I was still in school when I first read the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. And I always wondered if that jungle was for real, just like the animals. Much later, after I started traveling, I learned about the Pench National Park, the real-life forest where the fictional tale of Mowgli was set in. But it was not fictional anymore! It did exist and prominently so. As history repeated itself, posing the same question to my children, it felt like a sign that it’s time to make that most-awaited trip and see the actual jungle of Jungle Book.
Last winter holidays, while the mercury continued to drop, my wife, children, and I packed ourselves for a day at the Pench National Park and see the actual Jungle of Jungle Book. First, we had to reach Nagpur. We booked an economical cab with a professional driver from Nagpur to Pench. It was another two and a half-hour’s drive till the park zone. The national park sits on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. So, anyone traveling from the Eastern side of India can reach via Madhya Pradesh.
The national park is named after a river of its namesake that flows through the park and cuts it into two. One of the most popular national parks of India, this is also the second largest tiger reserve of the country and protects the endangered Royal Bengal.
The nearly 750 Sq. Km. of woodlands is also home to numerous medicinal plants and trees which are used for lumbering and therapeutic purposes.
Reading all this in the handout, we reached the park tourism center and booked us a Jeep Safari. Although we had booked a cab with the best car rental in Nagpur, a jungle safari had to be done on a Jeep.
Wildlife is charming in its own way, with dense forests, open grasslands, watering holes and the rain-fed ponds and streams that conjure up a mysterious environment. Despite being winter, the sun was warm and bright, peeking through the foliage and lighting up our way. The other travelers were too curious about tiger spotting when the guide asked us to be quiet. As the human sounds almost died, the silence was instantly taken over by cries of monkeys, until my binoculars showed me a bunch of langurs perched on a tree and crying out to their folks.
A few random jackals would scamper back and forth, eyeing for a good hunt. The children were excitedly discussing every animal they saw and how they appeared different from ‘Animal Planet’, while my wife and I focused on spotting migratory birds which usually come and stay here through the winter season. We saw the Malabar pied hornbill with the massive beak, near one of the watering holes, while a crested eagle and its mate were feeding on a carcass of a dead animal nearby. We also saw a big herd of spotted deer wandering around the grasslands, and just as our Jeep neared, they vanished into the forests.
As we were on our way back, our guide pointed out at a distance at a huge animal lying in the middle of the dusty road. As the car inched a little further, we noticed a spotted leopard, stretching and yawning out of its afternoon siesta. We waited quietly in our spot until the big cat was done with its post-sleep routine.
It was almost evening when we completed our tour. While the kids were in awe of the dense forests, the spotting of wild animals, I felt like a child all over again, lost in the amazement and wonder of the reality and thrilled at realizing at what was once a childhood dream!