Gemstones are one of those shiny materials that have fascinated mankind since ancient era. Our planet earth houses different kind of gemstones found in different geographies. One of them is The Emerald. India has emerald mines in Madhya Pradesh and the place is named after the same – Panna (local name for Emerald). Earlier, tourists were allowed to visit limited sections of Panna mines but, later it was banned for general tourists. Still we visited Panna because our interest was in the real gemstones of Panna – the forest and its biodiversity which is no less than any gemstone for us. Wildlife enthusiasts visit Madhya Pradesh (MP) for its natural wildlife and forest landscapes. The state of MP has some of world renowned National Parks – Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh. Fortunately for us, Panna National Park is not crowded with tourists as compared to these national parks – another reason why we chose it. We went there in the month of May. During summer the occurrence of ground vegetation is very less due to which the visibility increases and hence wildlife spotting is easier. However, it is extremely hot and dry during this time of the year. If one has problem with the heat then it is advised to go there in winters that is from November to February.
We reached Satna railway station and from there proceeded to Panna in a hired vehicle. We passed through nice agricultural fields, hillocks and some forest patches and reached our hotel at night. Next day was the early morning safari inside the permitted area of forest (generally the buffer zone of any national park or sanctuary). As a government rule for protection of wildlife, nobody is allowed to stay overnight inside the National Parks boundary hence all hotels and lodges are outside the protected area but, near forest entry gates.
Finally, there we were – out for a safari ride in Panna. As we entered, we saw herds of spotted deer; being shy and alert animals, they started running away. Another deer species we could see were Sambars; they don’t roam in larger groups. Sambar deer is listed in ‘Vulnerable’ category of IUCN red data list and is also a favorite food of Tiger – the top most predator of this forest. We clicked some pictures of Langurs while they were busy in daily routines such as cleaning each other’s fur, jumping here and there. Since it is a protected area, no one is allowed to get out of the vehicle. These vehicles are open safari jeeps. One has to arrange his own vehicle and it is compulsory to have a forest guide per jeep. Forest guides are well aware about the biodiversity of the area and are trained to explain it to the tourists.
We took five rides in the park during our trip and every time some or the other new species was added in our list of sightings. Some of the mammal sightings include Wild dogs (Dholes), Jackals, Indian Gaurs and Nilgai etc. Nilgai are largest antelopes of India and are easily differentiable from Sambar deer with the hair-like structures on the middle part of the throat. Nilgais being antelopes have permanent horns whereas Sambar being deer has antlers and shade them almost every year. We were told that out of these, the Wild dogs are one of the rare sightings.
We spotted a lot of forest birds too including Paradise fly catcher and Savanah nightjar. Observing them is a treat to the eyes. The adult male of paradise flycatcher has absolute white feathers except at the head region they are black. It is rightly called as Dudhraj in Hindi (Milk-king). It is also a State bird of Madhya Pradesh. We were able to click an immature rufous-morph paradise flycatcher. Savanah nightjar being a nightjar is a master of camouflage. It sits firm to the ground. One may feel as if it is part of stone it is sitting upon. A very good eyesight and observation is needed to spot it. We were lucky to have a forest guide who was able to do so.
Ken river adds up to the beauty of Panna National Park. Every time we stopped our jeep, I admired the landscape. Being situated in Vindhya mountain range it offers a spectacular view. There is a confluence of Teak forest (from Southern part of the Country) and Anogeissus forest (from western side of the country) and they blend perfectly here in Panna. I consider myself lucky to actually witness the beauty of Panna. There was another reason why we all were lucky. ‘Vatsala’ the oldest female elephant lives in Elephant camp of Panna National Park and we got to see her. We also saw her great grandson (yet to be named). Vatsala is about 96 years old and manages to roam around the forest with other trained elephants.
It was during the last safari that we saw a Leopard. First we saw a single leopard and after some time two cubs. I was amazed to see the size of first one – the adult male leopard. It was quite big as compared to regular leopards. The reason became clear to us later: Panna had good numbers of tigers earlier. Later due to unnatural reasons (hunting, poaching and habitat loss) there was not a single tiger left in the forest. So, ultimately the second top-most predator (leopard in this case) became the top one and it had good amount of food and ample of space to live. It proliferated and became really healthy. In recent years (since 2009) there was big project carried out of re-introducing tigers to Panna. Now Panna National Park has good number of tigers. With the area of 1645.08 sq kms, Panna provides ideal shelter to Tigers and ultimately the entire ecosystem. The adult male tiger requires area of appx 200 sq km as its territory. The Panna National Park so far has 3 adult males. The total number of tigers reaches to 20-30 so far including adult males, females and cubs and they have fare size of area to live within. Since the area is vast they can roam around anywhere and the chance of sighting them becomes less. I was happy not to spot the tiger as I knew somewhere they are living the way they want to without any ‘Clicks-clicks’ of cameras and many jeeps running behind them to claim their money shot. Perhaps, this is the reason why people visit less here as compared to National Parks nearby. But, it will not be same scene after few years. As the number of tiger increases, the chances of sighting tiger increases and it increases the number of visitors. Too much of tourism in such areas is harmful. It puts pressure on nearby ecosystem. If every visitor follows the rule of forests safari and respects nature then the harm will be much less.
It was time to leave Panna. We left in a peaceful state of mind, visited Khajuraho group of temples nearby and headed for railway station. I have been to Madhya Pradesh lot of times before and each time I have noticed that trains are always late! This time is was late by 10 entire hours!! It was only because we had spent last 4 days in Panna National Park with natural beauty; we managed to hold our patience and returned to Mumbai.