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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra


Wild Click Season-IV was an opportunity to experience the virgin wilderness of Pench (MH). The jungle of Pench, also known as the Kipling County, was made famous by Rudyard Kipling through his immortal character - Mowgli. Tourism in Pench had been operational for years from the MP side. The Maharashtra side has been thrown open for tourism only 6 months back. Tourism is yet to pick up at Pench MH despite its proximity to the city of Nagpur. For wildlife lovers, it is an opportunity to experience a quiet and colourful forest rich in flora that is yet to witness exodus of tourist.

The 60km drive through partial tolled highway from Nagpur to Pench generally takes about 90min. You leave the Nagpur-Jabbalpur highway at Pawni and proceed to Sillari. After making an entry at the forest outpost, our journey continued for 6 km through sparse human habitation till we reached the Amaltas complex of forest department at Sillari village. A permit for park visit is to be obtained from Amaltas complex.

The wild click is a live photo competition where participants vie under similar conditions. All photographs were to be captured in 5 safaris and one nature walk. The season-IV of wild click had the patronage of Maharashtra Forest Deptt looking to promote the location as a potential wildlife tourism center. 32 participants from various parts of India congregated there for the event. It was too big a crowd there for the facilities in place. Gypsys were called in from Pench MP.

The event was kicked off with the nature walk along the Sillari Nature Trail emanating from backside of Amaltas. This area is the territory of a leopard with cubs. The leopard had made a kill during the event. The foul stench indicated that the carcass was in the near vicinity of the campus. We were advised to walk the trail only with trained guides. We never met the leopard, but nevertheless the walk around was thrilling because of expectations. Routes for safaris were charted out carefully to give us a complete experience of the park. We were covering different parts of the forest in each safari. The forest turned out to be one of the most colourful I have been. Many a times, it unfolded before us stunning landscapes. The forest being virgin had seen very little footprint. In most areas animals and birds are not used to human presence. They would generally run away on sight of gypsy, even the langurs,  that would generally block your path in other parks. The team in all could spot several species of birds including vultures, leopard, wild dogs, bisons, jackals, sambhar and spotted deer. Count of these species was healthy to sustain a good forest eco-system. We were appraised that the total tiger population of the reserve is around 26. There were 11 gypsys with 4 participants in each who had done 5 safaris each lasting about 4 hours. Yet none saw a tiger. This is an indication of how tough sighting is. We did saw fresh pugmarks on final morning which proved presence of tiger in the area. However the bottom-line is that tourist will come only if a park provides decent chance of sighting tiger. I mean, one can not expect a tourist spending 2500 rupees for a trip to come back again or give some good word of mouth publicity, if he fails to asses a decent chance of seeing the big cat. This is why Tadoba is such a hit last year. We also had a trip to the adjoining Mahadeo Singh WLS, which is a part of Pench. That was a damp squib as even deer were scarce to spot. One would be better off spending time in Sillari than Mahadeo Singh.

A game drive is best experienced in an open gypsy, not in an AC car. But the no of gypsy for park visit are too few and rickety. Therefore private vehicle had to be allowed which always is a nuisance. We could see a decent crowd on Sunday, mostly using their private car for visiting the park. But the flow of tourist on weekdays was too low for local employment to sustain. Tourism being nascent, the facilities at the park is limited. There are three places for one to spend a night. The first one is a private resort (Go-Flemmingo) located very close to the highway. This will not give you a feel of jungle. Very close to the core area are the Amaltas complex of forest department and a small MTDC resort. Amaltas is a facility with about 14 basic rooms spaced around a large green compound. Room capacity of this facility is being enhanced. The third facility is the Sillari Jungle Resort run by the MTDC located some 100 mtr further is also not luxury class, but decent place with a small swimming pool. We had stayed at both Amaltas and the MTDC.

The main park has another Achilles heel.  There exists a large colony of a hydel power plant at Totladoh inside core area of the forest. Though a large part of the colony is deserted, there still lives a decent population. Buses run through this park to cater to this population. Buses were seen running even after dark. The setting of the power plant deep inside the forest had definitely left a deep scar on wildlife. Many scared animals might have migrated to MP side of Pench. It will take some more time for the wound to heal. I hope that facilities will improve with time and teething problems will wither away. In the years to come, this beautiful park has potential to become a hotspot. Next time you plan a trip to Tadoba or Nagzira, you can plan to include Pench for a day.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:17 PM | 5 comments

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