IN HOT PURSUIT OF THE "PANTHERA TIGRIS"
- Purvi Mistry
The sweltering heat of May had us running towards the Kanha NP, the land of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, once again to track the Panthera Tigris, popularly known as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Summer, is the idle time for tiger sighting due to reduced forest cover and the need of the animals to seek water.
We embarked on this hot trip on a Saturday night from LTT (Kurla Terminus) to board the Rajendra Nagar Express bound for Patna. Our destination was Jabalpur from where we were to travel by road for 4 hours to reach our final destination - Kanha National Park. We were a group of 36 people including 2 of my friends who joined us from Delhi. Surprisingly the train was on time. The entire night was fun filled with loud talks, singing & staying awake. Having reached Jabalpur on Sunday afternoon we piled onto a hot pink bus.
Predictably the bus broke down midway and we had to spend 1 hour in the middle of nowhere waiting for the replacement bus to come along. We idled away our time by introducing ourselves to each other, snacking & posing on a well nearby.
Finally when the replacement bus came along, must be a sibling in the same hot pink shade, we realized that we were a few seats short! 4 people had to travel on roof top in a typical filmy way. We kept hoping all along that no one would just fall off the side as the road was all curvy and our driver was a descendant of the Schumacher clan. Luckily we all reached Mogli Resorts in village Khatia late evening.
The resort was very close to one of the entry gates - Kisli.
Our resort looked really scary in the night time with just dim lamps lighting up the pathways and the rooms situated far from the main building. The first wildlife to greet us was a yellow frog on our basin. I actually mistook it for soap and thank goodness it blinked before I could hold it!
Makarand our tour leader told us that the wake up call next day would be at 4.30am. We would assemble for tea by 5am and leave the premise by 5.15am so that we could beat the tourist crowd. True to his word, we heard loud banging on our doors at precisely 4.30am. All set with our caps, cameras, monopods, tripods, water bottles & sun block, we headed off for our first safari trip.
Each gypsy had 6 people. I was the only one in our gypsy who had been to the jungles before and all others were first timers not knowing what to expect.
As I had been dreaming of Kanha opening up its arms to me on an early sunny morning, so I was greeted on that day! The sight of the barrier opening up, the gypsy sliding onto the jungle path, the wide open forest grounds, the rising sun, the quiet chattering of the birds, the soft thud of the spotted deer and the cool breeze are embedded into my senses making it an unforgettable memory. For me it was homecoming.
Driving at a speed of 20kms, we started exploring the jungle. We made acquaintances with the black faced langurs, spotted deer, peacocks, peahens, jungle fowl, wild boar, a pair of owlets, sambar deer, barking deer, barasingha and Indian Gaur. The sambar deer were busy licking at the soil to fulfill the salt deficiency in their bodies.
The cool breeze and the slow rocking motion of the gypsy put many of my fellow adventurers to sleep. The morning session was an orientation to the jungle with no tell-tale signs of the tiger's presence anywhere. In a way it was a good sign because one must first get the feel of the jungle and definitely try one's patience before getting a glimpse of the mighty beast.
Post lunch we had a short rest break and headed off once again for the 3.30pm safari. We were moving around drowsily when we were snapped into awakening by the passing gypsies telling us about a female tigress in the vicinity who had just crossed their path. This charged us into full awakening and we all clambered up on our seats to have the first look at the tigress. We could hear her growling amongst the bushes and waited expectantly with our cameras on ready! Finally our patience paid off. She walked out of the bushes and without a look around, coolly crossed the road and went off into the bushes onto the other side. A few more gypsies had raced up close to us but they got just a glimpse of her rear as she was walking further in and was perfectly camouflaged by the dried bamboo all around. It was not a very heartening sighting because she was very skinny and tired looking. Later we were told by our guide and driver, Kishore that she had just given birth to a few cubs and thus, she was frail looking. This brought an end to our first day in the jungle.
The next day began as the previous one but with even more enthusiasm and optimism. Our cameras were being put to maximum use right from the time the sun peeked out of the clouds. The jungle mates co-operated with us by coming all out and posing for us.
The best experience was to stare into the eyes of a full grown Indian Gaur who was just 4-5 feet away from our gypsy. Its weight easily exceeded a ton.
The moment it made a move the guide asked Kishore to back up. They are known to be very ferocious and can easily upturn a small gypsy. Moving on we met another Bison, who seemed to be chewing gum whereas in reality it was busy munching on grass!
Driving further we came to a large open road where we could see 2 elephants and a few gypsies close by. We understood immediately that it was the tiger tracking elephants and the gypsies belonged to the forest ranger. They had spotted a tiger and were scrambling onto the elephant to have a closer look. How we envied them! The road was then blocked and no vehicles were allowed on that path. Infact the gypsy ahead of us got stopped and the driver was given an earful by the forest ranger for speeding.
We kept hoping for the tiger show to take place but unfortunately it didn't happen. We spent sometime in between driving to hog our breakfast at the Center Point. There was an annoying quantum of tourists who had never been to a jungle before and kept screaming at their drivers to show them some tigers.
Our next tiger sighting was really frustrating. A tiger was crossing the road and the road was choc-a-block with almost 10-15 gypsies on both sides of the tiger. It was a really crazy scenario and the tiger got miffed and just walked off into the grassland not to be seen by anyone.
Not to be the ones to give up, we headed off again for the evening safari. To add to our frustration all we saw was the tigress strutting her butt!
Finally it was the last morning safari of this trip! I didn't share my gut feeling with anyone that we would finally see the tiger up close. While passing by the Indri maidan we saw a huge forest fire raging. The speed at which it was spreading was scary. However the jungle officials were successful in containing it and it slowly died down.
We reached the center point earlier than usual that day to line up for the tiger show. We were on third place that day and luckily the jungle was not over crowded with tourists. There were hardly 35-40 gypsies as compared to a 100+ gypsies on the previous 2 days.
This gave us hope of seeing the tiger at close range. We waited a really long time for an update on the tiger show. Our luck stood by us! I saw our driving come running towards our gypsy and I instantly understood that the permission for tiger show had been granted and we were off to see the tiger at close range on elephant back. We paid for the tiger show and zoomed off with a jungle official to the spot where the tiger show was being held. There were just 2 gypsies ahead of us awaiting their turn so it was really a small wait. Finally! We clambered on to the elephant back, me and Prakash on one elephant and Dhiren and Varsha on the other. We headed off into the grassland where the tiger was sitting. The moment our elephant came close it got up and started to move away.
Our mahout would not give up and he immediately put his elephant into motion and started following the tiger. WOW! The fast bump bump of the elephant and the tiger walking coolly ahead of us was simply amazing. I can still feel the bump bump movement in my sleep. The tiger was a 4 year old male cub. It reached a bridge and got under it.
On one side was our elephant, to the left was Varsha's elephant and to the right was another elephant. The tiger had no place to go but straight ahead. Instead it chose to go under and rest in the shade. This was the moment we got our prized shots!
Sniffing around, moving around and then finally settling down to rest. The camera on burst mode we just went bonkers going click click click.
Once we were back it was Anita and Mitesh's turn to go next. They were simply ecstatic when they returned.
On our way back we could do nothing more but talk about how majestic it was, how huge it was, how unconcerned it was, how confident it was and also beautiful.
On returning back to the Center Point we came to know that another tiger show was happening at the Kisli gate. We headed off there but unfortunately could not go for the tiger show as we were behind many gypsies and we had to rush that day to leave for Jabalpur at the soonest.
We left in the heat of the noon to reach Dhuandhar Falls that are just a few kilometers away from the city of Jabalpur. They have been nicknamed the Niagara Falls of India due to the identical horseshoe shape. Even in this heat they were overflowing with water.
We munched on cool cucumbers to beat the heat. From there we moved on to the Bhedaghat area which has marble rocks on both sides and the river Narmada flows in between.
We went for a boat ride and were regaled with funny tales of the marble colours. The boatman joked that the marble was pink because the actress Rekha once sat there and her wet pink sari had left some colour behind. The tales were really far fetched but did not fail to give us a good laugh.
Back on the banks we enjoyed a cup of tea while watching the sun go down. We were lucky to witness the unique aarti of the Narmada that takes place every evening. Almost a 100 diyas are lit and the Narmada is worshipped.
People could do a "deep dan" i.e. offer a diya to the Narmada river. It was all such a peaceful and religious environ. We purchased some real cheap marble rock carvings as small souvenirs to take back home.
We were treated to amazing thali for dinner where we gulped down glass after glass of buttermilk like we had never seen any liquid before and our thirst would never be quenched.
On reaching Jabalpur station we got to know our train was slightly delayed. Why waste good time? Me, Komal and Tanvi went off to sleep on the platform amidst our baggages.
Finally it was the end to our wildlife tour when we felt the hot sweaty air of Mumbai licking our faces.
Overall it was not such an exciting experience for me for the simple reason that the tourists were too huge in number and rather misbehaved. Its my request to all who do go to the jungle to remember this - the jungle is not a zoo, you are entering the home of wildlife and the way you respect a human being's home, respect the jungle. Keep it clean, do not litter, do not scream and shout and enjoy the view. The more you respect it the more you will be rewarded as it unfolds itself in front of you and you will see the varied facets of this beautiful place that is home to India's national animal - the "Panthera Tigris". Save it from extinction!