Jungles of Central Indian Highlands Part I – Satpura & Pachmarhi 

Jungles of Central Indian Highlands Part I – Satpura & Pachmarhi 

Central India is considered as the heart of India’s wildlife. It is home to India’s largest forest tract, rich wild lives as well as a myriad of indigenous people who have been living in the forests here since time immemorial with their families and different cultures.

Map of Central India Highlands

The area is surrounded by the Aravalli, the Vindhyas and the Satpura range of mountains giving rise to the Narmada and Tapti rivers, that run from East to West. It is spread across the States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The area is home to rich flora and fauna and one fifth of the world’s Tiger population can be found here.

 

When BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) announced a Jungle camp to Satpura, Pachmarhi and Pench National Park, I was quick to notice and decided that my next destination will be to these places.

Satpura Forest Road

It is believed that the forests of Central India inspired Rudyard Kipling to write “The Jungle Book”. Here was a chance to explore the famous meadows and tropical moist dry deciduous forests of Satpura and Pench. Both National Parks are known for its scenic beauty and a good tiger population. I was told by the Tour Manager, that Tiger sightings have been quite regular at Pench, which was a huge bonus for someone, who has never encountered a Tiger in it’s natural habitat.

Bison Resort on banks of River Madhai

We were a group of 18 including 2 from BNHS. The pickup point was Nagpur and our first destination was Satpura located about 250 kms to the North. After a journey of about 7 hours, including a lunch break, we reached our destination. We were booked at a resort managed by M.P. State Tourism and what a location it was, with River Madhai flowing just besides the property. And the hospitality of the staff members ensured we had a great stay. The view of sunrise and sunset from the Room was simply breathtaking, with the balcony overlooking the vast river.

 

The name Satpura originates from 2 Sanskrit words “Sat-pura” meaning “Seven Mountains”. It is a very unique and peaceful jungle, away from hustle & bustle of safari jeeps, beautiful hilly terrains, deep gorges, rivulets, large herds of mammals and good birding. The total area of Satpura Tiger Reserve is more than 2,000 sq.kms and the core area is about 1,300 sq.kms and the rest is buffer area. The various ways of wildlife watching distinguishes its from other tiger reserves of India. Here one can do jeep safari, motorboat safari and walking safari. The bio-diversity of this National park is stunning with over 1,300 species of plants with trees like Teak, Sal and Jamun. Most of the reserve forest is still in a virgin state, away from human access.

Sloth Bear at Satpura

Our first jeep safari was at 6:30am on Day 2. To reach the Satpura Tiger Reserve, we had to take a motorboat to cross the river and fortunately the jetty was located just a few metres away from the resort. We were extremely lucky to sight a sloth bear within an hour of entering the forest reserve, since bear sightings are generally considered rare. The bear was in no hurry to run away from us and was busy enjoying his breakfast of ants and termites, offering us a great opportunity to shoot him on lens. We also sighted the Indian Bison or Gaur, considered to be the world’s tallest bovid; Sambar – India’s largest deer; Neelgai or Blue Bull; four-horned Antelopes and spotted deer. The Indian Giant squirrel is the special feature of Satpura National Park, as it is rare in India now. Click to watch the video

Leopard at Satpura

In the second safari of the day that started at 3:00pm, we sighted the shy and normally reclusive Leopard, just as we were about to leave the jungle around 5:30pm. The guide and driver, both mentioned to us that spotting a tiger is easy but not a leopard since they rarely come in the path of jeep safaris. The male leopard was marking his territory and was unperturbed by our presence. The leopard made our day!! And compensated for lack of any tiger sighting that day. Click to watch the video

 

On Day 3, at the crack of dawn, we were taken on a motorboat safari to the northern edge of Satpura – bordered by the enormous reservoir of the Tawa Dam, which adds enormously to the scenic splendour of this National Park.

Male crested Pied Kingfisher

The boat took us across the River Madhai into its many little bays and inlets. Here we observed, unobtrusively, animals stopping to drink water, shy marsh mugger crocodiles sunning themselves. We were very fortunate to sight a crested Pied Kingfisher enjoying it’s fresh catch of the day, which was almost one-third it’s size. Thanks to his meal, the male Kingfisher gave us about 15 minutes of camera time. It was indeed a sight to behold, watching the Kingfisher struggle with his 
prized catch. We also sighted a pair of wooly-necked Stork basking in the winter sun. While returning we came across a pair of wild boars trying to cross the River, perhaps planning to visit the fields on the other side of the riverbank. November is a good time to sight birds like Crested Hawk-Eagle, Spotted Owlet, Red-collared Dove, Hoopoe, Brown Fish-owl, Streak-throated Woodpecker, Pied Flycatcher-shrike, Sand Lark, Grey-headed Fish Eagle etc. Satpura is indeed a birder’s paradise. Click to watch the video

 

Later in the day, we set off for Pachmarhi located 90 kms from Satpura. Pachmarhi is derived from 2 Hindi words Panch (“five”) and Marhi (“caves”). According to a legend, these caves were built by the Pandava brothers of Mahabharatha era during their 13 years of exile. The caves situated on a hilltop provide an excellent vantage point. Pachmarhi, located 1,000 metres above sea level, is also called the “Queen of Satpuras”. It is a very popular hill station, that boasts of an Army Cantonment setup during the British Raj.

Cottage at Hotel Highlands, Pachmarhi

The UNESCO has added Pachmarhi to its list of Biosphere Reserves in May 2009. We were put up at Hotel Highlands, which boasts of old colonial style cottages surrounded by vast landscaped gardens.

 

Slender Billed Vultures

After some rest we set off for a trekking tour via the tranquil Twynam Pool to Jambudwip to Chhota Mahadeo along the ravine to Sunder Kund. The walk provides some excellent opportunities for bird watching and we were lucky to sight Indian slender billed Vultures perched on the ledges of the sheer red cliffs and few Shaheen Falcons. Besides breathtaking views, the place is a birding paradise with avians like Rufous-bellied Eagle, both Red and Grey Junglefowl, Mottled Wood-Owl, Indian Yellow Tit, Sirkeer Malkoha, Black-crested Bulbul, Streaked-throated Woodpecker, Tawny-bellied Babbler, and White-naped Woodpecker, found commonly here. Click to watch the video

On Day 4, after a day’s stay at Pachmarhi, we set out for our ultimate destination – Pench National Park. Read about Pench in Part II of this travelog.

Acknowledgements:

  1. BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) for organising the Jungle camp to the Central India Highlands from 23rd to 28th November 2019. Special thanks to Mr Asif Khan, the Tour Manager and Ms Drashti, the Tour Guide.
  2. Bison Resort at Madhai in Satpura Tiger Reserve managed by M.P.Tourism
  3. Hotel Highlands at Pachmarhi managed by M.P.Tourism
  4. All the Guides and Drivers at Satpura and Pachmarhi, who made our wildlife safari so enjoyable and memorable

View some more snaps shot at Satpura and Pachmarhi