The heart of India offers the best wildlife-watching opportunities in national parks that are accessible from Maharashtra
PENCH NATIONAL PARK
The dense jungles of our favourite childhood story still tremble with Shere Khan’s roar and ring with the tunes of the Bare necessities. Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh embodies the green paradise that Mowgli and his friends capered in – it was, after all, the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. And certainly, the tigers here are not any less fierce, the foliage any less dense and the species of jungle cats any less abundant than in that classic book. Enter the famous Baghin Nala – if you dare – and try to spot Collarwali, Pench National Park’s resident celebrity tiger, who headlined in the popular documentary series Spy in the Jungle.
If you don’t see Her Majesty, don’t fret; there are many other majestic predators to watch out for from among the park’s population of leopards, wolves, wild dogs, hyenas and jackals. This spacious park also has the highest density of herbivores in India, with Indian bison, cheetal, sambar, nilgai, wild pigs, sloth bears, chousinghas, chinkaras, barking deer, porcupines and more. Other points of interest include Pench Reservoir, whose still waters are graced by the Brahminy duck, pochards, barheaded geese and coots, and over 285 resident and migratory birds that spend time here; and Sitaghat, where exotic birds glide over the tranquil Pench River. Squint into the leafy curtains of the Piyorthadi outcrop; be still as a mouse as you seek out the elusive leopard and quiver in anticipation as you hear the distant vultures scream as they swoop down over their prey.
There is also a variety of options for accommodation that allows you to luxuriate in the lap of nature while still affording a true jungle experience. Enjoy a pleasant stay in the cooler months and make sure to check out the Wildlife Tour Packages for the best deals.
Season: Oct 16 – Jun 30
Closest airport: Nagpur Airport (117km)
SATPURA & PANCHMARHI
Panchmarhi, the queen of Satpura, sits atop her throne in the upper reaches of the Hoshangabad District in Madhya Pradesh. Perched 1,000m above sea level, she won’t take any less than awe-inspired wonderment from all those who look upon her beauty. And for those who make the extra effort, she pours forth crystal-clear waterfalls, scenic forests and unique wildlife. Panchmarhi is known as ‘Satpura-ki-rani’, and is considered to be the highest point in Central India. It forms a part of the larger Satpura National Park, which is home to a delightful variety of bird species, as well as the majestic tiger. Wildlife-lovers will revel in exploring this beautiful UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve, which is also home to a wonderful range of fauna.
Panchmarhi reveals her wealth of history in cave paintings and legends – the Pandavas are believed to have stayed here during their exile. Ancient paintings can be found at the famous Pandav Caves. Lush gardens welcome visitors as they enter these Buddhist caves, some supposedly hewn as early as the 1st century ADE. Priyadarshini or Forsyth Point has stunning views of rolling hills and misty mountains, and the waterfalls in Panchmarhi are another beautiful sight to behold. Jamuna Prapat might cause you to lose the ability to speak, while an exhilarating 10-minute trek will lead you to a steep drop and Rajat Prapat.
An impressive ravine with dramatically steep sides and a 300m precipice, Handi Koh is also an exciting place to visit. A great spot to picnic at with family is Apsara Vihar, which has a shallow pool that makes the perfect backdrop to a visit. This beautiful landscape further abounds in exciting trekking trails and sunset points; it bewitches all kinds of travellers.
KANHA NATIONAL PARK
They say the bagh, or tiger, can strike its victims dead with just one swipe of a paw. This majestic animal is as deadly as it is beautiful. With its population of the regal tiger, Kanha National Park offers the chance for a glorious sighting on a jeep safari. The adrenaline filled euphoria at being on the lookout for the wild ferocious beast is very different. On safari, you might also catch a glimpse of bison, gaur, sambar, chital, black buck, jackal fox, black deer and many others.
A faint rustle, the slightest snapping of a twig will have you whipping around trying to spot the elusive animal. In the open grassy meadows you are likely to see the park’s herds of barasingha (or swamp deer) in all their horned beauty. Their grace and agility as they lope across the landscape may surprise you. In the cold winter months, you may hear their husky alarm calls as they run from the mighty tiger and her cubs. It is possible to see leopard as well, if you get lucky, although the park’s tour guides make no promises. The rare few who do behold this sight however, get a special view of the animal in all its spotted splendour. Also look out for the panther, sleek and deadly like Bagheera in The Jungle Book. And, no matter what, do not forget your binoculars, as these will be your eyes into a hidden world of feathered fowl. Home to more than 300 bird species, the park offers views of storks, teals, pintails, egrets, pond herons, peacocks, cuckoos and more.
Season: Oct 16 – Jun 30
Closest airport: While Jabalpur Airport is closer (165km), Nagpur’s airport (280km) has more frequent (and cheaper) flights.