I've got jungle fever. I'm the first one to admit it, and i don't want to do anything about it. I've been on only 2 trips to the jungle, and I can't wait to go on more. My favourite (and only) haunting ground so far is the beautiful Pench National Park, 2 hours away from Nagpur. It's close enough that I can hop on a plane and spend the weekend chasing tigers. Waking up at 4am to get to the park gate, the excitement of trying to be the first jeep inside the jungle, bracing the biting cold as you careen down hills and slopes chasing 'calls', and exchanging knowing looks with other jeeps as you pass them comes together to make jungle safaris addictive and exhilarating.
We've made many friends in the jungle - Collarwali, Pench's resident matriarch and BMW who is the oldest male are two incredibly beautiful tigers. Grey and white langurs with their funny faces and loping walks are almost human in their mannerisms, societal gatherings and behaviour and hysterically funny expressions. Spotted deer (chittal) are abundant and as the darker more monotone Sambhar, a favourite food of tigers everywhere. There are birds by the thousand (but who really wants to look at birds when you can eat them instead), mongoose, wild boar, gaur, wild dogs, jackals, jungle cats, smaller cats and so many more species to be seen. Keep your camera on AUTO, spending time adjusting the focus guarantees that you will a crucial shot.
Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book living in Pench, and local pride is evident in the funnily named Mowgli's Den, Kipling's Court, and a slew of dhabas lovingly named after Bagheera, Sher Khan and of course Mowgli.
Pench Jungle Camp is a quaint property in the heart of Kipling country. The property is a combination of luxurious air conditioned tents and cosy bungalows, each with their own charm. The tents are draped in soft cloth and are large enough for four people to share. I'm usually apprehensive about sleeping on pillows that aren't mine but I sank gratefully into these every night, they were that comfortable! The bed is huge and one could get lost under the covers. More than enough place to put our extremely overpacked suitcases and unpack our clothes as well. Each tent has a sit out where you can enjoy the sounds of the jungle each evening and watch the neighbourhood come alive. The resort shares a wall with a village resulting in visits from the friendly neighbourhood cows, who come strolling past us as we sit around outside. Their gentle, bovine eyes blink slowly at you as they walk on by. Kings of the jungle they are not.
The bungalows are not as comfortable as the tents but have their own advantages. Not as comfortable simply because I stayed in a tent the first trip and a bungalow on the next one. The sit out for each bungalow looks over a small wadi and bright yellow bamboo, which gives you the feeling of being private and secluded. I much prefer the private little sit out in the bungalows to the tents. The bathrooms are huuuuge and the room is just as big. The staff is also very accommodating - I'm extremely frightened (read - terrified) of certain insects and the reception was nice enough and kind enough to send a man with a broom and a can of hit to our room every time I called them to kill one.
Food is included in the price of your room and is wholesome Indian food. I don't eat much masala and Indian food usually leaves me burning inside from the overdose of garam masala in everything. The food here was light, non oily (most important for people on diets) and really delicious. Soup, veggies, dal, rice and a meat dish are cooked with love and served at your table if there are not enough guests, or buffet style if the resort is full. The head waiter asks you what you'd like for breakfast the next morning every night. Breakfast is had at Ali-gatta at around 8.30 am on the bonnet of your jeep. It's a great place to talk to the other jeeps and figure out who has seen a tiger and where.
The other amenities at Pench Jungle Camp are added bonuses. I am a sucker for massages and spas and love being 'pressed up' as I call it every chance I get. It's a bit odd to have a spa in the middle of the jungle but you appreciate the leg massage after being bounced around a jeep for eight hours of the day. I went for a full body massage every day of the last four day trip there and spent an hour in a warm comfortable room relaxing my sore muscles.
It was hot enough that we were able to spend a few afternoons floating around the pool and attempting to pick up some colour. I failed miserably, and returned home the same pale ghost white I've always been. Sigh.
Pench Jungle Camp really is our home away from home. The service is lovely, the staff is ready to help you with anything you need. It's run by a lovely couple- Agam and Anuradha - our two legged jungle friends who are always happy to talk to you about what you saw in the jungle, their experiences living in pench and everything in between. A visit here is a must!