Truth is stranger than fiction – This turned out to be more than an adage in Pench when in 1831 Lieutenant Moor caught a human child reared by the wolves in the forests. The narration of this incident by Sleeman in a pamphlet titled ‘An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens’ along with Strendale’s account in Seonee inspired the literary genius Sir Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book and the wolf child was immortalized as Mowgli.
These forests are a part of Pench in Madhya Pradesh and were declared as a national park in 1983 and a tiger reserve in 1993. One just has to gaze at the Wainganga river, the Seoni Hills and gasp in amazement at the picturesque gorge where Mowgli killed Sher Khan – the villain tiger of Jungle Book – to be convinced of the blend of reality and fiction.
Kipling had served in old Madhya Pradesh. It is quite possible that he visited the Seoni forest, experienced the natural beauty and witnessed the wildlife of that region. The forests of Seoni so captivated Kipling that Pench replaced Rajasthan as the muse for the setting of The Jungle Book.
It is not difficult to see how Kipling could not help being enamored by the Satpura ranges, the several streams and rivulets – most of them springing from the Pench river, vast tracts covered by teak and mixed forests. The wildlife, most famous of which is the Royal Tiger, also includes Indian leopard, sloth bear, several kinds of deer and of course Kipling’s adoptive family for Mowgli – the wolves.
Pench is also home to more than 210 species of birds that include several migratory birds – the magpie robin, crimson breasted barbet, red vented bulbul, teal and blue kingfisher being some of the attractions. Sitaghat on the banks of the river Pench provides an idyllic spot for bird watching.
Nature meets fantasy – and all of it in real – right here in Pench. Do we hear Sher Khan growl in consent?