November 28, 2013

Panna National Park- Wild, Wilder, Wildest...!!


It was a long drive from Bandhavgarh to Panna, but we were in at the right time to witness a wonderful sunset over the Karnavati river (better known as Ken). The round ball of orange painted the sky in a riot of colours and the shimmering river glowed in its reflection. Numerous birds flew in large flocks against the back drop making it all the more dramatic. Indeed, a sight to behold! We were at Ken River lodge, an ideal setting with the charm of hunting lodges set amidst the wilderness of Panna. The surreal vista from its dining area is bewitchingly picturesque. The lodge also receives visitors who come all the way just to enjoy a lovely meal by the encapsulating river side.



Dining by the Ken
As the sky turned grey we retreated to our cottages only to wake up early for a nature walk next morning. Mr.Shukr, senior naturalist and an avid birder accompanied us on this misty morning trail which began by spotting numerous pug and paw marks of jackals, sloth bears, foxes and cattle. We trod ahead into the forest patch which was infested with colourful butterflies, nice thicket and quite a few medical trees. Various species of avian fauna were seen aplenty. Coucals, hoopoe, large grey bablers, indian robins, plum headed parakeets, doves, red vented bulbuls, woodpeckers, kingfishers, indian rollers and indian treepies were seen flying around, and it was very much a colourful and chirpy way to begin the day. There were numerous marks made by the wild boars, huge dug ups by sloth bears and cobra dens all along till we reached a stream after walking for more than an hour. The serene stream and the mist engulfed trees made for a lovely frame. Our naturalist also pointed out claw and tail marks of a monitor lizard on the sand. There were many langurs loitering around the area along with a few buffaloes which were taking a lazy dip in the waters. Shukr also pointed out a few tree trunks which had bear claw marks on them. This forest patch also has a few houses where people still live in the wild environment, not very far from civilization. The landscape of Panna comprises of five different rocks namely kimberlite, conglomerate, granite, limestone and sand stone, and these were quite evidently seen during the walk. More birds were spotted either resting on branches or flying away as we made our way through the forest cover. On our way back, our naturalist stopped without a cue and pointed to a pair of jackals which were lurking behind a bush. As soon as they realised that we had spotted them, the pair sprinted deeper into the forest. A lovely sighting to end the nature walk.




Parakeets and doves
Treepie
Jackal
As we were gobbling down our breakfast, Mr.Bejoy Issac, the manager on duty came in running with his binoculars pointing to a couple of crocodiles which were enjoying the sun on one of the protruding rocks in the river. Crocodiles are quite often seen in Ken river lying lazily on the rocks during day time. They did not even battle an eye lid and stayed still for a very long time before disappearing into the waters of Ken. The resort also arranges for boating and angling , and I did not miss the opportunity of having a closer look at the birds and crocodiles. Angling wasn't fruitful and all the baits turned to be futile. After fiddling with the fishing rods for a while without any success, we rowed into the belly of Ken river, spotted a couple more crocodiles and some beautiful avian fauna like darters, storks and river lapwings.


A lazy crocodile

Lapwings
Stork
The first safari through Panna national park was an evening one, with Shukr, the naturalist. We first visited the interpretation centre which almost matches a wildlife museum with information, photographs and other details of the national park. Antlers of a barking deer is an exciting display at the centre. After picking up the forest guide from near the park gates, we entered the world of teak trees. The park welcomes its visitors with tall teak trees lined up beautifully making the sunlight tough to penetrate the thick canopy. The deep, dark and dense forest conveyed only one thing- Green! Various shades of green spread itself like a painting on a canvas with the brown mud path snaking its way through it. Giant wood spiders had their cobs beautifully webbed from one branch to another and we began the drive with sightings of peacocks, langurs and spotted deer. Very few vehicles had entered the park at the same time as ours and all disappeared within minutes into the denseness of the jungle. From my experiences in Bandhavgarh, I decided to stay away from the thoughts of the wild cats and enjoyed whatever the forest offered me. Not very long ago, tigers were extinct in Panna national park, before the successful relocation of five tigers from Bandhavgarh and Kanha brought the stripped ones back.


Into the national park



As we drove ahead,  the naturalist pointed out bear claw marks on a couple of trees which had bee hives dangling on its branches. Parakeets, both alexandrine and plum headed were seen quite abundantly while a changeable hawk eagle perched restlessly on a branch. The numerous streams that we crossed over added to the beauty of the landscape. At one such crossing, we almost mistook a snake with its protruding head, for a piece of wood. A closer look confirmed that it was a water snake. More spotted deer and langurs were sighted before the jungle opened up its vastness with the thicket giving way to open grass lands. Ken river winds its way through the park and we had a small break near the bank of it with magnificent vistas. We lunged forward on the mud paths back into  greenery in search of anything and everything wild. A shikra perched high on a branch was the first sighting after the break, shortly followed by a sambhar deer that was grazing happily before looking up at us for a moment. A wild boar and its playful babies were seen loitering on our way back and they gleefully posed for us without a fuss. A serpent eagle flapped its wings as it flew over us and perched on a stump. 


Changeable hawk eagle
The expansive Ken
Shikra
Sambhar deer
A boar family
How much ever you disagree, the want to see a tiger will always remain each time a wildlife enthusiast goes on a safari. You can reduce the level of interest, but can never ignore it. So simultaneously the search was on for the tiger and somewhere in the middle of nowhere there were two guys from the forest department with antennas and trackers which help them trace the collared tigers. The signals initially showed signs of the tiger coming the way we were headed, but turned weak after a while. Meanwhile, other jeeps also gathered nearby to sight the stripped cat. I personally do not prefer sighting tigers like this as it gives the feel of being in a game reserve than in a national park. I believe in chance encounters which are much more exciting. Moving ahead, we patiently waited at a few waterholes to try our luck. After rather long waits, we drove back without sighting any wild cats and reached the lodge in time for another lovely sunset by the Ken. With monkeys jumping all over the roof top of the cottage, the night turned into an eventful one.

The next day began quite early and the morning drive to the national park was greeted by numerous birds like copper smith barbet, jungle babbler, crested eagle, white vultures, plum headed parakeets and a lonely peacock. The route was a different one this time and the jungle engulfed us as the jeep drove deep into it. No langurs or spotted deer this time. It was just the silence of the mist wrapped jungle. The jeep slowed down suddenly and came to a halt. Our naturalist had heard an alarm call of the monkeys and the lazy morning turned into an exciting one as we waited with bated breathe for the wild one to arrive. The naturalist was sure there was a wild cat amidst the bushes as the monkeys kept repeating the alarm calls with their eyes fixed on the ground. And then within a few minutes the wild one appeared leaping across a couple of rocks beneath the trees. A leopard it was! We saw it only for a few seconds before it vanished again into the bushes. The alarm calls never stopped and the wait continued. The deep gorge next to the bushes and rocks made it tough for the leopard to go across and the only option for it was to cross the path we stood on. We waited for long but no sign of the cat. We then moved ahead a couple of meters and waited patiently. We were all looking in one direction when the leopard quietly had begun crossing the path behind us. Luckily someone pointed out and we saw the majestic creature, as shy as a newly wed bride cross the mud path in front us and then into the tall grasses. It did look up for a second or two before hiding itself amidst the grass and then went up deep into the forest. That was undoubtedly one of the wildest ways to begin the day. It was also my first leopard spotting. The excited wildlife enthusiasts moved ahead and spotted a female nilgai, not very far from where the leopard lurked. Another gorgeous looking creature which was not quite bothered about our presence. 


Leopard hiding amidst the grass
We crossed many streams, sighted a few spotted deer, wild boars and many pug marks, of both tigers and hyenas. Meanwhile, the the mud path had wound its way up, onto one of the three plateaus inside Panna national park. The verdant greenery made way for vast open lands and the gurgling Ken river sneaked itself through the landscape. The vehicle stopped again. There were continuous pug marks of a tiger and it was wet. The cat had walked the same route not very long ago. The jeep again moved slowly with eyes peering in all directions, but no sight of the one that walked the path, a while back. Two female nilgais turned their heads as we reached the top of the plateau, only to go back to busy grazing immediately. I was awed by the stunning vast landscape of Panna. It has everything, trees, thickets, grass, a variety of rocks, wonderful wildlife and a gorge with a plunging waterfall. Dundhwa waterfalls, though not at its best, falls beautifully into the depth of the massive gorge over a dense canopy and then snakes its way through the forest.  A beautiful landscape frame. A few vultures were seen perched near the falls flapping its wings and enjoying the vista. A couple of them also glided over the magnificent landscape.


A pair of Nilgais

Dundhwa falls
After a cup of refreshing coffee, we drove back, down the slope of the plateau into the denseness of the thickets. We did spot more tiger pug marks on the way back and were startled when a group of wild boars suddenly crossed the road. The jeep stopped after a while as we had a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere. Sounds exciting, isn't it? As our naturalist quickly changed tyres, we peered with a lot of concentration for anything wild that might pop up. A gazelle was the only one to enter the frame and it leapt past us at such a pace that even before I could take my lens out, it disappeared.

The wild drive into Panna national park ended with a few more bird sightings, as the tall teak trees welcomed us back to civilization. I loved Panna for its absolutely stunning landscape and the plethora of avian fauna it offers to wild life enthusiasts. The leopard sighting early in the morning is something I will always love Panna for. Raneh falls, Pandav falls and Ken Gharial sanctuary are the other interesting spots of interest in and around Panna. The ideal time to visit Panna would be from march to june when wildlife sightings would be quite high. But if you want to enjoy the verdant greenery and landscape, october to february would be the apt months.

Signing Note- Wilderness at its best...!!

Location- Madhya Pradesh
Nearest rail head- Khajuraho (30 Kms)
Nearest airport- Khajuraho (30 Kms)


I was in Panna national park on an invite from Pugdundee safaris.

34 comments:

  1. Simply amazing pictures! Panna national park is intriguing!

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    1. Thank you. The park is one of the best that I have visited.

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  2. Great captures! The picture of the waterfalls is the best!

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  3. Great place, Beautiful birds all around.

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  4. I am certainly going back to Panna. I saw just too little of it :D

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  5. awesome landscape and amazing clicks!!!

    I have to visit here soon!!

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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  6. Beautiful landscape, planning to make vacation this place in next month

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  7. National Parks of MP are really wonderful. Nice post on Panna :)

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    1. Thanks Kusum. I would love to explore MP like how you did.

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  8. Beautiful pictures, lucid description. Very nice.

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  9. Hey Niranjan,

    Very well captured! Panna is still an unexplored wilderness. During our long raod trip from bangalore to Varanasi in 2012, we did cross Panna. It was beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing

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    1. Thank you. That would have been a great experience.

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  10. well written..thanks for sharing. Also publishing in 2 parts would have been easy on the readers-just my opinion

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    1. Thanks Shrinidhi. The posts sometimes just get lengthier. Need to check on that. :)

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  11. Niran

    Beautifully captured candid shots..... very informative blog....the entire trip well narrated.........

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  12. Sounds amazing! And you actually spotted a leopard! We are thinking of clubbing it next year with the Khajuraho festival. Not sure if it is the best time for wildlife spotting though.

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    1. Glad that you liked it. Leopard spotting was the icing on the cake. Wildlife spotting only gets better from now on till June. Head there soon.

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  13. exhilarating account!
    This is one of the places on my radar... will do it soon...

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  14. Wow what a thrilling account and absolutely gorgeous photos!! This now on my list! Hope to go here soon :)

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    1. Thank you. Glad that you liked it. Head there soon.

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  15. How the leopard must hate those monkeys for the alarms. :D

    It must have been really interesting to have a naturalist on board the safari, alle? Nice account, Niranjan. And so nice that you made time for so much wildlife viewing in the recent past.

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    1. Yeah, absolutely. It was so peaceful till the monkeys began their alarms. Naturalists are masters at tracking sounds and movements. Really helpful while on a safari. Yeah, quite a bit of wildlife visits in the recent past. Thanks a lot, Divya.

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  16. Nice clicks and wonderful description. Feel like visiting this place

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