The state of Madhya Pradesh is literally and figuratively the heart of India. It is a cross-section of India in many ways, be it culture, heritage, or nature. But the most beautiful reason why it is so representative of India is the fact that it is home to the Indian national animal, the Tiger.
Pench National Park is one of the six tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh where the roar of the majestic animals sends shivers up the spine. The jungles of Madhya Pradesh are not only great breeding grounds for the tigers but also great catalysts for fuelling the imagination. It is believed that the stories of Jungle Book were woven by Rudyard Kipling based on his imagination of these very jungles.
“Welcome to Pench, are you ready to see the tigers”, says the smiling guide as you file into the open safari jeep. As the jeep drives deep into the jungle, the atmosphere is pregnant with anticipation, each pair of eyes in the jeep is wide open without blinking so as not to miss a furtive movement in the bushes.
The Jungle Book seems to come alive as the jeep cruises silently across the large expanse of forest densely covered with Sal and other trees. Monkeys with black faces make merry on the branches overhead, a peacock struts in narcissistic splendour, a herd of deer throw a shy glance and trot gracefully away into the depths of the jungle.
Pug marks on the dirt track indicate that a tigress named Langdi along with her cubs has been in the vicinity. Suddenly the silence of the jungle is smitten with the cacophonic and high pitched noises of the monkeys and deer in unison. It is the alarm call of the approach of ‘Shere Khan” a.k.a. Tiger. And then he appears in the distance graceful in gait, arrogant in demeanour, an animal who is master of his space and time. He gives a fleeting appearance and disappears in the halo of the setting sun, behind a grove of trees.
The safari is over for the moment, till another day, and another rendezvous with a tiger, the Shere Khan of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.