Down the forest path – Three days in Panna

My trip to Madhya Pradesh’s Panna Tiger Reserve began on a bad note. I nearly missed the train (Taj Express from Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin station); the compartment was stinking and the food awful. The resident rats of the train had worked on the carpets diligently (the designs were a little abstract though) and the seat covers, it seemed, had not been washed for years. And to top it all, the train reached Jhansi three hours late.

My luck started improving, thereafter. The four-hour drive from Jhansi (UP) to Panna (MP) was smooth and pleasant and it was nearly 7.30 pm when I reached Panna. I had booked a room at the Ken River Lodge, a charming getaway on the bank of river Ken, next to the reserve. It was pitch dark and when the driver took the dust-tracks (with wild grasses all around) to reach the hotel, I seriously thought that I was in trouble.

Panna Tiger Reserve

“Hotel yaha hain?” I asked the driver sternly. “Jungle hain aas pass, thoda ped poudhe to hoga hi,” he replied. I gathered he understood that I was tensed.


The Panna district has been carved mainly out of former princely states of Panna and Ajaigarh. Originally a Gond settlement up to the 13th century, it was raised to importance by Raja Chhatrasal Bundela who made it his capital. Panna is India’s only diamond city, though the mine is not open to visitors. Rather, let me be honest: I did not try to visit the mine.

I was completely bowled over by the Lodge. Spread over 30 acres of jungle, it has 20 well-equipped cottages. It also has a 1,500 sq ft machaan (tree house), which doubles up as a bar. The machaan is absolutely fantastic for spending a lazy afternoons or evenings after a hard day’s tiger ‘hunting’ inside the park. The lodge is run by Shyamendra and his wife Bhavna, both keen naturalists, and a team of well-trained local staff.

Ken Lodge Panna

The first evening-night at Panna turned out to be interesting and memorable. Sitting in the machan, we (Shyamendra, Bhavna and me) discussed about the national park and other guests joined in. After a round of lively discussion, dinner was served. Post-dinner, the group moved towards the warm glow of the bonfire and the chat session continued till 2 am.

The next day was a busy one for me as I crisscrossed the Panna town for my story. It’s like any other smallish town but business is picking up. There is brand new ‘business’ hotel, owned by a member of local royal family.

Day III
I was up at 5 am for the safari and by 5.30 was at the facilitation center for the entry ticket. But as luck would have it, the computers refused to work thanks to a power failure. When the lines were restored, the man at the counter had another problem: he couldn’t figure out how to restart the system. I politely offered to help. “No, this is government property,” he growled. But thankfully he figured it out soon and after a 30-minute wait, I got my ticket.

The park was just about waking up when I entered it. The terrain of the reserve is characterised by extensive plateaus and gorges. The topography can broadly be divided into three distinct tablelands: the upper Talgaon Plateau, the middle Hinouta Plateau and the Ken valley. The reserve’s most-undisturbed habitat of about 70-80 sq. km. lies on the Hinouta plateau. There are extensive stretches of dry and short grass. There were lots of nilgai, chinkara, sambar and chital. How would I describe the park? It’s ‘versatile’. Now that’s probably not the right word to describe a park (a friend informed curtly in Delhi) but I will stick to it. The accompanying photographs will support my choice of word.
Pan
Panna Tiger Reserve

Panna National Park
Some Animals which I did see

No, I didn’t see any tigers; I did not hope to see any, anyway. Thanks to poaching and lax park department (not the present one, many argued), there are hardly any tigers left. If you are interested in the story and the tiger controversy, please click here.

Would I recommend a visit knowing fully well that there are hardly any tigers left? I think I would. The park itself is beautiful, rich and not so crowded with tourists like Corbett or Bandhavgarh. If you are avid birdwatcher, it will be a pleasure to be in there. The view of a huge gorge from the Hinauta plateau is breathtaking and I could spend hours looking at it. There is some kind of quietness that only wildlife parks can offer.

Panna National Park

Tigers or no tigers, I would love to go again and again, just for that silence and the topography.

22 Comments

  • rahulv says:

    Short. sweet. well written.
    a friend of mine visited panna and did a boat ride on the ken river on a full moon night. i saw the video and it was amaazing. i think they also stayed @ the ken lodge.

    i agree with your view about recommending forests despite no chances of sighting a tiger or a lion. my fav forest is kanha.

  • Patrick Jasper says:

    well written. I was wondering hwo much a 3 night stay at the lodge costed? Panna is just close enough to lucknow, i might try it out some time in the future. @ 347 kms its tempting.

  • nandanjha says:

    A job which takes you to ‘Forests’ is well worth the pain which you get free from Indian Railways. I went to Jhansi couple of times by Shatabadi and it was a pretty good experience.

    I also read your story at HT site. I wasn’t aware that Panna is going Sariska way. Today morning only, I heard on Radio that under a new project 3 (or may be 5) Tigers have been released in Sariska recently. Lets see. Though one of fellow ghumakkar’s (upanshu) bro did sight a tiger at Sariska sometime 8 odd years back. I guess.

    As always, a publication material Kumkum. Very Neat.

  • kumkum says:

    Rahul, Patrick and Nandan,

    Thank you.
    Rahul: Have never been to Kanha. Hope to do it sometime.

    Patrick: ken has a website. Just google and you will get it. It is closed now but will reopen in November.

    Here are there nos: Shyamendra: 09425143723 and Bhavna 09425305062.
    If yuo manage to get in touch please tell them that I have been trying to get in touch with them but have been unable to do so.

    Nandan: Yes, travel is what I like and have been lucky to get some chances:-)

  • Divin says:

    Hi Brother

    I love to explore such hidden treasures in our country.Hope 1day we both will be going back to that gorgeouz park.Seeing your experience there i learnt that you had a great time there.Hope you will explore more beautiful places in our country.

  • Gab says:

    i love the park idea. me and my wife we are planning to go to India and discover such an amazing locations. For sure Panna is in our list. Our only issue is that we have a 2 year old boy, so we are still trying to figure out the best way to do it. Thanks for the info and the photos (it is always better to have the info with graphic material). Cheers

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Good to see you back and that too with an excellent write up about Panna Tiger Reserve.

    During my last official trip to Khajuraho, someone did mention about PTR. But somehow, owing to the scorching heat with 45 degrees temperature, I couldn’t gather adequate motivation to visit the sanctuary. I think it was more out of ignorance too. The “Ken River Lodge” appears to be pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing. Now we know that there is a comfortable looking place around.

    Talking about “Machhans”, I am reminded of the one just close to Khajuraho Township. It was right on the river bank and well maintained with adequately stuffed bar and some exciting food. We were told that during the “season”, the guests could enjoy the ‘Live”Indian classical music and dances, sitting at the tree house restaurant.

    Would look forward to your forthcoming posts

  • kumkum says:

    Gab,

    Thanks. I think it is fine to take a two-year-old there, only am not sure whether he would enjoy the early morning safari! But the park is fantastic and anytime after November should be great. And, Ken is a great place to stay.

    Ram,
    Thanks:-)

  • backpakker says:

    thanks for this great write up..I am hoping to go to MP soon and this will be my ref
    Lakshmi

  • kumkum says:

    Lakshmi,

    Yes, MP is a great place. Have seen almost all of MP and Chhattisgarh, which is far, far more beautiful. Have a nice trip.

    KumKum

  • Celine says:

    On my way to Bandavgarh NP, I’ve passed through Panna NP, and Ken River Lodge too, but I did not spend a night there.

    While on the way, I came across this very beautiful spot with trickling waterfall flowing along rocks and then collecting into a greenish-blue water-body besides some old caves, which I was told by the taxi driver is Pandav caves. While you were in Panna NP, have you been to that spot? Do you know any details or the name of those caves? I’ve searched for more information on these caves on the internet in vain (Please note I am not referring to the Pandav caves of Pachmarhi).

    At Panna NP, I recall the serenity of the place and the birds were delightful. Thank you for a very interesting post on the Panna NP. :)

  • kumkum says:

    Hi Celine,

    Thanks. No, don’t know about Pandav caves. Wish I knew about them. I did not have much time to research about the area before going, possibly that’s way I missed them.

  • Celine says:

    Kumkum,

    In case it helps you, or any reader here who might be of help, I have just now put up a post with some pictures on my blog about this beautiful spot in Panna. Please visit:

    http://indicaspecies.blogspot.com/2008/05/caves-of-panna.html

    Thanks.

  • kumkum says:

    Tahnks but sadly can’t open the blog in office because some nerd has blocked all blogspot URLS:-(, will check from home.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Good to refresh my memories about Panna National park. I remember liking this forest a lot, but then our gypsy driver has different plan. We went there when we visited Khajuraho and he was in hurry to do another trip in afternoon. Sometimes these people don’t understand that with their greed they not only spoil the mood of the tourist but also spoil the chances of other tourist visiting Panna.

    Its good to know KumKum about Ken lodge.

    Celine, I have been to the place you have mentioned. I will try to find the name of this place and will write it later on. I faintly remember that we were told that Pandavs spent sometime of their Agyatwaas there too. The images, I had in my mind(that get refreshed with the images you have put on your blog) are very beautiful.

    A person in our hotel was also telling us that how he took a few foreign crew members to the small caves right at the slippery side of the caves and how one of them slipped in the water with his camera in the hand.

  • Celine says:

    Interesting. Thank you Manish. :)

  • kumkum says:

    Manish,

    Glad to hear that you liked PNP. Yeah, sometimes these guided tours can be really sick. Best to stay away from them:-).

  • manish khamesra says:

    I saw your articles on the editorial pages of Hindustan Times and I felt proud that I am sharing blogging at the same platform :)

    That trip to Panna National park was not a guided tour, we hired the gypsy to take us to the park and in the park. Its more painful when you can see that the other person is trying to deceit you.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Celine,

    The place that you inquired about is known as Pandav Falls.

  • Celine says:

    Manish,

    Pandav Falls and Pandav caves. Thank you. :)

  • sameer sharma says:

    Well written post. What about spotting any reptiles. Back in 1998, I went to Sariska but i could not see any tiger as well. It had rained the previousnight and I was told that rains make the tiger spotting chances bleak since safter rain, they do not come to usual drinking spots and hence it is very difficulat to spot them. We did see a lot of snakes, big lizards (chandan goh is local name) and so on..

    Any way well written and reminded me of my sariska trip.

  • pawan says:

    hi celine thnks for visit panna actualy panna is my native place and i know very well panna`s beauty if you want to know and visit again panna i help you to find more intresting place .
    again thanks for give information to all about panna becoz it help to grow it

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