My First Wildlife Encounter with Pugdundee Safaris in Panna National Park (MP, India)
A Weekend to Remember at Ken River Lodge in Panna National Park
The day was 14 December 2019, and the time was 0735 in the morning, and the location – Panna National Park, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India – This day shall forever be remembered!
After going for multiple wildlife safaris, it was on this date that I had my first sighting, of a graceful and powerful big cat!
A female Leopard, in the wilderness!
But, before going forward, let me recap things a bit!
Back in the month of September, I got a message from my friend that she is getting married in the town of Orchha, near Jhansi in India. A quick google survey later, I found myself to be more excited as I realised that Jhansi was just a couple of hours away by train, from the town of Khajuraho – The gateway to Panna National Park.
In a matter of a week, my tickets were booked, and my search for some rustic lodges in the wilderness of Panna National Park, concluded in me finalising Ken River Lodge.
Ken River Lodge – fondly known as the Tree House by locals, owing to the lovely Machaan restaurant, overlooking the Ken River; is a luxurious wildlife lodge spread in a sprawling 50 acre of jungle along the Ken River.
Ken River Lodge, operated by Pugdundee Safaris was established in 1986, and was one of the pioneers of wildlife tourism in India, and has been built with natural materials sourced mostly from neighbouring villages and surrounding areas.
The famous picture of the Machaan restaurant, overlooking the Ken River (Google it), convinced me in the first go itself, that this is where I’ll be staying.
Fast-forward to 13 December 2019
After a four-hour train journey from Jhansi, I found myself at Khajuraho Railway Station at 7 AM in the morning of 13th December 2019, and in a matter of another 30 odd minutes, at Ken River Lodge in Panna National Park. (Ken River Lodge is 12 KM from Khajuraho Railway Station)
We were welcomed by Mr Rabindra Nayak the lodge manager at Ken River Lodge, who first gave us an introduction about the property and Panna National Park, followed by a property tour, and intimated us about the things in store for us, and then later dropped us to our home for the next 2 days – Hut Number 5.
As we got chatting with Mr Rabindra, we got to know that Ken River Lodge has 8 village styled air conditioned huts, and 5 family cottages (2 bedrooms each), equipped with all modern amenities, spread over 50 acres.
According to him, the main highlights of our trip would be
- The Sunset Boat Ride on the Ken River.
- The Morning Jungle Safari.
- Appreciating the beauty of nature.
- The Digital Detox.
And trust me, when we checked out, we realised that he was actually right, as majority of the day, we were off social media (No network in the rooms and in the jungle), and appreciated the sounds of nature with the birds chirping, where ever we went.
So, at around 4:15 in the evening on 13th December, we headed out on the Sunset Boat Ride, in the Ken River, alongside which Ken River Lodge is located; which ended up, with us enjoying the sunset, with a hot cup of chai, from the top of a small rocky island.
By the time we were back, it became pitch black, even though it was just 6 PM, so we enjoyed a sumptuous spread of food and called it an early night.
14th December 2019
The day started at 6 AM when we were greeted by Mr Parikshit our Naturalist guide from the team of Ken River Lodge. After an informal ice breaking tea session, we made our way to the entry gate, where our guide from the Panna Tiger Reserve joined our gypsy.
And off we went!
Into the wilderness of Panna National Park!
As we started on our Adventure, we got to know that Panna National Park, which is also one of the Best National Parks in India, is spread over 543 sq km, and was carved out of the hunting reserves of the erstwhile Panna, Chattarpur and Bijawar states. Panna was accorded sanctuary status in 1975 and upgraded to a national park in 1981, and in 1994, it became India’s 22nd Tiger Reserve.
Panna has been home to a highly successful Tiger relocation project. Tigers from different national parks of India, were relocated and introduced in the jungles of Panna National Park, between 2000 – 2010, and in a matter of few years, the tiger population has thrived and grown to a good 50 odd tigers in the entire reserve.
Unlike Corbett National Park, Panna doesn’t have any zones as such. Out of the total area, only 20% is accessible to tourists, via the Madla gate and the Hinauta gates. It is always better to book entry ticket in advance through (www.mponline.gov.in), as the maximum number of vehicles allowed to enter the park per-day is limited.
According to Mr Parikshit, the priority of our jungle safari was searching for Tigers for the first couple of hours, followed by a packed breakfast, at some good spot, and then looking for other fauna.
Before we started the safari, the officials had conveyed to our guides, about the last known location of the tigers, and the first hour we did just that – rushing to the spots, where the tiger could have been.
An hour into the safari, at around 0730, we saw a movement on the road ahead, and within seconds our guides confirmed that it was a leopard.
And there she was, a beautiful female leopard, who slowly started walking towards our gypsy, giving us a nice show, before heading to the bushes.
At this point, our experienced guides, reversed the gypsy, and went around the road. While I was still trying to gather myself, with all the adrenaline pumping and my excitement levels being at an all-time high, in a matter of 2 minutes, she appeared from the bushes, and started strolling ahead.
And now, instead of walking into the bushes, she decided to stay on the muddy road, and leap onto a tree, and stay there for quite a bit. The tree, was just next to the muddy road, and hardly a meter and a half from our gypsy, and there we were, enjoying a nice private sighting of the leopard.
The next 5 minutes, we stared at the leopard, and observed her make her way around the tree, as she give us a nice photoshoot opportunity.
While on one side, we all stood on our gypsy, with our cameras, locked on the leopard, the leopard on the other side, sat there, giving us the stare, looking straight into my zoomed camera lens.
We both sat there, staring at each other, maintaining eye contact with each other, before she suddenly decided to get going. The sudden action of her, getting up, and running down the tree, into the bushes, appeared to me for a fraction of a second, as if she was going to pounce on me, which scared the shit out of me for a second, and I could feel a sudden rush of adrenaline running in my body.
And that my friend, was my first wildlife sighting experience in the wilderness. Those 15 minutes, from the time I first saw the leopard, till the time, she decided to go and get on with her stuff, will remain forever etched in my memory.
However, that’s not all!
While we were still hoping for a tiger spotting, we ended up spotting plenty of Sambar Deers, Neelgais, The Chitala Deers, Peacocks, really up close and personal, which made the experience of the Jungle Safari in Panna National Park with Ken River Lodge and Pugdundee Safaris, the one to remember for times to come.
The rest of the day, we practically did nothing, but just eat the yummy food cooked by the awesome chefs at Ken River Lodge, and share about our leopard sightings with others.
15th December 2019
The time had come for us to check out of Ken River Lodge, after a leisure breakfast and lunch, and biding adieu to the entire team of Ken River Lodge, specially to Mr Rabindra and Mr Parikshit, for making sure that we have the best of the experiences during our stay with them.
Looking back, to what Mr Rabindra, had told us when we were checking in, we found ourselves to be very lucky and to be at the right place at the right time. We were lucky that we got to enjoy a good sunset on the 13th evening, as on 14th, it was cloudy all-day long. And even though it was foggy for major part of our safari, we had an excellent sighting, as according to our guides, the cats prefer walking on the muddy roads, instead of the grass where there are dew – drops.
All in all, a weekend well spent in the jungles of Panna National Park and a safari experience, that shall forever hold a special place in my heart.
Major Highlights during our stay at Ken River Lodge, Panna National Park
- Staying in the spacious huts, equipped with all modern amenities, yet having an old rustic charm.
- The mesmerising view from Machaan, during the meals. The sumptuous, yet simple home cooked food at Ken River Lodge.
- The Sunset Boat Ride, and having chai on the rocky island.
- Navigating around Panna National Park, on a foggy morning, breathing clean pure air.
- The Leopard Sighting.
- The packed breakfast, outside a temporary closed forest guesthouse, in the middle of the wilderness.
A Weekend Itinerary for Panna National Park – Summarised
Day 1 – Arrival in Khajuraho | Transfer to Resort | Day at Leisure and sunset boat ride / nature walk
Day 2 – Morning Jungle Jeep Safari (Sunrise to 11 AM) | Day at leisure | Optional – Afternoon Safari (3/4 PM to Sunset)
Day 3 – Post Lunch Checkout | Optional Khajuraho sightseeing trip | Departure from Khajuraho
Alternatively, you can do the Morning Jungle Jeep Safari in Panna National Park on Day 2 from Sunrise until 11 AM, and then take the train back from Khajuraho in the evening.
How to Reach Panna National Park?
By Train – The most convenient option is boarding the UP Sampark Kranti (12448), in the evening from H.Nizammudin in New Delhi at 8 PM, and reaching Khajuraho in the morning between 0645- 0800 (Considering delays).
There are plenty of train options via Jhansi, which is well connected to both Delhi and Mumbai.
By Air – The nearest Airport is the Khajuraho Airport
By Road – While there are plenty of autos, waiting to ferry you at Khajuraho railway station, note that, most of the resorts are 10 + KM from the Railway Station, and the Autos will charge a premium for the same. The safest bet is to get your pick up and drop arranged by the resort, you are staying in. Average rates start from INR 1000 / vehicle one way.
Ken River Lodge, is 12 KM from Khajuraho Railway Station, and 25 KM from Khajuraho. The complete address is as follows:
Village Madla, 1/2 Km from Madla Police Station, Panna, Madhya Pradesh 488001
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