The great plains of Madhya Pradesh lie at the very heart of India. They are among the country's most underrated landscapes and boast some of the best wildlife, with rolling cornfields fringed by beautiful teak and sal forest, alive with birdsong and home to the elusive tiger.
Villages on the edge of the jungle comprise brightly coloured mud houses, home to tribal communities eager to welcome you into their way of life. Walk through forests, fragrant with the sweet smell of mahua fruit, and listen to the whoop of the langur and the sharp alarm call of the barking deer, alerting to the presence of a leopard in the distance.
The jungles are arguably India's most distinctive characteristic, and the tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh are among the finest; not least of all Pench, which lays claim to providing the inspiration for Kipling's Jungle Book.
Pench Tiger Reserve covers an area of 758 square km, of which 275 square km comprises the core zone, Pench National Park. It is named after the river which flows through the centre of the reserve, dividing it in two, between the districts of Seoni and Chindwara. The dense forest is largely made up of teak and the ground is covered with a maze of grasses, plants, bushes and saplings. Bamboo is also found at places. Dazzling white kulu 'ghost trees' stand out conspicuously among the various hues of green.
Wildlife is abundant, with over 200 species of bird, including peacock, kingfisher, bulbul, hornbill, drongo, stork and vulture. In an early morning jeep safari, you may see blue bull, sambar and spotted deer, wild boar, jackal, hyena, wild dog, langur, macaque and gaur and - if you are lucky - sloth bear, leopard or even tiger.
Your accommodation in Pench is close to the charming village of Karmajhiri, on the edge of the core zone. The village has around 60 households and at least one member of each family is employed in Pench, either as guide, cook or housekeeper. You stay in a simple en-suite room in a park guesthouse on the fringe of the village.
70km from Karmajhiri lies the tribal village of Sakata. Thirteen families, of the Gond tribe, live in Sakata in attractive, brightly-coloured houses constructed from mud with mud-baked tile roofs.
You stay in a comfortable guesthouse; a disused forest department hunting lodge built in 1903 which has been handed over to the community to run as a guesthouse. There are two en-suite bedrooms, a spacious dining room and separate kitchen block, with a verrandah running round the building.
The village is situated on the edge of the South Shivni forest which acts as a migratory corridor between Pench and Kanha tiger reserves. Wildlife is abundant and during local forest walks you may see antelope, deer, flying squirrel, wild boar or jackal, and your guide will point out pugmarks and signs of tiger - you may be lucky enough to see the elusive beast.
Cattle are seen as a status symbol here and there are many cows. This has led many families to buy large numbers of cows and buffalo rather than smaller numbers of useful milking cattle, so goats are kept for milk. Many vegetables and fruit are grown and you can expect delicious home-grown vegetarian food, including lemon, papaya, jack fruit, mango, banana, pomegranate, custard apple, guava, pumpkin, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, chillies, tamarind, coriander, pulse and rice.
The village of Chopna lies in the buffer zone of the Satpura sanctuary; an attractive forest village where the community have set up a comfortable camp to accommodate guests, with walk-in tents and a separate dining tent. A stay here allows you to get to know the community, discover the farming practices and the secret of the mahua flower, explore the local forest and relax in the afternoon sunshine.
A short walk from Chopna, along sandy tracks and good forest paths, takes you to the fringe of the Sapura National Park, whic forms the core zone of the biosphere reserve. Walking is mostly along flat paths and is accessible to all. With porters carrying your luggage and setting up the camp ahead of your arrival at Dehlia, and cooks preparing delicious local food, you can be sure of a comfortable night's stay without losing any of the adventure of a night beneath the stars at this charming spot on the banks of the Bengunga River.
In 1857 Captain James Forsyth 'discovered' the hill-station of Pachmarhi, the highest point in Madhya Pradesh, set at 1,305m. Pachmarhi is a tranquil town, known as the "Queen of the Satpura". Here the British Army set up their regional headquarters, and in 1862 Forsyth set up the first forest department. The wonderful walk from Dehlia, across the Bengunga River, up through the teak and sal forests at the heart of the sanctuary, follows the route taken by Forsyth, with plenty of wildlife opportunity. Included in the holiday price is a conservation fee for access in this core area of the Satpura sanctuary. The walk from Dehlia to Pachmarhi is along good forest paths, winding steadily uphill, with some steep sections.
Your Village Ways holiday includes return transfer from Delhi: internal flight to Nagpur and overnight train journey to Delhi for the return. If you are already in India we can arrange for you to be met in Delhi, at the place of your choosing, to start on your journey to the jungle. It is also possible to start this holiday from Mumbai.
We ask our guests to make their own arrangements for international travel to India. We offer some general advice and useful links regarding travel, visas, insurance, health requirements.
The region has a sub-tropical climate with hot, dry summers, a monsoon season and a mild winter.
This is the hot, dry season when the forests begin to lose their leaves. Although the forests do not look at their finest during this period, the lack of dense foliage means there is greater opportunity to see wildlife. During March the peak temperatures begin to rise from around 20C to 25C. Evenings are warm and pleasant. April and May are the hottest months with peak temperates in May reaching around 40C.
The monsoon season comes as a relief after the heat of May. Days are warm, with temperatures of 20-30C, and there is heavy rainfall.
This season is pleasant and dry, with temperatures dropping from 25C to 10 C in December and January and rising again in February. The forests are lush after the monsoon rains.