Leaving the unorganized chaos of Delhi behind we sought the peace and quiet of the jungle, and the anticipation of spending 6 days on 8 safari game drives in search of the Bengal tiger. It takes 5 hours drive from the Jabalpur airport to get to Kanha National Park and our accommodations at the Kanha Jungle Lodge, but here the sounds are squawking parrots, barking deer, and monkeys rattling the tree branches . Every morning at 6:15 AM we pass through the gates, returning by 10:30 after a bush breakfast in the field, then back into the park at 2:45 until we must exit by 5:45 dusk. We try not to be too "tiger centric" but the anticipation of driving through carnivore territory, hearing the alarm calls of monkey and deer, knowing that Bengal tigers and leopards are lurking in the tall grass and bamboo thickets watching us is a little unnerving but completely mesmerizing. We are with expert driver naturalist guides, joined by a local assistant guide from the community to help track and spot the tiger, and every time we encounter another jeep they all confer in Hindi as to who saw what where and when. We watch for pug marks (tiger tracks) and confer with forest guards walking in the park and occasional mahouts riding elephant back in search of the big cats.
And then it happens…sometimes by sitting in wait knowing a cat is there and hoping it will emerge and then other times it just appears! The whole experience is tracking skill and experienced guesses of the driver guides and their assistants, and much of it is also plain luck. The Aussies who were traveling along our schedule for a few days had the most upbeat and positive attitude and they had numerous sightings.
After our days in the jungle the comments were: "Awesome!" This is what I came to see!" "When I got back to my room I couldn't sit down!"
Paired off in groups of 3-4 persons per jeep the first vehicle to have a spotting was with Vinod's—the very same local community guide Wildland sponsors (along with our previous travelers to India) sponsored to to participate in a local guide training program so that members of the local villages could participate more in tiger tourism, earn income from tiger conservation, and be ambassadors in their community to help protect tigers. It was great to meet Vinod personally and to see that he is now a full time hired guide at the Kanha Jungle Lodge—ask for him if you go!
That morning upon entering the park a leopard crossed the road in front of their jeep. Then just a few minutes later a beautiful tigress appeared out of the bush and onto the road. (Tigers like to walk on the soft sand of the roads where there are no thorns.) She then turned towards our jeep and kept walking, closer and closer, head on, her front paws flipping up in the air as she drew her front leg forward and then gently patting back down on the ground. Behind her were just two other vehicles. Our Wildland car then had to keep backing up and backing up as she just kept approaching keeping a distance of about 30' until finally she turned, offered a clear broadside view of her stripped markings (one way biologists identify one individual from another) before she strolled back into the bush. And, as we are making a professional video of this Wildland Anniversary Adventure in India, this vehicle happened to be the one with the film crew!!
While you're happy for the few that see the tiger, you can't help but be a little envious. As the days progressed in Kanha and then Bandavgarh National park, from one morning safari drive to another afternoon drive, following different routes designated by the park service, more of us had sightings until everyone in the group finally saw tiger.
My best sighting was today, our last morning safari. We were the first to enter the park and not more than 3 minutes from the gate we saw a sloth bear, then a jungle cat went tearing along the road in front of us. That was a great way to start the day! So, we kept driving and having an extended conversation of this and that when we rounded a bend in the road to see one other solitary vehicle waving to us and sure enough, another tigress was just emerging into the glorious morning light, great for photography. She strolled by, crossing road but marking a tree with a spray of urine, and moving along. She was two full minutes out in the open, completely undisturbed and uninterested in us. So, we pulled our car down another fork in the road and there she emerged again before sauntering off in the direction of the local village not far from where we were. I hope she wasn't going off for an easy cow to prey on.
And here I have only related our tiger experiences, when in fact, we saw so much more. In addition to the sloth bear, jungle cat, leopard mentioned above, we saw beautiful herds of three species of deer including large males with fuzzy antlers glistening in the morning light, languor monkeys, wild boar within feet of our open jeep digging up and crunching on bamboo roots, herds of guar (referred to as the Indian bison although they are a wild bovine), jackals, and many species of spectacular birds including India rollers, huge storks, greater cuckoo, serpant eagle, crested hawk eagle, hornbill, and much more.
keeping it wild,