The jungles that inspired Rudyard Kipling's ‘Jungle Book’

Pench National Park

Less visited than Kanha or Bandhavgarh, this excellent national park has the highest density of herbivores amongst all Indian reserves. The sun-dappled forest floor is alive with herds of spotted deer and small groups of Gaur. Majestic Sambar are common in clearings while Barking Deer (Muntjac) enjoy the thick forests. These ungulates help feed Pench’s hungry carnivores that include Tigers, Leopards, Wild Dogs, Jackals, Jungle Cats and the endangered Indian Wolf.

Location names from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ jump out from the map of Pench, the Vainganga River, forests of Seoni… here the Jungle Book comes literally alive.

The jungles that inspired Rudyard Kipling's ‘Jungle Book’

The river Pench flows through the park. It lies in the southern, lower reaches of the Satpura Hills, less than 90 km north of Nagpur. Although a contiguous tiger habitat declared as a tiger reserve in 1992, it straddles the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra which administer their sections of the reserve separately.

Characterized by a low, hilly landscape covered with mixed-deciduous forest, the region is predominantly teak forest and roughly marks the northern limit of this tree. Bamboo stands are a common sight. Several perennial pools, seasonal rivulets and small streams create a perfect environment for tigers.

Towards the southern margins of Madhya Pradesh’s Pench Tiger Reserve, the reservoir created by the Totladoh hydroelectric project has become a major draw for waterbirds, seen in profusion during winter. The region has more than 200 species of birds, and the months from December to March are ideal for a birding visit.

‘Super mum’ Collarwali

The abundant prey base undoubtedly helped Pench’s most famous tigress Collarwali (‘the one wearing a collar’), whose death aged 16 in January 2022 saddened wildlife lovers all over India and abroad. ‘Super mum’ Collarwali was able to often hunt twice a day, and nudged her litters to become independent sooner, allowing her to nurture an amazing 29 cubs (of which a record 25 survived) in eight litters during her lifetime.

When young, she and her mother featured in David Attenborough’s BBC documentary, ‘Spy in the Jungle’. Almost singlehandedly, she made Pench among India’s most popular tiger reserves.

Experiences

Apart from morning and evening safaris, there is ample opportunity to walk or cycle in the buffer zones, or undertake a night safari.

A chance to visit local tribal villages should not be missed.

From the Director's Travel Diary

It was an eye-opener to visit a village of the Gonds, Pench's most prominent tribe whose lifestyles are intimately associated with the land and its fauna. Their deity Mansingh Deo supposedly possessed supernatural healing powers and would ride into the local bazaar on his Tiger. I doubt if the Top Gear team will ever top that.

It is heartening to note that the Gonds of nearby villages have gradually become participants in wildlife conservation efforts.

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Our Accommodation Ratings

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