WORDS HARDIKA PANCHAL
PHOTOGRAPHS HIMANSHU PANDYA
GREAT FROM: Mumbai, Nagpur
GREAT FOR: Getting to know the forest intimately
A furore has erupted. Much squabbling and name-calling is involved. A monitor lizard is coolly slithering up a teak tree in pursuit of breakfast. The rose ringed parakeets are flapping their tiny wings as fast as they possibly can, zooming around and nipping at the tail of the intruder. The chubby lizard can’t quite reach the eggs far within the nesting hole and eventually gives up. A morning in Pench National Park offers incredible scenes just like this one. A baby langur clinging onto a tree stub wailing for mommy, who probably put him there as punishment for being naughty. Wild dog pups chasing away the vultures and kites who gatecrash their family feast. A peacock displaying his feathers in an attempt to lure a rather indifferent mate.
Of course, your experience in the forest varies depending on the naturalist you’re with. But, if you’re staying at the Pench Tree Lodge, you can be assured of a rewarding safari, during which you learn about every creature of the forest big and small. With a team made up of naturalists with varied interests, like the reptile fiend and snake handler Chinmay Deshpande, the focus here is not just on the tiger. And, if guests seem obsessed with the big cat, the team gently persuades them to appreciate the rest of the wonders of the forest.
This is a lovely property from which to experience the jungle in a very different way. The lodge strives to keep most of the forest undisturbed, so its six treehouses – standing tall in about less than five per cent of the 42-acre property – were built wherever there was a clearing in the savannah-like themeda grass. Each is set under or around mahua trees, so don’t be alarmed if you hear things go bump in the night. This potent little flower only blooms just after sunset and in the early morning – which explains the regular thumps on your roof at 4am. Either that, or the civets are out on their nightly stroll.
Get to know your neighbours with a guided nature walk around the property, where more than 100 bird species reside, or simply set up camp on the breezy verandah of the restaurant to watch the seven sisters, or jungle babblers, squabble with a crow trying to drink from their water bowl. These noisy birds are so named because they often hang out in groups of seven and because they’re extremely talkative. Hear the savannah nightjars go ‘choing choing’ after dark and the distinctive calls of the coppersmith barbets and treepies by day. Peer at abandoned termite mounds, admire the intricacy of a praying mantis cocoon, and examine a weaver ant’s perfectly-woven nest that the naturalist holds up for you, waiting until you touch the delicate membrane holding the leaves together before informing you that it’s made using saliva.
The same route gives you a very different experience by night. The night trail offers you a chance to spot the elusive civets, have a (safe) tryst with snakes (about 12 varieties including the striped keelback and bronzeback) and have the fun of being outdoors in a jungle camp at night when most others advise you to do the exact opposite. The night trail lets you focus on the smaller, equally amazing creatures like the huntsman spider, who, like Peter Parker, uses webs only to escape and not to trap prey. You also get to meet the adorably-named daddy long legs, and the con artiste pseudoscorpion spider, which changes its appearance as a defence mechanism. The woodland is bursting with stories – all you have to do is stay quiet and listen.