Early morning in Pench National Park. This is the first time that I have experienced a safari drive outside of Africa and it was undoubtedly VERY different in this particular park. Let me break it down. Unlike a private reserve in South Africa where the guides can leave the camp and head straight into their reserve, here we were picked up at our hotel VERY early in the morning and we were driven to the Park gate where we would enter once the paperwork had been filled out and drivers and guides assigned. We already had a naturalist on board, but he could neither drive nor guide. That being said, the drivers were rather hectic and the guides basically sat in the back of the vehicle and did little or nor nothing except wait to be paid at the end of the drive. The vehicles were 6-seaters called a Gypsey and they were driven with the fervour of a Rally driver on the final leg of a gruelling mountain race. Drives could only be done in a clockwise direction, meaning that if a sighting was missed, the driver would sometimes reverse (illegal) or would take off at breakneck speed to complete a circuit of the Park to get back to where he needed to be. The local visitors are NOT quiet and will call and shout and in some cases, even try to get off their vehicles at a sighting! And MANY of these vehicles can be parked in a tiny space at a sighting…as well as LARGE busses, filled to the brim with shouting locals. It seemed that my wife and I, together with a young Australian, were the only foreign tourists in this Park for the duration of our stay.
As a testament to the driving prowess, or lack thereof, I cracked two ribs when our driver jammed on his brakes with no warning while reversing into a sighting. I was kneeling on the seat ready to get the shot when he stopped. And even though I took the full force of that stop with my ribs on the roll bar, I managed to get the shot and it was in focus. So the pain was well worth it.
That being said, the jungle that we traversed was sublime and the bird calls and sounds that carried through the trees were almost a juxtaposition for the mayhem that was taking place on the park roads.
Pench National Park was where Rudyard Kipling got his inspiration for The Jungle Book, which he wrote in 1894. Many of the lodges outside the Park bear booth cartoons or names of the main characters on their walls or as their lodge names.
Hanuman Langur Monkey, one of the Old World species are similar to the Vervet Monkeys that run riot in many of the game lodges back in South Africa. The first sighting of these monkeys, I thought that their mouths were sewed together. On closer inspection, it turns out that it was only facial hair that gave that impression. Don’t ask me how I figured that an entire troop could live with stitched together lips…I can only blame the fact that it was early in the morning and I was not quite awake.
We were very grateful to have spent time with this tiger on 6 separate occasions. Her name is Baras and if memory serves, it means 12 in Hindi. She was given this name due to markings on her forehead. The first sighting was so overwhelming that it had me pinching myself that I was ACTUALLY seeing a tiger, in the wild, in a Park in India! The magnificence of these animals is hard to describe, but once witnessed, will never be forgotten.
And then this cub popped up during a drive. It was the only other tiger that we saw during our stay, but given that no sightings are guaranteed, and we had seen Baras on every drive, we were elated by this ‘bonus’ sighting.
Chital or Spotted Deer made me feel that I was in a forest in the UK. This particular species is plentiful and it should, therefore, come as no surprise that they are preyed upon by many of the predators in the park.
Wild Boar with no Asterix or Obelix in sight…
This Leopard hidden on a rocky outcrop was, in fact, trying to get away from the multitude of vehicles that were jostling for position at the foot of these boulders. Noisy and insistent on getting a prime spot, the local made it both impossible and unpleasant to try and get a proper sighting. Eventually, we reversed out of this and headed off to see what else might be around.
And we were rewarded with this uncommon sighting of a Dhole or Indian Wild Dog. Luckily for us, it turned out that all the vehicles were at the leopard, so we had this sighting to ourselves.
A Rhesus Macaques Monkey also one of the Old World species found in this park.
Chowsinga or 4-horned Deer. It looked similar to a Steenbok, but with two extra horns. I did wonder why the extra set and research shows that very little is know scientifically for this bovid to have this configuration. A rare and unusual sighting of these solitary animals.
These Black Kites could be found in almost every habitat in the parts of India that we visited. We found vast flocks of them in Mumbai both in the inner city and out on the beaches.
AGrey Hornbill, not too dissimilar from the ones that we have back in South Africa.
Indian Roller, part of the Roller family that frequents South African airspace, either as a resident or one of the migratory species.
Nilgai or Blue Bull. If a Moose and wildebeest a had offspring, this would be it. It has the weirdest shaped body, which is HUGE and a head that is tiny by comparison.
A Rufous Treepie, a member of the crow family. Also known as the Tiger Bird because of its orange colour.
This Sambar Deer seems to be trying to say something. Given the good, the bad and the indifferent of this park, if offered the opportunity I would return faster than you can say “Namaste”! To find tigers in the wild and on all of our drives (bar one when we saw a leopard) is not a usual occurrence. And the pain and discomfort of my cracked ribs that I had to deal with for the rest of our trip were well worth the images that I returned home with. Go to India with an open mind and be ready to welcome and enjoy the new and certainly different experiences that it will offer. .
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