The Magical Pench Forest,Madhya Pradesh
We went to Pench Forest Reserve,the jungle Rudyard Kipling based Mowgli's story Jungle Book in.Located two and a half hours from Nagpur,it lies in Satpura Hills in Madhya Pradesh.The temperature was 5 degrees centigrade in the mornings increasing gradually to 20 degrees in the afternoon.There are several resorts in the area including Kipling's Retreat run by the Madhya Pradesh,Baghvan Pench Jungle Lodge (where we were),Tuli's Tiger Corridor and Pench Jungle Camp.
I thought we'd be the first ones when we wrapped ourselves in two sweaters,two blankets,muffler,monkey cap and hand warmer and arrived there at 6.30 am but there were many others! Some sipping hot chai at the tea stall.The hot water bag provided by Baghvan was a source of great comfort.We wore clothes in brown and green to blend in with the forest
At the gate,a forest guide joined us.Our naturalist Sangeeta,well versed in her subject and with excellent diction, drove us in the safari jeep,deep into the forest,following a route marked by the park officials for us that day.Everytime we came across another jeep,notes would be exchanged and the tiger or any other large animal's location would be surmised
We saw several Chital or spotted deer,Wild boar,Gaur,Nilgai,Langur,Jackals and Sambar.Birds like Rufous Treepie,Drongo,Kingfisher,Plumheaded Parakeets,Cormorants and India Rollers were a plenty.Nothing to match the view of the most majestic of all.....the tiger!! The warnings calls of monkeys and deer alerted us to his presence and we rushed in the direction of the sounds and waited.Soon he emerged from the trees,looked at us nonchalantly and moved on.....leaving us spellbound!
Later,we had a picnic breakfast in the rest area.Sangita arranged it on the jeep's bonnet.The chefs had packed egg sandwiches and alu parathas,muffins,fruit,tea and coffee.The surprise of the morning was the special sugar free fruit cake for my mother's birthday!!
I was reminded of childhood picnics...sigh!
When we returned,we met the chef who prepares local dishes.The lodge held interactive sessions between chefs and the local adivasis so as to ensure authenticity.Our extremely hardworking,efficient and ever smiling butler Charandas belongs to the Gond Tribe which is the predominant Adivasi group in India.He told me more about his culture.Their food is simple.He prepares food in two ways: one where onion is sautéed and main vegetable added and then masalas.The other with garlic in which masala is added first and vegetables last.He prefers the former as makes the food more flavorful.
Aloo Baingan,Channe Ki Bhaaji,Methi Sabzi,Laal Bhaaji,Vaal (Semi) and Lauki are common Gond dishes.Nonveg includes a very spicy chicken curry which uses masala ground on silbatta (stone).Fish curry is another speciality wherein tiny fish is used.
Kadu Ke Gulgule (Pumpkin Dumplings) is a well known Gond dessert.The Adivasis also make liquor out of Mohua flowers (Katrina Kaif mentions it in her song Chikni Chameli).Mohua leaves are also a source of nutrition.
Gond make a veg-nonveg dish by mixing potato,vegetable and tiny fish roasted over grass which renders a smoky flavor.At the lodge we tried Hing-Dhania Ki Alu Bhujia,Tamatar Meetha,Semi (Vaal) and Tamatar Kanda.
The team of Chef Aks,Rafique and Charandas decorated the lunch table by the poolside as it was my mother's birthday.Her dessert included sugar free creme brûlée and malpua
In the evening it was cold and we had chaat and grills.Exceptional was the Pahadan Fish Kebab....totally drool worthy.Pahadan is a freshwater fish like the Mahaseer.
I got to visit their Organic Garden where they grow basil,rocket,lettuce,tomatoes and brinjals.These are served at the lodge.You can pick vegetables and ask them to cook them for you.They also show you how to cook them.We didn't have time for a cook session this visit.
The garden had Pok Choy,Green Chillies,banana and lime as well.
We visited a tribal village nearby where most of the staff lives.
Was happy to see an Adivasi school
The staff at Baghvan is amazing.Everything is taken care of.Mr Gogate,Sangita S.Mani,Charandas,Chef Aks,Chek Kalve,Kunwar,Rafique,Dhote and of course CD (Charandas) work really hard and are warm.The lodge is designed on the lines of South African game resorts and is ecofriendly.We caught up with other guests and their experiences when we dined at the common table.
Would love to go back someday.... for the magnificence of the Pench Forest Reserve,the Baghvan Hospitality and of course the outstanding food including Gond cuisine!!