Pench National Park is about 80 kilometres north of Nagpur. This week the temperature in Nagpur varied between 44 or 45 Celsius in the day and 30 to 31 Celsius at night. We reached Nagpur at about 8 in the morning. It was warm, but about the same as the morning’s temperature in Mumbai. There wasn’t much traffic at this time, and it was a short drive to the highway.
By 9 we could feel the heat even inside the car. The sun streaming in from the window felt hot on the skin. The air conditioning laboured, without being able to cool the air inside to a comfortable temperature. By the time we reached our destination near the village called Turiya, the roads were deserted. There was a little check-post near a minor gate to the park (photo above). A boy came out of the gate. Apart from the two forest guards at the checkpost, he was the only person we had seen for a while. We sped past the empty-looking village. A few water buffaloes lounged in the shade of a spreading banyan tree.
The heat hit us when we reached our hotel and stepped out of the car. The reception area was shaded by a large tree full of birds. As we signed in, we were handed a cold mango drink: the sour mango, jeera and pepper taste was very welcome in the heat. We would leave a little after 3 for our first trip into the jungle.
In this extreme dry heat we had to make sure that we did not lose moisture. You had to cover as much of your body as possible, so trousers and full sleeves were needed. I had a cap and a cloth to wind around my face, leaving open only my eyes and nose. I realized later that you could cover your face in a layer of cream and do away with the cloth. At least a litre of water was needed for a three-hour long trip into the jungle. You can forget the heat after a while, and without these precautions you could be dehydrated pretty badly in a couple of hours. Even tigers obey similar rules, which makes it easy to spot them in this weather.
Pench National Park is said to stand in the rough geographical location where Rudyard Kipling set his famous story called The Jungle Book. As we passed the empty bazaar in Turiya village, the gate posts marking out the bazaar (photo above) recalled parts of this story. Even now, if you are lucky, you can see bears, tigers, wolves, jackals and snakes in and around the park. Over the next few days we would test our luck.