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Pench Tiger Reserve

The air is hot and heavy. Even the flora and fauna has succumbed to the heat, dry and withered, all life and energy having been sapped out of them. Skeletal trees stand denuded of leaves gasping for cool air. The ground is parched and dry. The smell of heat reflects from the ground. It is oppressive.

The parched colours of the forest are only interrupted by the startling and dramatic forms of the ghost trees so-called because of the spooky silhouette that they give off at night.

The rustling of dry leaves, the rutting call of the spotted deer, the canorous whistles of birds, punctuated our forays in to the forest.

Driving into the park in the late afternoon I was full of excitement and anticipation, my eyes scanning hopefully for any signs of a tiger. In my childish fervour not only did I bring to life shapes and colours to be a stalking tiger but I missed many other sightings, most notably the variety and wealth of birdlife. But Samir, our naturalist did not.

As he negotiated the winding roads of the Reserve he would spot birds with effortless ease, bids that I could hardly see let alone identify. An Indian grey hornbill flitting between trees, a Malabar pied hornbill sitting imperiously on a branch; the driving, darting flight of a white-throated kingfisher; the dazzling luminescent plumage of an Indian Roller.

Stretching across the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, Pench is a scenic reserve covered in prime teak forest and grassland. Nestling in the undulating terrain of the Satapura Range, it was here that Kipling based his tale of the man-cub Mowgli and his adventures with the Seoni Wolf Pack.

Shrill cry of alarm followed by tense stillness.

The tiger is the conductor who makes the orchestra of the jungle play. We did not have so much of a glimpse of a tiger but the supercharges atmosphere of the forest. Seeing tigers reaffirms their beauty whereas tracking reveals their spirit.

Sadly the only evidence we saw of the tiger was its spoor – large, no impressively large pug marks. A tree that had been raked by a tiger marking its territory, proclaiming to the world, or rather expectant tourists, that the true king of the jungle was around, even if unseen.

Each foray threw up its own delights – several sightings of sambar. We had a couple of close encounters with the nilgai, the largest antelope in Asia. We saw the dancing defiant stride of a jackal. Everywhere we went, there were langurs chattering excitedly or lying languidly in the shade of trees. Often they were to be found in the company of chital, the langur and the deer having a symbiotic relationship. The one dropping fruit from above, the other fertilising the ground, each acting as a sentinel to for the other from their respective vantage points.

Samir parked next to a tree. I felt it an odd and unimpressive place from which to watch the sunset but I acquiesced to Samir’s demand for patience. Shortly after darkness had descended two figures crept cautiously along the branch of the tree above us. As my eyes were trying to adjust to the gloom and work out what they were, one of them seemed to grow wings and suddenly launched itself into space. They were giant flying squirrels.

















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