Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Panna National Park

Day 18 Amarkantak to Panna Via Rewa 

Distance: 392 km

Road Condition: Good roads with occasional potholes. A stretch of 20 km in between has no roads. However, work is in progress to lay roads. On this stretch oncoming heavy vehicle creates a cloud of dust completely blinding the driver.

Panna, a hidden treasure far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, way off the tourist radar due to it's slim tiger population. Compared to other national parks, this park is very calm minus the tiger centric crowd. This makes the jungle safari a pleasant and serene experience.

Panna National Park
Ken river, the lifeline of Panna National Park is a rich source of uncontaminated water flowing through the dense forest, an ideal living condition for the marsh crocodiles. Apart from jeep safari the park also offers boat safari to witness crocodiles basking in the sun. If you are lucky enough you could even spot an elusive leopard quenching it's thirst. Minimum charges for the boat ride is Rs. 200 for 4 people.

Massive Ken River

Due to rampant poaching, in 2009 the entire tiger population was wiped out. 2 female tigers and a male tiger were then relocated from Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench respectively. Rigorous conservation efforts by the forest department and locals has led to an increase in the tiger population. Currently, the number stands at 27. There are designated teams tracking the movement of tigers keeping them safe from poachers.

The forest department might block some safari routes if there has been a kill. While we were there, one route was off-limits as there was a fresh kill by a tigress with 3 cubs. On another occasion, we saw the carcass of a leopard being carried away by the forest officials, word is a duel broke-out between the tigress and the leopard.

Safari expenses: Jeep charges Rs. 1500, guide 300, camera charges 250, park entry fee 1000. Do checkout the museum at the ticket booking counter.

We took 3 safaris and spotted vultures. Panna is one of the last few natural habitats for these endangered species. A rocky terrain leads to great view of deep gorge, also known as Vulture point. It would be a spectacular sight to see water fall into the gorge during monsoon.

Crested Serpent Eagle
Thanks to the sheer brilliance of our guide, Suresh, we spotted a highly camouflaged nightjar. It took us a while to differentiate the bird from the twigs around.

Camouflaged Nightjar
Up Close
Other wildlife sighting included tigers cooling off by the river, crocodiles basking in the sun, grey hornbill, stork billed kingfisher, eagles, paradise flycatcher, rufous tree pie, oriental magpie, mongoose.

Stork Billed Kingfisher
Changeable Hawk Eagle
Other tourist attraction in Panna- Pandava falls. A few things to note - guide service is mandatory, charges at Rs 60 and the falls is 600 mt away from the gate. Legend is, Pandavas spent a couple of years during their exile at this place. A flight of 100 steps leads to the caves. The falls is alluring and would be quite a sight during monsoon. The caves are in pretty bad shape, the govt has closed the caves all you get to see is 2 mt of the caves. The guide says if one is extremely lucky they could spot bear, leopard or tiger here. We are not sure how lucky you would be if you have a face-off with any of these.

Pandava Caves
We checked into MPTDC Jungle Camp, Madla zone, the property shares it's boundary with the park. They provide AC tented accommodation which are very cozy, rooms are spacious and clean with TV, small fridge and comfortable sit out.  The best part is safari booking office is hardly a kilometer away.

However, the service standards of the hotel are horrendous. During our 2 days stay in the month of April, there were frequent and lengthy power cuts. Despite having backup generators the management refused to switch them on even after repeated requests. The bizarre reason given was 'The guy who switches on the gen set was not available.'

In addition, they overcharged us Rs 500 for every jeep safari we took. This being a Government owned and run hotel, these charges were unacceptable. The jeep drivers employed by the hotel try to save fuel and refuse to drive on rugged terrain. The point of taking a jungle safari is defeated.

Also, food is bad. Management is not reachable at any given time. We highly recommend you to stay away from this property.

Do check out Ken River Lodge for stay options.

With great expectations we head to Khajuraho.