An aspect enhancing the romance and thrill of Pench national park is the fact that it is the backdrop for Rudyard Kipling’s famous tome ‘The Jungle Book’. Located on the southern edge of the Satpura mountain range, the park is divided into two nearly equal halves by the river Pench that meanders through it and gives the park its name. The park is a large forest tract about 1500 sq kms in area spreading across the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The jungle is a mosaic of rocky patches, wooded hills, backwaters of the river and vast grasslands akin to the African Savannah. Pench was declared a National Park in 1983 and given a tiger reserve status in 1992. The park was adjudged the ‘Best Managed National Park’ by the government in 2011. A three part documentary by BBC called ‘Tiger: Spy in the Jungle’ narrated by Sir David Attenborough has brought the park international recognition.
Pench is a mixed deciduous forest, with some very dry scrub like patches as well as areas around the river valley that are green for most parts of the year. The park is a delightful mix of large grasslands, rocky outcrops and tree thickets. Teak is the dominant specie of tree here. In some stretches teak trees grow densely together blocking all sunlight with their large leaves thus making the forest floor devoid of undergrowth. Flame of the forest, Tendu, Mahua, Wild Mango and Neem are some of the other common trees seen here. A patch of forest on a slope is interestingly dominated by Bhirra (Choloroxylon sweitenia), a short hardy tree with small spherical leaves. Bhirra is sought after by locals, who burn the leaves inside their home as a mosquito repellent. Numerous gigantic Banyan trees said to be over a hundred years old are seen at several places along with other species of figs like Peepal and Pilkhan. While there are many species of plants, grasses and trees in Pench, one of the most iconic of all the flora found here is the ‘Kullu’ or the ghost tree (also known as the Karaya gum tree). Growing on rocky surfaces, this white tree with a smooth trunk seems to glow on moonlit nights, earning the sobriquet of a ghost. The backwaters of the river Pench leave behind fertile floodplains that support nourishing grasses for the deer and antelopes. The hilly areas with rocky outcrops are leopard sighting hotspots, while the park as a whole is excellent tiger habitat.
Pench national park has one of the best populations of herbivores in the country. Healthy herbivore numbers mean that the carnivore numbers do well too. The jungle is teeming with spotted deer, Blue bull or Neel gai, sambar and large herds of Gaur among a host of other deer and antelopes like the elusive Muntjac and the Chowsingha (four horned antelope) respectively. The park is known for good sightings of leopards and tigers, along with the ‘whistling hunters’ or wild dogs (Dholes in Hindi). This forest also has a thriving population of jackals and sloth bears while wolves are seen on the periphery of the forest. Langur monkeys and rhesus macaques abound and even pay regular visits to the lodge. It is interesting to note, that the world’s largest cat the tiger (weighing 220 kgs for an average male), as well as the world’s smallest cat the Rusty spotted cat (weighing under 1.5 kgs), can both be found here. Numerous large water bodies, grasslands and forests provide a varied avian habitat, making it a bird haven with over 340 species recorded. Calls of parakeets, green pigeons and jungle babblers add to the forest song, while the Ruddy Shelducks, bright blue Kingfishers, Asian paradise flycatchers and Red Avadavats are a visual feast.