“You’ve missed the forest owl,” says naturalist Vishal Sharma, entering the grounds of Pench Tree Lodge at Pugdundee Safaris, one of Pench Tiger Reserve’s most successful safaris. It’s evening and the sky has already covered the place. It’s dark and smooth and I hear it humming through the serpentine shadows of the branches as I look around to see the dense canopy around us. I wonder how he knew that owls have been my favorite bird since I started bird watching ten years ago. Strangely it was the birds that had originally pointed me to the forest but here at Pench Tiger Reserve, the home of the late Colarwali, tigers and leopards have been putting on a show together with tigers, bears, wild boars, wild boars, wild dogs, and their various prey including spotted and bark deer. , sambar, monkeys, and several other reptiles and amphibians etc.
It’s my first time in Pench National Park, the jungle that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write his Jungle Book and its immortal characters. and at Pugdundee Safaris which is a wildlife sanctuary in the Central Heartland of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. And this is where I connect and release my inner Mowgli that has been sleeping inside me for years.
After a long journey of about three hours from Nagpur airport, we reach the Pench Tree lodge which is about 20 minutes from Karamjhari gate of Pench National Park. The tourist gateway of Turia is home to many forest habitats and wildlife sanctuaries and is situated on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Harish Arya, the General Manager of the resort gives us a warm welcome and a brief tour of the lodge and tiger reserve with maps and exhibits while I sip relaxing herbal tea.
Located in the tribal village of Sarahiri, Pench Tree Lodge, one of the permanent Pench Tiger Reserve Lodges blends seamlessly with the wilderness amidst 40 acres of dense forest. I stay with Pugdundee Safaris for a few days and it’s a very short trip to paradise but every minute in the wild is irreplaceable and precious.
Pench Tree Lodge is a lodge that blends into the wilderness with six tree houses and six luxury cabins. It is one of the best and most stable places in Pench Tiger Reserve. Surrounded by trees and grass, the houses are small and open to the desert. The Luxury Family Cottages are spacious and elegant yet comfortable and stable.
Built with Sal wood and stone, the cottage comes with a luxurious bathroom and a private wooden terrace where you can watch birds and butterflies fly or see wild animals like deer or wild boar. What I love about the architecture is the seamless movement between the inside and the outside of the world, where you can see the forest through the large French windows but stay in the comfort of the stone walls. There are many sanctuaries of Pench Tiger Reserve but only a few are dedicated to their maintenance and upkeep.
While cottages are nice and luxurious, tree houses are more impressive. Sitting on top of Mahua trees and supported by stilts, you feel like Mowgli but in a relaxed way. Standing 18 meters high, you feel on top of the world, exploring the world from among the trunks and branches. This log cabin is the signature of a lodge called a tree lodge.
Built with local Sal wood, the interior is beautiful with old world charm with a king size bed. Large French windows, an open verandah that is well supported by tree branches, a bay window chair where you can sit or use an extra bed, and a large bathroom will take you to another world. The birds come calling right inside while you are drinking tea. The civets roam around in the dead of night so you can hear them from your bedroom.
Sometimes you feel as if you are on a journey from heaven where you look at the vast forests of clear cut trees and open grass and entertain the spirit of the forest. My favorite place is the open wooded area that looks like it’s in a “birding multiplex”. I can sit in bed and watch a drama play out in front of me at any moment.
As we spend one night in the cabin and another in the tree house, I can’t help but be overwhelmed and happy at the same time as I remember the Jungle Book.
Breakfast is usually packed and served as a “picnic” on a trip to Pench National Park and is a delicious mix of local snacks and delicacies. It is important to note that every shipment is sustainable and no waste is left behind. There is a designated area for all the jeeps to eat breakfast and no animals or birds are fed.
Lunch is served in a bright, pleasant restaurant that opens onto the swimming pool, dinner can be arranged outside in the bush or in the garden and farm. The Farm Dinner Meal is available on request and can be customized but what really appeals to me is the traditional atmosphere with the mud walls and beautiful paintings depicting wild animals and village themes. Tandoor cooking involves black earthenware pots and local food is cooked over an open fire with firebricks.
There is an effort to create and prepare food that is sustainable and Chef Pankaj explains the concept of lunch. “Inspired by the concept of the Under 100-mile Menu. It is called “Panch Gaon” or “Five Villages.” The menu is inspired by the traditional foods eaten in the villages around the site. Some of these foods include corn, bajra, locally grown rice , beans, red spinach, and free-range chicken,” he adds.
My favorites are Paanka which is a shallow tikki made with fresh corn, Laal bhaji saag which is red spinach, and two types of dal or lentils – Dal Bafouri with moong dal and Dal Tewda with channa bhaji. It is served with Bhaat or local rice and Johar and Bajra Roti. Noodles and Lapsi made with jaggery.
Events and Activities
Like other resorts in Pench Tiger Reserve, Pench Tree Lodge arranges and books all your safaris and a naturalist from the resort accompanies you. There are three safaris – morning, evening, and night and depending on availability, you can get the base areas or the reserve. But what I love is doing nothing. Seriously, sit on my bed and watch the birds on my open multiplex screen. However, you can also go on a nature walk and do more than bird watching on site with naturalists.
Another place of interest is the Kipling Hide, an expertly designed hideaway specially designed for wildlife photographers. You can see and photograph birds and wildlife in close, day or night without disturbing them from your small space on the ground.
Pench Tree Lodge also organizes activities outside the lodge from village walks, bike tours and day trips and safaris in the reserve. But I will have to come back one day to see all this and more.
Stay at Pench Tree Lodge
Pugdundee Safaris prides itself on building and managing wildlife lodges and talks. They have been recognized for their green projects by winning the ICRT and Outlook Indian Responsible Tourism Awards in 2022. And this is one of the best Pench Tiger Reserve Lodges that focus on sustainability, conservation, rural communities and ensuring women empowerment. .
The focus on conservation and construction and low carbon emissions can be seen in all the lodges, especially at Pench Tree Lodge. With only six tree houses and six luxury villas built of Sal wood and stone in 40 acres of wilderness, it gives you the feeling of living in the forest. The residence has been built without disturbing the natural environment and biodiversity.
They use green furniture, local materials, natural light and many other things. Even the toilets are organic, and recyclable with zero plastic use. No more plastic bottles – recycled metal bottles are kept in guest rooms. There are glass bottles in the bathrooms with lotions or shower gels that can be refilled and reused. Whether it’s bamboo ears or small storage boxes, or newspaper bags, the most important thing is to be green.
In terms of food, there they grow their own produce and have a herb and vegetable garden and the emphasis is also on local food, promoting regional, traditional produce and rejecting packaged foods and exotic foods. The lodge also offers us a variety of food and local products, including the delicious Paanch Gaon food we had.
Pugdundee safaris also aims to engage with local communities, empower and educate and create equal opportunities for women. There are Naturalist Training Programs and they also employ naturalists, including women. Guidance is provided to local residents to find job opportunities and projects as well. Education is provided in local schools and communities on environmental and wildlife awareness. At Pugdundee everyone has a responsibility to act sustainably and “their goal is to turn every visitor into an ambassador for wildlife and conservation.”