Readers young and old have fallen in love with Mowgli, the spirited young boy in Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book, and his adopted wolf parents, Raksha and Father, as well as his precocious jungle pals, Bagheera, the black panther, and Baloo, the bear. And as soon as you arrive in Pench—in India’s Seoni and Chhindwara districts in Madhya Pradesh—you’ll be quick to imagine the famous book, and movie, coming to life before you.
Visitors most often enter the park—a tiger reserve since 1992—at the Turiya or Karmajhiri gate. Amodgarh, in Seoni, is reputedly the spot that inspired Kipling to write The Jungle Book, and its wildlife-rich forest habitats likely prompted the tale’s lovable characters, who cared for Mowgli after his parents were killed in a tiger attack. Other residents of the lofty arjuna trees, Pench River, and forested park lands include gaur, spotted deer, chital, wild dog, chinkara, mongoose, jackal, jungle cat, hyena, and, of course, the elusive tiger and leopard.
It has been noted that the Mowgli character was at least partly inspired by a pamphlet produced by Sir William Henry Sleeman called “An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens,” a description of one such ‘wolf boy’s’ capture near the village of Sant Boari in the Seoni district in 1831. The locations mentioned throughout The Jungle Book do exist in reality in this region, including the Waingunga River where Shere Khan met his demise, the Kanhiwara village, and the “Seeonee Hills.”
Today’s Pench Tiger Reserve is home to a wealth of flora and fauna, as well as approximately 16 elusive tigers, a number that has steadily been on the rise since 2007 thanks to considerable conservation efforts. In addition to these stealthy beasts, who are spine-tingling to see in their native land, black panthers also roam the land, reminiscent of Mowgli’s pal Bagheera. It makes one feel small and quite inconsequential at times, to be roaming about the untrammeled wilderness that these mighty creatures call home.