In conversation with Manav Khanduja, founder of Pugdundee Safaris
When and how was Pugdundee set up?
Pugdundee is a Hindi word meaning a foot trail commonly used by humans and animals, and is popularly used for such beaten paths in the Indian jungles. Driven by the love of Indian jungles, Pugdundee had an unplanned humble beginning in 1986, with a small tented camp in Panna. Between 2007-2010 two more lodges were set up and it was not until the year 2010 that they all were put together under a common umbrella – Pugdundee Safaris.
What does Pugdundee offer visitors?
Pugdundee Safaris is run by a passionate team of wildlifers and hospitality professionals with a team of over 300 people committed to providing an incredible wildlife experience.
Have you always been interested in wildlife?
Growing up in a small town surrounded by countryside, a lifelong attachment with nature was natural. A chance visit to Corbett at the age of 12 left a deep impact and the desire to return. Trips to jungles became more frequent, before becoming a way of life.
Tell us about some of the wildlife that visitors to India may be able to spot?
A variety of deer, ungulates, primates, smaller mammals and birds are easy to spot. However, finding a tiger, leopard or sloth bear is not always easy, so when you do see one of these animals it is a very special experience. Central India is the best place to sight these animals, and if you
take a safari of between six and eight days, you have high chance of sighting them all.
Why is spotting the Bengal Tiger so special?
The tiger is the most charismatic species on earth, and sighting one in wild is an unparallelled experience. It brings forth a range of emotions. I have seen guests tongue-tied, spellbound and even crying with joy.
Where is the best place to spot the tiger, and when is the best time to go on safari in India?
Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks are the best places to spot a tiger. Seeing a tiger in the lush Sal and Bamboo forests with beautiful mountain backdrops is very special. October to March is great, with amazing weather. April to June is really hot, but promises the best tiger sightings as there is limited undergrowth and tigers tend to spend the majority of their time near their favourite water holes.
Why is educating local people important when it comes to protecting the tiger?
The villagers are the true bastions of these forests and we all have to be united for a sustainable tomorrow. To conserve our wild spaces, it is important that the locals are a part of the emerging economy and move in the mainstream. To achieve this, education comes foremost.
What is the most amazing tiger/wildlife sighting you have experienced?
We were riding elephants in Panna and watching a leopard on top of a leafless Ghost Tree. As the tree was on a slope, we were at eye level with the leopard. Before we realised, another leopard climbed up the tree and they fought, both standing on hind legs to gain the advantage on the other. It felt that they would fall at any moment, such was the speed and aggression. Finally, one climbed down and sat under the tree. The jungle was full of their calls and it was an electrifying moment.
Do clients tend to package a safari with other highlights on an India itinerary and if so, what do these tend to be?
The first-time traveller to India usually combines Agra and Jaipur on their safari tour.
With your lodges in remote locations, how do you source food and what sort of food do you tend to serve?
We are committed to a ‘Farm to the Table’ approach. Many of the vegetables and herbs are sourced from our organic farm and garden, or found on nearby farms. Breakfast is usually taken inside the park al fresco. A fresh, wholesome and sumptuous breakfast in the jungle is an experience to look forward to. Lunch is Indian Table d’ Hôte or chef’s special for the day. An array of locations is usually arranged for dinner. It is genrally a relaxed occasion with a mix of local, homegrown, Indian and Continental cuisines.
What’s the accommodation like?
At all our lodges accommodation is in individual cottages or bungalows set in a natural forested area. All accommodations have ensuite bathrooms, air-conditioned rooms, luggage area and tea/coffee making facilities. It is a combination of rustic and deluxe, in order for guests to enjoy the forest with all creature comforts included.
Main image | One of Pugdundee Safaris’ treetop hideaways