas ! This was the dry season and there was no waterfall or mist to be seen !

From Dhundhuan, we went towards the Ken river marveling at the dramatic rock formations. At a point, the slaty rocks are so perfectly layered and cut that it seems they were deliberately designed by the creator that way. A little further from the road were the rocky banks of beautiful Ken river. We were able to sight vultures on trees  and crocodiles basking in the morning sun.

Leopard !

Finally as we were coming back, a bird call made us look to the left and there it was ! A beautiful leopard walking leisurely in the bushes along the road. It was in plain sight for quite a few seconds but I could not click a photograph – had packed the camera thinking there will not be a sighting today! Sometimes, one should be content with four annas only, and keep hoping for the remaining twelve.

Epilogue

Even though we are going back without a tiger sighting (and hence a failure in the eyes of the world), I am feeling content writing about the adventures of the day. Panna is beautiful, bettered by the quaint waters of Ken, the jungles and the amazing hospitality of the people, typical of Madhya Pradesh, is great as ever.  We have to leave in a couple of hours for Khajuraho, our next destination in this trip of Central India. Stay Tuned ..

*Our stay at the beautiful Ken River Lodge was hosted by Pugdundee Safaris, the most amazing safari partners for the jungles of Central India*