The wild heart of India is a ruggedly beautiful place. Every time we drive down here, it seems like we’re visiting a place that gives a little indication of how life must have been in our country centuries ago. This isn’t necessarily saying that the region is backwards and underdeveloped. But rather jungles that have been conserved and ancient temples and caves that have been well looked after give one a feel of looking at ancient India through a translucent glass. With a little imagination, you can very well picture what life must have been like here.
This is what makes the drive there so enjoyable, even if you have done it before. Indeed when we drove these roads three-and-a-half years ago, it was bumps and jolts all the way. This time I was pleasantly surprised. The drive was smooth, stress-free and I daresay that it was one of the most therapeutic drives I have had in India in the recent past. Pashan Garh in Panna, near the world famous temples of Khajuraho, is a destination by itself. In fact, though it is a wildlife lodge where you can set up base to see the Panna wildlife sanctuary, you could very well spend days relaxing in its wild and luxurious environs. Combined with the scenic and peaceful drive, it makes for a much ‘unplugged’ break. Remember to: Carry a pair of binoculars as the entire area around Panna is a birder’s paradise. Don’t forget to: Pack woollies as the nights can get quite chilly, even in summer.
Finally: Do leave early because the land is at its scenic best in the early morning sun. Getting there: Trip set point is the roundabout with a statue of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi in Agra. 0.0 Roundabout with statue of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Turn left for Gwalior. 2.9 UTI Bank ATM. All ATM cards work here, including credit cards.
- 22.3 Toll booth. Rs 20.
- 53.2 Dholpur. This town is in the heart of the Chambal Valley, which is infested with dacoits — avoid being here after dark.
- 57.4 Bridge over the river Chambal.
- 78.5 Roundabout. Continue straight towards Morena.
- 82.2 Toll booth. Rs 5.
- 107.4 T-junction. Turn left.
- 115.8 Gwalior. Roundabout. Turn left for Jhansi.
- 118.8 T-junction. Turn left for Jhansi.
- 123.5 Left T-junction. Turn left for Jhansi. Landmark is Tansen Hotel on the right.
- 124.6 Roundabout. Turn left for Jhansi.
- 189.2 Fork. Bear right.
- 220.3 Roundabout. Jhansi city. Continue straight for Orchha.
- 221.5 Roundabout with five exits. Take the second one.
- 222.5 ICICI and SBI Bank ATMs.
- 224.3 T-junction. Turn right for Khajuraho and Panna.
- 227.9 HPCL fuel station. AF including premium fuels.
- 230.9 Right T-junction. Continue straight for Khajuraho and Panna. Right goes to Orchha.
- 232.3 BPCL fuel station. Just fuel and lubricants.
- 285.3 Mauranipur. T-junction. Turn left for Khajuraho.
- 285.6 Level crossing.
- 298.6 Fork. Bear right for Khajuraho on NH76. Straight goes to Allahabad (NH 75).
- 304.1 Toll booth. Rs 15.
- 304.2 Fork. Bear right for Khajuraho. Note: The first 2km might scare you because they are badly potholed, but fret not as the road isn’t all that bad afterwards.
- 327.7 Nowgong town.
- 350.0 Chattrapur town.
- 385.2 Bamitha. Left T-junction. Continue straight for Panna. Left goes to Khajuraho.
- 400.8 Mandla entrance gate into the Panna Tiger Reserve and National Park
- 407.1 Road on left goes to Pandav Falls and caves.
- 414.7 Road on right goes to Hindoda Gate (15km) into the Panna Tiger Reserve and National Park.
- 419.7 HPCL fuel station on the left and fork on road. Bear right towards Panna.
- 420.2 Forest barrier (no toll charge).
- 420.4 Fork. Bear right towards Katni (120km).
- 423.6 Gate to Pashan Garh on the left.
Panna is a sleepy little town with no real demarcation between the village and the national park. There are fences and boundary walls which keep humans out, but animals regularly stray and it is not unusual to see deer on the road. We were greeted at Pashan Garh by Hada, an enthusiastic and cheerful lad who was to be our naturalist.
After a welcome drink, we checked into our lodge which was pure indulgence. Luxurious but also maintaining a jungle safari-like ambience, the cottages at Pashan Garh ensconce the guest in splendid comfort. For example, when we were having our drinks ,on the sit-out after dark that evening, the lament of a jackal came riding on the wind in a long mournful howl and it was a deliciously thrilling moment.
The open huge bathrooms, the surprise dinner locations, the surrounded-by-forest breakfast deck and the green and sparkling swimming pool all make this place one that you could easily lounge around all day long.
But Hada had tempted us with the beauty of the Panna Tiger Reserve especially during an early morning safari and hence the next morning we were out in an open safari vehicle following the fresh tracks of a large male leopard. As is the case most of the time, we never saw the spotted cat. But there are supposedly quite a few of them in the reserve. Sadly, there is only one tiger in Panna.
Hada made this very clear because he really didn’t want to get our hopes high and his gesture was much appreciated. This meant that we could get our mind off the single track focus of spotting a tiger and enjoy the surroundings. And we did because we spotted Crested Serpent Eagles, Red Necked Vultures and Indian Rollers. All these sightings were enhanced because Hada had thoughtfully packed in a couple of binoculars – sighting a bird through the powerful magnifying lens of a pair of binoculars really enhances a park visit.
Also packed by the staff of Pashan Garh was a lovely breakfast spread that we tucked into near the park’s crescent-shaped waterfalls. In fact, the edges of the waterfall formation are a roosting ground for vultures and the cliffs are stained white from their droppings. Our best sighting of the day was of a pair of jackals that seemed unperturbed by our presence and ran along the road behind us for over 20 minutes.
Back to base we had plenty of time to relax by the pool, have a lazy lunch before setting out to have a look at the temples of Khajuraho that are 44km from Pashan Garh. I have always seen the temples during sunrise or during the day. This time around, viewing them at sunset lent an interesting perspective as the orange winter-setting sun seemed to light up the carved stone walls of the thousand-year-old Kandriya Mahadev and the Dev Jagadambi temples to the tone of Himalayan honey.
Pashan Garh Panna District Chattrapur,
For reservations contact: 022-66011825 or 1800111825
Ken River Lodge Village Madla, District Panna Madhya Pradesh 488 001
Ph: 91-7732-275235, 09425143723