Spots and Stripes at Panna National Park || Guess what we saw at the Tiger Reserve

To cut the suspense - no, we did not see a tiger. Though the way our guide was talking about it, we are more of an exception than a rule. Apparently during the morning safari, they had seen a tigress with cubs. But yes we saw a lot and it is definitely worth talking about.

To cut the suspense - no, we did not see a tiger. Though the way our guide was talking about it, we are more of an exception than a rule. Apparently during the morning safari, they had seen a tigress with cubs. But yes we saw a lot and it is definitely worth talking about. 


The first interesting story is about how we got to go on the safari. Stars started aligning when we started planning a weekend away from Delhi. We were sure that we wanted it to be a road trip, and we were deliberating between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. We decided on Madhya Pradesh, but were planning to stick to "nearby" destinations - Gwalior and Morena. Then we happened to check the distance between Gwalior and Orchha and thought that we could cover Orchha as well. On the map, Khajuraho appeared to be doable too, once we had reached Orccha. And while we were deciding on Khajuraho, Panna National park appeared close by as well. And then one of our close friends, Nandan Jha of Ghumakkar.com, told us that Panna is surely doable from Khajuraho. So we decided to keep an open mind about it, but did not want to get our hopes too high.

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The first interesting story is about how we got to go on the safari. Stars started aligning when we started planning a weekend away from Delhi. We were sure that we wanted it to be a road trip, and we were deliberating between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. We decided on Madhya Pradesh, but were planning to stick to "nearby" destinations - Gwalior and Morena. Then we happened to check the distance between Gwalior and Orchha and thought that we could cover Orchha as well. On the map, Khajuraho appeared to be doable too, once we had reached Orccha. And while we were deciding on Khajuraho, Panna National park appeared close by as well. And then one of our close friends, Nandan Jha of Ghumakkar.com, told us that Panna is surely doable from Khajuraho. So we decided to keep an open mind about it, but did not want to get our hopes too high. 

Sure enough, upon reaching Khajuraho when we enquired at our hotel, the staff told us that it is very much possible to book a safari from the hotel, but it would cost us at least Rs 6000 in total including the charges for the jeep, for just the two of us. We know how elusive tigers are, so we did not feel that spending this much just for the anticipation of seeing a tiger would not be too judicious. We also got the same estimate from one of the local tourism guy. At this point we decided that we will give the safari a miss. Instead we planned for a day outing to Raneh waterfall (name does not do justice to this place) and Pandava caves. We will talk in details about Raneh waterfall in another post, but while we were on our way to Pandava caves, we happened to notice the entrance to the Panna National Park. This was the Madla Gate.

Sure enough, upon reaching Khajuraho when we enquired at our hotel, the staff told us that it is very much possible to book a safari from the hotel, but it would cost us at least Rs 6000 in total including the charges for the jeep, for just the two of us. We know how elusive tigers are, so we did not feel that spending this much just for the anticipation of seeing a tiger would not be too judicious. We also got the same estimate from one of the local tourism guy. At this point we decided that we will give the safari a miss. Instead we planned for a day outing to Raneh waterfall (name does not do justice to this place) and Pandava caves. We will talk in details about Raneh waterfall in another post, but while we were on our way to Pandava caves, we happened to notice the entrance to the Panna National Park. This was the Madla Gate.


We decided to go to the ticket counter and just try our luck. May be we would find more people to share the jeep with. And sure enough, we found a couple (perhaps in their 60s) who was waiting for people like us to come by. Also we discovered that the charges were ~Rs 3000 for the jeep + Rs 420 per person. This was much less than the Rs 6000 that had been told to us. Perhaps there is a difference between weekend and weekday charges. We were there on a Monday.  Our total expenditure came out to be around Rs. 2400 for the both of us. This seemed reasonable. And just like that, we were on board a jeep and ready to start the safari. Pandava caves were long forgotten.    Some Covid-19 precautions were still in place and we were all required to wear our masks. However, this was more of a formality because almost everyone removed their masks once they had crossed the entry gate and then did not put it back even after exiting the gates after completing the society. No comments!

We decided to go to the ticket counter and just try our luck. May be we would find more people to share the jeep with. And sure enough, we found a couple (perhaps in their 60s) who was waiting for people like us to come by. Also we discovered that the charges were ~Rs 3000 for the jeep + Rs 420 per person. This was much less than the Rs 6000 that had been told to us. Perhaps there is a difference between weekend and weekday charges. We were there on a Monday.  Our total expenditure came out to be around Rs. 2400 for the both of us. This seemed reasonable. And just like that, we were on board a jeep and ready to start the safari. Pandava caves were long forgotten.

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Some Covid-19 precautions were still in place and we were all required to wear our masks. However, this was more of a formality because almost everyone removed their masks once they had crossed the entry gate and then did not put it back even after exiting the gates after completing the society. No comments!

As soon as we entered the gates, clouds gathered overhead and it started pouring heavily. We had to stop the jeep and roll out the canvas top. The shower ended in a few minutes but after that the forest was quite fragrant and the tree canopies were sparkling green. It made the safari very pleasant indeed.

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As soon as we entered the gates, clouds gathered overhead and it started pouring heavily. We had to stop the jeep and roll out the canvas top. The shower ended in a few minutes but after that the forest was quite fragrant and the tree canopies were sparkling green. It made the safari very pleasant indeed. 

The forest is mostly teak with intermittent stretches of grassland and the terrain is mildly hilly. So it is ideal for big cats - the ones who like to lie low as well as the ones who like to climb trees. At this time of the year, the teak trees were all infected by a pest known as leaf skeletonizer, so the leaves all had big brown patches on them. Locals were confident that this was because of less or no rain this year in this area, and also that the trees would recover after the fall. Leaf skeletonizer is one of the two pests that attacks teak trees, the other one being Teak Defoliator. Of the two, Teak Defoliator is more dangerous because it attacks new foliage whereas the leaf skeletonizer attacks old leaves, just before the natural shedding by the tree from November to January.


The forest is mostly teak with intermittent stretches of grassland and the terrain is mildly hilly. So it is ideal for big cats - the ones who like to lie low as well as the ones who like to climb trees. At this time of the year, the teak trees were all infected by a pest known as leaf skeletonizer, so the leaves all had big brown patches on them. Locals were confident that this was because of less or no rain this year in this area, and also that the trees would recover after the fall. Leaf skeletonizer is one of the two pests that attacks teak trees, the other one being Teak Defoliator. Of the two, Teak Defoliator is more dangerous because it attacks new foliage whereas the leaf skeletonizer attacks old leaves, just before the natural shedding by the tree from November to January. 

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By now, we were all in full safari mode and quite ready to see some wildlife. And soon enough herds of Sambhar deer made an appearance. They were at peace, indicating an absence of predators around. These were mostly females, without antlers. And were quite camera shy. There were also some langoors around, but more or less it was a serene scene with these two co-dependent species hanging around together. 

A few minutes later, we also came across some spotted deer who inspected us with great interest. We stood there and watched them for some time. Meanwhile our guide, who was supposed to be talking to us about the forest and the species that we were seeing was busy on his phone. Our driver was more interested than the guide was.

A few minutes later, we also came across some spotted deer who inspected us with great interest. We stood there and watched them for some time. Meanwhile our guide, who was supposed to be talking to us about the forest and the species that we were seeing was busy on his phone. Our driver was more interested than the guide was. 


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After a few minutes we came across one steep incline where our guide asked the driver to stop the jeep and took out his binoculars. Needless to say, we were all leaning out of the jeep by now and peering closely into the jungle in the direction where he was pointing his binoculars. But we couldn't see anything except broad teak leaves, let alone the waterbody that he kept talking about. We stood there for some time with our guide scanning the jungle. Apparently this is where his morning safari had seen the tigress with cubs. Anyway, at this point the tigress was either not there or had taken cover in the deep forest. So we moved ahead.

After a few minutes we came across one steep incline where our guide asked the driver to stop the jeep and took out his binoculars. Needless to say, we were all leaning out of the jeep by now and peering closely into the jungle in the direction where he was pointing his binoculars. But we couldn't see anything except broad teak leaves, let alone the waterbody that he kept talking about. We stood there for some time with our guide scanning the jungle. Apparently this is where his morning safari had seen the tigress with cubs. Anyway, at this point the tigress was either not there or had taken cover in the deep forest. So we moved ahead. 

After sometime, our driver brought the jeep to a clearing on the banks of the allegedly crocodile-ridden River Karnavati (Ken) and stopped. Several other jeeps were also parked here and people were walking around. This was the restroom stop and also a place from where you could take a boat ride on the river Ken. We chose to skip the boat ride, since in this season there were hardly any chances of seeing any muggers or gharials sunning themselves on the rock.


After sometime, our driver brought the jeep to a clearing on the banks of the allegedly crocodile-ridden River Karnavati (Ken) and stopped. Several other jeeps were also parked here and people were walking around. This was the restroom stop and also a place from where you could take a boat ride on the river Ken. We chose to skip the boat ride, since in this season there were hardly any chances of seeing any muggers or gharials sunning themselves on the rock. 

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However, a herd of Sambhars was gathered around the restroom building like some common cattle and were striking poses for photographers. Some people had gone really close to one adult male (complete with tree like antlers) and were clicking pictures with the male staring at them in a non-threatening, almost benevolent way. However, people seem to forget that these are wild animals and this is their land. Even if they are herbivores, you need to treat them with respect and give them space. If the sambhar had objected to the man's presence there given him a few nudges with his sharp antlers, there would have been a huge hue and cry.

However, a herd of Sambhars was gathered around the restroom building like some common cattle and were striking poses for photographers. Some people had gone really close to one adult male (complete with tree like antlers) and were clicking pictures with the male staring at them in a non-threatening, almost benevolent way. However, people seem to forget that these are wild animals and this is their land. Even if they are herbivores, you need to treat them with respect and give them space. If the sambhar had objected to the man's presence there given him a few nudges with his sharp antlers, there would have been a huge hue and cry. 

We also discovered the reason why the sambhars were gathered here. According to the guide, the outlet of the urinals wasn't underground. It was letting out all salt (Sodium Chloride) into the soil around the restroom building and thus the area was serving as a salt lick for the deer. Salt licks are really popular with Sambhar deer especially with female deer during pregnancy and lactation.

We also discovered the reason why the sambhars were gathered here. According to the guide, the outlet of the urinals wasn't underground. It was letting out all salt (Sodium Chloride) into the soil around the restroom building and thus the area was serving as a salt lick for the deer. Salt licks are really popular with Sambhar deer especially with female deer during pregnancy and lactation. 

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After a few minutes of walking around with the Sambhar deer, we got back on the jeep and started the second half of the safari. By now, we were pretty convinced that we will not see any carnivores in this safari as well. Our driver drove us back to that incline and our guide again tried to locate the tigress, but with no luck. After this, it seemed that our guide simply gave up and started making some phone calls (quite a remarkable feat considering the patchy network in the jungle) to more prospective clients for safaris on the following day. Our driver though was still hopefully peering inside the jungle and also made some calls to other drivers to ask about the any sightings. However, it seems no one else had seen anything. We were all by now resigned to the prospect of a carnivore-free safari, and disappointment had started creeping in. However, we were trying to appear cheerful so as to minimize the spread of despair. And right then the driver's walkie-talkie rustled and an angel of God ordered everyone to a particular area of the safari. And our driver turned the jeep around and started towards that area. All the while, our guide was busy fixing the deal for the next day on phone.

After a few minutes of walking around with the Sambhar deer, we got back on the jeep and started the second half of the safari. By now, we were pretty convinced that we will not see any carnivores in this safari as well. Our driver drove us back to that incline and our guide again tried to locate the tigress, but with no luck. After this, it seemed that our guide simply gave up and started making some phone calls (quite a remarkable feat considering the patchy network in the jungle) to more prospective clients for safaris on the following day. Our driver though was still hopefully peering inside the jungle and also made some calls to other drivers to ask about the any sightings. However, it seems no one else had seen anything. We were all by now resigned to the prospect of a carnivore-free safari, and disappointment had started creeping in. However, we were trying to appear cheerful so as to minimize the spread of despair. And right then the driver's walkie-talkie rustled and an angel of God ordered everyone to a particular area of the safari. And our driver turned the jeep around and started towards that area. All the while, our guide was busy fixing the deal for the next day on phone. 

We were all biting our nails, trying to contain our excitements, hoping against hope that whatever it was wouldn't vanish before we got there. While we were rushing towards this temptation, we may have zipped past several sambhars and spotted deers. Who knows we may have even driven past several tigers hiding in the undergrowth. But we will never know.

We were all biting our nails, trying to contain our excitements, hoping against hope that whatever it was wouldn't vanish before we got there. While we were rushing towards this temptation, we may have zipped past several sambhars and spotted deers. Who knows we may have even driven past several tigers hiding in the undergrowth. But we will never know. 

Anyway, we eventually got to the area and a few jeeps were hanging around looking at the tree canopies. And sure enough, a leopard lay on one of the branches, its legs hanging, and tail twitching mildly. It wasn't in any hurry to get away, but its presence had riled up some langoors who were letting out distress calls. Our guide, who had by now secured the new client for the next day, graciously disconnected his phone and mentioned that the leopard has probably just made a kill, may be one of the langoors. We couldn't see any evidence of this, but may be the guy's experience was telling him this.

Anyway, we eventually got to the area and a few jeeps were hanging around looking at the tree canopies. And sure enough, a leopard lay on one of the branches, its legs hanging, and tail twitching mildly. It wasn't in any hurry to get away, but its presence had riled up some langoors who were letting out distress calls. Our guide, who had by now secured the new client for the next day, graciously disconnected his phone and mentioned that the leopard has probably just made a kill, may be one of the langoors. We couldn't see any evidence of this, but may be the guy's experience was telling him this. 

The leopard too was generous. It lay there unpertubed and a couple of times also lifted its head and looked at us for a few minutes, giving us great photography opportunities. We stood there for a few minutes and after that it was clear that the leopard wasn't going to get up and vanish into the jungle anytime soon. It was getting dark and we were in no mood to become prey to the various tigers and leopards of the park, and also, the authorities wouldn't allow that. So we started back towards the gate.     The leopard had made our day, but the couple that we were travelling with also deserves a mention. They were probably in their early 60s and were spirited young people. They were Gujaratis and were enjoying their retirement. They were on a long trip, and this was perhaps their 7th or 8th day and they admitted that they were frequently getting scolded by their children for heading out like this without informing them. Man! How the roles reverse!


The leopard too was generous. It lay there unpertubed and a couple of times also lifted its head and looked at us for a few minutes, giving us great photography opportunities. We stood there for a few minutes and after that it was clear that the leopard wasn't going to get up and vanish into the jungle anytime soon. It was getting dark and we were in no mood to become prey to the various tigers and leopards of the park, and also, the authorities wouldn't allow that. So we started back towards the gate.

 Related Blogpost - Tiger Tourism in India || A Tourist attraction that never loses popularity


The leopard had made our day, but the couple that we were travelling with also deserves a mention. They were probably in their early 60s and were spirited young people. They were Gujaratis and were enjoying their retirement. They were on a long trip, and this was perhaps their 7th or 8th day and they admitted that they were frequently getting scolded by their children for heading out like this without informing them. Man! How the roles reverse! 

The gentleman was a hardcore backpacker and the lady sounded enthuas well, but couldn't effort to be as adventurous as her husband because of her heart. It was heartening to meet them. Cool people! Anyway, we were done with the safari and it was time to part ways, which we did without much melodrama. This is how life is, right? You are destined to walk on a common path with someone for some time and then you part ways. Sometimes you get to say goodbye and sometimes you don't.

The gentleman was a hardcore backpacker and the lady sounded enthuas well, but couldn't effort to be as adventurous as her husband because of her heart. It was heartening to meet them. Cool people! Anyway, we were done with the safari and it was time to part ways, which we did without much melodrama. This is how life is, right? You are destined to walk on a common path with someone for some time and then you part ways. Sometimes you get to say goodbye and sometimes you don't.


Related Blogpost - Into the wilderness around Panna National Park - Why it's one of the best Tiger Reserve in India


Anyway, soon I will be writing about Raneh falls and our guide there. That experience turned out to be beyond our expectations as well. This sentiment was the theme of this trip. We were spontaneous, maxxed each day, and took each turn as it came. Sounds fun, doesn't it?


Anyway, soon I will be writing about Raneh falls and our guide there. That experience turned out to be beyond our expectations as well. This sentiment was the theme of this trip. We were spontaneous, maxxed each day, and took each turn as it came. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

If you liked this post and found it helpful, I would request you to follow these things when traveling - 

1. Manage your waste well and don’t litter Use dustbins.
2. Tell us if you went to a place and found it hard to locate a dustbin. 
3. Avoid bottle waters in hills. Usually you get clean water in hills and water bottles create lot of mess in our ecosystem. 
4. Say big no to plastic and avoid those unhealthy snacks packed in plastic bags. Rather buy fruits. 

5. Don't play loud blaring music in forests of jungle camps. You are a guest in that ecosystem and disturbing the locals (humans and animals) is not polite.

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