By Charulata Ravi Kumar
CEO, Product of the Year, India
Pench in Kipling Country, right in the heart of India... it’s as mystical and adventurous as the Jungle Book! It was a last-minute trip for us, starting as a typical big city-bred small holiday idea of hot air ballooning, and ending in the most unforgettable experience of the wild beauty of life.
Little did we know that the 6 am forest trek would have us waking up to the calls of some of the rarest birds. In a city like Mumbai, you are lucky to hear crows and then slowly all calls begin to sound like them. Our guide, Maskare, taught us the power of keen listening... the hoot of the owl and the gentler one of the owlet; the bass pecking of the woodpecker; the sharp call of the peacock and the sharper one still of the jungle crow when it senses danger. It’s the first danger call that alerts the other animals. The whistles of the drongo and the constant chattering of the dabblers. The serpent eagle perched high up on the tree, its intent eyes stalking the prey below for the right moment. The pond heron camouflaged and rock still by the lake is a lesson in patience by itself.
The five-hour trek through the teak forest saw us rubbing shoulders with the snooty society of peacocks, spotted deer, sambhars and nilgais vigorously stomping their hooves. And of course, we were not disappointed as tourists; we saw the tiger family too! What a glorious sight! Piercing eyes stare straight at you from a distance of barely a few meters. And while a chill runs down your spine at your own vulnerability to this feline ruler, its fierce stillness is but a reminder of the jungle laws, daring you to behave and not poach. They say that the tigers of Pench have never attacked human beings in over 30 years. Live and let live is a philosophy they practise and we preach.but a reminder of the jungle laws, daring you to behave and not poach. They say that the tigers of Pench have never attacked human beings in over 30 years. Live and let live is a philosophy they practise and we preach.
But as humans, our disregard for the wild is an acquired one. My little Mowgli, my son Yashovat’s love for the animal world, left all other visitors in Pench nervous and many advised us caution. We had discovered his love for the wild early in his life, and always encouraged him to be fearless. Animals sense fear and danger and attack in defence. Maskare, a snake lover himself, had rescued three snakes that had wandered out of the jungles. A cobra, a rat snake and a rock python. All three that my son identifies well. In our rush for this unplanned vacation, we had forgotten to take Yashovat’s toys and books. He didn’t complain. He found company in the rat snake and python and played with them long enough for them to know this new friend and long enough for applause and advice pouring in from other visitors. Yashovat’s advice to them was: “It’s just a snake” and “Don’t worry, there’s always some Band Aid if it does bite”.
A few things we learnt were not to take the camera on jungle trails - just take your senses and awaken them with scenes of the wild. We also heard the jungle trivia that the nilgai (literally blue cow) was earlier called the blue horse by the Moghul emperors because it looks like a horse. The name was changed to nilgai to stop people from poaching it, as the cow is revered and worshipped in India. We are also not supposed to touch anything in the jungle, not even a deer horn lying around. It is illegal and attracts punishment.
Well, for the record, we did see more tigers, jackals, langurs, rhesus macaques, et al. We did the hot air ballooning too. Quite something really, specially the preparation for the flight. But what I present here are the sights that will forever remain in our hearts.