Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee for arboreal adventures
” You just missed a jungle owlet, ” says the naturalist Vishal Sharma, as I enter the portals of the Pench Tree Lodge by Pugdundee Safaris, one of the award-winning resorts in Pench Tiger Reserve. It is late evening and the night sky has already enveloped the landscape. It’s dark and nippy and I can hear it hooting amidst the serpentine shadows of the branches as I look around to see a dense canopy surrounding us. I wonder how he knew that owls have always been my favourite birds ever since I started birdwatching a decade ago. Ironically it was the birds that had beckoned me to the forests initially but here at Pench Tiger Reserve, the home of the legendary late Colarwali, the tigers and the tigresses have been the showstoppers along with the leopards, sloth bears, gaurs, wild boars, wild dogs, and a variety of their prey including spotted and barking deer, sambar, monkeys, and several other mammals and reptiles and other species.
It is my first time at Pench National Park, the forest that inspired Rudyard Kipling to pen his Jungle Book and his immortal characters. and at Pugdundee Safaris which has wildlife lodges all over the Central Heartland of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. And this is where I connect and let loose my inner Mowgli who has been lying dormant within me for years.
After a long drive of around three hours from Nagpur airport, we reach the luxurious, boutique wooded Pench Tree lodge which is barely 20 minutes from the lesser crowded Karamjhari Gate of the Pench National Park. The touristy Turia Gate is where most jungle resorts and wildlife lodges are located and it is located on the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh border. Harish Arya the General Manager of the property gives us a warm welcome and a short orientation to the lodge and the tiger reserve with maps and audio visuals while I sip the relaxing tea with herbs.
Located in the tribal village of Sarahiri, Pench Tree Lodge, one of the sustainable Pench Tiger Reserve Lodges blends seamlessly with the wilderness amidst 40 acres of dense woodlands. I am hosted by Pugdundee Safaris for a couple of days and it is a very short trip in paradise but every moment in the wild feels timeless and precious.
Pench Tree Lodge is a boutique lodge that blends with the wild environs with six tree houses and six luxury cottages. It is one of the most luxurious and sustainable resorts in Pench Tiger Reserve. Surrounded by trees and grasslands, the dwellings are dwarfed by the outdoors and open into the wilderness. The Luxury Family Cottages are so spacious and plush yet rustic and sustainable.
Built with local Sal wood and stone, the cottage comes with a luxurious bathroom and a private wooden sit-out deck where you can watch birds and butterflies flitting around or even spot wildlife like spotted deer or wild boars. What I like about the architecture is the seamless flow between the inside and the outside worlds, where you can get a glimpse of the forests through the large French windows and yet be cocooned in the comfort of the stone walls. There are many Pench Tiger Reserve lodges but very few of them are committed to sustainability and conservation.
While the cottages are comfortable and luxurious, the tree houses are absolutely breathtaking. Perched atop the native Mahua trees and supported by stilts, you get a feeling of living like Mowgli but in a comfortable luxury style. Standing tall at 18 feet high, you feel on top of the world, surveying the world from amidst tree trunks and branches. This arboreal dwelling is definitely the signature style of the lodge which is named after the tree lodge.
Built with local Sal wood, the interiors are aesthetic with an old-world charm with a large poster bed. Large French windows, an open verandah that is supported delicately by the branches of the tree, the bay window seat where you can lounge or use an extra bed, and a large bathroom take you into a different world. The birds come calling right inside as you sip a cup of tea. The civets roam around in the dead of night as you can hear them from the comfort of your room.
Sometimes you feel like you are on a safari from high up in the skies as you stare at the large tract of deciduous forests and open grasslands and imbibe the spirit of the forests. My favourite space is the wooden open deck which almost feels like being in a “birding multiplex”. I can lounge on the bed and watch the drama unfold in front of me at any given point in time.
While we spend one night in the cottage and another in the tree house, I can’t help but be overwhelmed and excited at the same as I am reliving the Jungle Book.
Experiences and Activities
Like other resorts in Pench Tiger Reserve, Pench Tree Lodge arranges and books all your safaris and a naturalist from the property comes with you. There are three safaris – morning, evening, and night and based on availability, you can get either core or the buffer zones. But my favourite is to do nothing. Literally, lounge on my bed and watch the birds on my natural open multiplex screen. However, you can also go on a nature walk and do more than just bird watching on the premises of the property with the naturalists.
Another fascinating hideout is the Kipling Hide, a luxurious professionally designed underground hide mainly for wildlife photographers. You get to see and photograph birds and wildlife up and close, in the wee hours of the day or even late in the without disturbing them from your little space down under.
Pench Tree Lodge also arranges activities outside the property starting from village walks and trails, cycling adventures and day trips and safaris in the buffer zones. But I have got to come back another day to experience all of this and more.
Sustainability at Pench Tree Lodge
Pugdundee Safaris prides itself on building and managing sustainable wildlife lodges and they do walk the talk. They were recognised for their green initiatives by winning the ICRT Award and Outlook Indian Responsible Tourism Awards in 2022. And this is one of the best Pench Tiger Reserve Lodges that focuses on sustainability, conservation, local communities and ensuring women empowerment.
The focus on conservation and construction and on low carbon footprint can be seen in all the lodges, especially in Pench Tree Lodge. With just six tree houses and six luxury cottages built with local Sal wood and stone in 40 acres of wilderness, it gives you a feeling of living in a forest. The lodge has been built without disturbing the natural ecosystem and biodiversity.
They use green furniture, local materials plenty of natural light and resources. Even the toiletries are organic, and recyclable with zero plastic used. There are no plastic bottles either – recycled steel bottles are kept in the rooms for the guests. There are glass bottles in the bathrooms with lotions or shower gels that can be refilled and reused as well. Be it bamboo earbuds or plant-based small packaging boxes, or newspaper carry bags, the priority is to go green.
When it comes to food, there grow their own produce and have a herbal and vegetable garden and the emphasis is also on local food, promoting regional, traditional seasonal produce and saying no to packaged food and exotic food. The lodge also offers tribal cuisine and forest products as well, besides the delicious Paanch Gaon cuisine that we had savoured.
Pugdundee safaris also focusses on collaborating with local communities, empowering and training and creating equal opportunities for women. There are Naturalist Training Programmes and they also employ naturalists, including women. Priority is given to locals for employment opportunities and projects as well. Education is imparted in local schools and villages regarding awareness of nature and wildlife. At Pugdundee every one is responsible for sustainable practices and their “goal is to convert every guest into an ambassador of wildlife and conservation. ”