It had been just over a month since we had returned from Bandhavgarh in Dec, and once again I wanted to venture out, a longish weekend a month away seemed very alluring. Only this time it wasn’t going to be Bandhavgarh. I decided on going to Kanha, a national park at the heart of tiger conservation, and a conservation success story for the rare Hardground Barasingha which has been brought back from the brink of extinction.
More than 1000 sqkm of pristine, un spoilt, tiger habitat, peppered with grasslands, bamboo thickets and towering Sal trees, was what swung it in favour of Kanha. Located in state of Madhyapradesh, Kanha adorns itself with numerous species of birds and mammals, with Tiger and Hardground Barasingha as its flagship species. I sounded off my plans to one and all, in a bid to muster enough people which would make this trip economical and fun.
To my great surprise, this time it wasn’t difficult to “sell” a wildlife excursion over the mundane, holiday resort, to any of them. Having experienced the wild side of nature in Bandhavgarh and bitten by “Tiger bug”, every one wanted to be in thick of the action this time. Within a day of announcing the plan I was busy doing our travel and accommodation bookings.
1) Sona – Always ready for any outing, she was the first one to extend support, and set the stone rolling
2) Jigs – Bandhavgarh, was a trip with this gurl after a long time and by the time we returned, I was sure, not to miss her out on any forthcoming ones.
3) Swaps- A true Goan, just wanted to get out of
4) Keshu – later rechristened as “Khadoo” (during the trip) jumped at it from
5) Songhi – Didn’t know what to expect but was influenced enough and decided to tag along anyways.
Days passed by and with one week left for the trip, all of us were very excited, “Must carry” and “To do” lists were finding their way into mailboxes pretty regularly, with Songhi going to the extent of getting a tetanus shot in preparation for the wild adventure, others were being modest by limiting themselves to carrying “Odomos”.
All set, we met at CST station to board our train, Keshu had flown in from
Glad with our acheivement of sorts, we started our journey, food was provided, courtesy Swaps, who thought of us as some gluttons from godforsaken land. She had packed 10 grilled sandwiches generously topped with ketchup for 5 of us. After the meal we had settled in for a chat and a game of cards when, from like my worst nightmare the original allotee of the seat with whom I had negotiated a “win-win” deal came to reclaim his seat, the reason, our seats in the other compartment were encroached upon by some gypsies (Travelers (usually ticketless) who frequent Indian rails to travel short distances) and were making it uncomfortable. I had to oblige and soon after that we decided to hit bed.
The next morning I had to passed through arduous terrain formed by, out-of-place luggage and interspersed, gypsies, who had by now swarmed the reserved coaches, and sat blocking the pathway of two coaches in between.. But this trek hadn’t prepared me enough for what I was about to see. On reaching the rest of the guys, I saw Keshu in most precarious situation with a gypsy allowing him a share of the bed, which by now looked, as if it was paid for, by the gypsy himself. Waking Keshu out of sleep and ignorance to his state, we “requested” the gypsy to relinquish the encroached area, to which he reluctantly agreed. The rest of our journey was smooth sailing with numerous games of cards punctuated with snack break.
Day 1 :
We soon reached our first destination,
Dhuandhar waterfalls was next on our list and we were awestruck by the violent beauty of this water fall. At 50-70 meters wide, this waterfall surely humbles you with the force of the curdling white water that gushes into the gorge of Bhedaghat. After numerous exclamations and some mundane photography sessions, we moved on for the ropeway ride which gives an aerial view of the falls. A sight not to be missed we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. By now we were running late for the boat ride.
We began the boat ride with eloquent commentary from the guide. The guides here highlight the beauty of Marble Rocks with their poetic narration of each of the numerous spots in the course of the river. Their poetic expression is both funny and interesting. Traversing upstream we were increasingly getting into stronger currents and narrowing gorge. Marble cliffs on both side looked fabulous and with every turn round the winding river, we were experiencing artwork of nature.
By the time we ended the ride it was dark and locals were offering their prayers to river, Narmada, it was spiritual experience, similar to one I had at Haridwar where people pray to goddess
After 5 long and un eventful hours we reached our resort. Finally, there was enough room to stretch our stressed bodies. Food was ordered for tired bodies and spirits refreshed our fatigued minds. Reflecting back on an eventful day we hit the sack.
Day 2 :
This was our first park drive in
We roamed the forests for long, hoping to see a tiger, but to no avail. By noon we had dropped our hopes of seeing the big cat on our first safari and were finding, bliss in sighting lesser mammals and birds of Kanha. A peacock dancing to woo the peahens, kept us glued to a spot for long. It was fantastic to see him dance. We were glad to have had a glimpse of Barasingha in the enclosure where they are being bred, to be released in wild later. There was less hope of spotting a tiger now and we decided to visit the Interpretation centre in Kanha, its very good and informative of the park and its species. There was no “elephant show” happening that day, as all elephants were busy tracking a tigress which was going to be relocated to
The safari ended with a close encounter with a massive hulk. A bull Gaur, a 1000 Kg bovine was busy munching on leaves and had blocked our way, It seemed very much like a traffic jam in any of our metros, only this time, no one was crazy about it. We felt miniscule in front of this muscular beast. His every action highlighted his well toned muscles. Songhi was quick to comment on the amount of protein supplement one would need to get a toned body like that.
Our driver dropped us off at the resort and told us, that he will come to pick us up at 3.00 pm for the evening safari. After lunch it was time to catch up on some sleep. Mid afternoon, some one knocked the door. There was a bad news. The locals were protesting shifting of tigress to Panna as they believed that, the government was robbing them off their livelihood. They were arguing that, it doesn’t make sense to relocate a tigress from Kanha to Panna where, nearly 25 tigers went missing (read as poached) in a span of 3 years, without establishing the cause for and remedial action for the loss. They had a valid point.
Panna another large national park in Madhyapradesh with a healthy tiger population was stripped off its tigers by a nexus of poachers and allegedly lax administration. Till a year back the park authorities had maintained that the park had a healthy population of tigers, and there was no need to raise alarm. Sadly even after Sariska, we don’t seem to have learnt much and tigers of Panna have gone the Sariska way. In an attempt to save their face, authorities have relocated two tigresses, one each from Bandhavgarh and Kanha to Panna, claiming that the lone male (They claim to be roaming in Panna) in Panna will help repopulate Panna. Alas this male was not spotted or heard for more than 30 days before the relocation, raising doubts about his wellbeing. Given the backdrop, the strike seemed justified. The future of tiger and wildlife in general in
In Kanha a token strike was called earlier and I had shrugged off the worry and assured others that there will be no strike when we will be around. However the park was going to remain closed for the evening and there was a fair bit of chance of it remaining closed for days to come. That would mean a complete spoiler and with safaris only in a closed top vehicle, there was no chance for photography either. We were told that negotiations are on and the striking guides were not allowing the chopper to take off with the tigress who had been already tranquilized. A breakthrough in negotiation by night would mean that we still will be able to take 4 of our remaining safaris.
We decided to wait and see. In the evening we went on a nearby nature trail and then to the interpretation centre where a documentary was aired, after the same we went to the local provision store for tea and some snacks, here we came to know that the tigress was finally airlifted to Panna, and the guides had decided to strike work in protest, no one was sure of the outcome or the timeline. By staying put and hoping for park to open we were risking a lot. A quick call to Mukesh, a friend and tour arranger, convinced us to bid goodbye to Kanha. Options were Bandhavgarh and
With decision made to travel overnight, we started to work out options, Kanha being a remote place it wasn’t easy to arrange for a vehicle at a short notice, and waiting another day would mean, only 3 safaris in Bandhavgarh, which we didn’t want. Mukesh once again was of great help and arranged for a vehicle for 6 of us. We had to be quick, in less than 3 hours we were heading for Bandhavgarh. Luggage was least of our worries and soon enough we were all set to roll.
Well, it was promised to be a tough journey on worst of the roads in the country, and rather than reliving our body and mind after the tiring journey we decided to proactively counter the ill effects of fatigue by preparing ourselves in advance. A bottle of Vodka, was there to our rescue, it helped us overcome the setback and we did fit ourselves in an even more uncomfortable vehicle. Reflecting back on how we traveled that night, I find it amusing. There was no carrier on this vehicle either and we crammed ourselves with all our luggage in the passenger compartment. I would like to put it on record, alcohol helps in easing pain. It surely did that fateful night. The roads were the worst I had seen in long long time. Traveling in a cramped vehicle didn’t help either.
The road passed through jungle and it was in our best interest to stay awake, and make sure that our driver wouldn’t be tempted to take a nap. Tired to bone, every one made themselves comfortable. Keshu has a knack of finding comfort at most unusual places and this turned out to his advantage. He practically molded himself according to space availability. The drive at night too wasn’t any less exciting than a safari, with many Chinkaras, spotted deer and a lone fox being spotted on the way.
Day 3 :
After starting at 11.30 pm from Kanha, we had reached Bandhavgarh in the wee hours of morning. Mukesh had made arrangements for us at one of the resorts and safari bookings were also taken care off. It felt nice to untangle ourselves when we finally stepped out of the vehicle. After reaching Bandhavgarh at 4.30 am, some of us caught up on sleep and we were ready by 6.30 am to enter Bandhavgarh. Me, Jigs and Sona had spoken so much about Bandhavgarh that the rest of group thought of it like some magical land, where all of ones wishes would come true.
Disappointment in Kanha, nor the lack of sleep had dented our spirits when we entered Bandhavgarh, We were allotted the worst of the routes, and the most bumpy one too. The next one hour passed by without anything to write about. Few hours later, we reached the center point, where there was some good news for us. We were told that a tigress was being spotted from elephants back and we dashed off to the place. The tigress being sighted was known as “Chorbehra female”. A tigress in her prime, she surely was a sight to behold.
We reached the spot of “elephant show” behind a lot of vehicles, we waited for our turn in the gypsy, elated at the thought of being so close to a wild tigress. Soon enough, a giant lumbered close to us. This tusker was going to be our next 4x4 for moments to come. 4 of us, myself, Songhi, Keshu, Swaps climbed up on to our vantage point and set off into the forest. The elephant despite its size, dexterously maneuvered us atop the hillock, with abated breath we scanned the topography for the big cat. Swaps was a bit uncomfortable at the top and was busy negotiating the foliage which was hitting us on the way. The elephant with its human load, in the mean time had climbed the incline. Through the forest the mahout pointed towards a bamboo thicket.
We took some time to spot the tigress which was well hidden in the foliage. All of us restlessly repositioned our selves to get a good glimpse of this tigress. Slowly the elephant moved closer to her. Now, we had forgotten about the bamboo stems hitting us and leaving their marks on our bodies, as the elephant inched closer to the tigress. We had attuned all our senses to capture the beauty of this magnificent cat.
Soon the elephant was right in front of the tigress, it was a little too close for our comfort. Though the elephant with its overwhelming presence was very close to the tigress, she hadn’t acknowledged our presence, as if she was oblivious to us being there. She sat there, perfectly still, silent, camouflaged, and focused. Only thing one could hear was the pounding of our hearts and camera shutters, which were merrily capturing her beauty.
We were sitting their frozen, by her overpowering presence. After some time we had stopped taking any more pictures and mesmerized by her. Soon enough it was time to move back and the elephant once again started making its way through the forest. It was only after she was completely out of sight that we erupted in excitement and started recounting our moments with the queen herself. Sona and Jigs were eagerly waiting for their turn, as by then they were the only ones left.
Me and swaps looking at each other declined to get off the elephants back and decided to go for another round with Sona and Jigs. It was only, later that we would realize how lucky we were, to have taken this decision. We reached the same spot, the tigress was still there, she hadn’t moved an inch. Her eyes fixated on the bamboo thicket. Now, there were just two elephants around her (ours and one other) instead of 4 earlier. With more freedom for movement she decided to make a move. She quickly got low to the ground, with her belly almost touching the ground and her ears pulled back, she was moving cautiously. It was then we realized that, we were in middle of a hunt. There was a herd of Sambhars in the valley and the elephants with tourists were impeding her way earlier. Now with lesser elephants around, she was making her move.
Crouching low to ground, she went around our elephant, very cautiously. She circumvented the small hillock and hid herself behind the tree. She was now right on top of ridge. I could feel the blood pumping through my veins with excitement. She once again crouched low and inched towards her prey. Were we going to witness a hunt here? Will she be able to kill the deer? We sat there in silence, only our pounding hearts were giving it away. Just then, there was an alarm call, the hunt had been spoilt, she had been spotted, with the element of surprise lost she aborted the hunt and went into the forest.
Having witnessed one of the most enthralling dramas of the jungle, the fight for survival, we returned to our vehicle. Keshu and Songhi were waiting for us there. They too had seen the tigress, making the move over the ridge, and had heard the alarm call. Elated by this wonderful sighting we exited the park.
After catching up on some sleep we, got ready for the evening round. Having spotted the tiger already and being very tired we took a little longer to get onto our feet. It was a big mistake as we would later realize. All other vehicles had entered the park and ours was the only vehicle to enter the park that late. Not more than 200 meters into the park, we saw a mad rush. All the vehicles had congregated there and were jostling to get ahead of each other. A sure sign of a predator being sighted, we too rushed to the spot. Mukesh was already waiting there and had a grin on his face, he had been trying to reach us on our cells to inform that the tigress was being sighted in the open and wanted us to reach the spot quickly. However being tired as we were, we had been sleeping. We had paid a heavy price, the tigress had crossed the road in front of 30 gypsies and all of them had a great sighting in wonderful light. Nonetheless we were able to see her walking on the fringes of the meadow and the woods, far away from the road.
This was the same tigress we had spotted in the morning and then we had realized that she wasn’t completely fit. She was seen limping, probably from an injury from a hunt or territorial fight. She seemed to be at discomfort and it was a mystery how she was able to hunt.It was good to see her fighting back and thriving against all odds. Back at the resort we started recounting the events of the day. The climate had changed all of a sudden that evening, and there was some rain with lightening and thunder. Cold wind was hitting our faces and we settled to celebrate with our glasses full to brim. What followed was a crazy night soaked in spirits and livened by dance performances from one and all .
Day 4 :
This was our last day at Bandhavgarh and we were going to make the most of it. However we were late once again, slow to get off the block, we reached the spot on our route where two fully grown cubs of the “Mirchani female” had walked in full view with nearly a dozen vehicles on their tale. They now sat resting behind a bush not too far away from the road. We were just able to get a glimpse of them through the bush. Hoping for them to move we waited there for two long hours. But they didn’t budge, after two hours when it was time for the park to close we decided to move out.
In the evening it was going to be our last safari of the trip, having missed out on earlier occasions, no one was ready to take any chances and we were at the park gate well before time. The idea was to straight away go to the place where the cubs were spotted, and get in a good position to see them if they make a move. We were sure that all the vehicles will be headed to the same spot and hence rushed to the spot.
The cubs were where we had left them in the morning, they hadn’t moved a bit, rest of the vehicles arrived pretty soon, and the place started getting crowded. With surging crowd and flaring tempers, stage was set for some fireworks and the worst of verbal bashing began. None of the quarreling homo-sapiens showed any respect for the animals and soon the place turned into a fish market. Still the cubs lay there gracefully at ease, probably smiling at the silly creatures who had come by cart loads to see them. May be it wasn’t their first time.
It was getting too discomforting for us too and Mukesh asked us whether we would like to risk missing on a sight of two tigers on move for taking a chance with “Bokha”, the second dominant male in
We had found our way through a maze of at least 40-50 vehicles. After negotiating some winding roads we reached Rajbehra meadow. All of us were discussing the previous events and how the unruly crowd had spoilt, the tranquility of the forest. There were a few chitals grazing in the meadow, and life seemed peaceful here. One chital was moving alone, away from the herd. I watched closely, it was a tiger, yes it indeed was a tiger. I exclaimed “Bokha” it had to be him. Vikas, our driver too spotted him by now and stopped the vehicle. Before others could see him the big male had vanished in the vast grassland.
Mukesh and Vikas consulted each other to guess the tigers next move and very soon we set off for the place where, he was believed to reappear. There were only 3 more gypsies in that vast area. Not all had spotted him then. We reached the spot and Vikas choked the engine. There was complete silence now, Bokha, is known to be a very shy tiger, (unlike B2, the other dominant male who is very comfortable with tourist vehicles around him) not very tolerant of tourists and may decide to hide himself if disturbed.
We were discussing how the chitals were peaceful in spite of proximity of a predator and how they didn’t let out an alarm call. There also were no alarm calls from langurs who usually are quick at spotting tigers from their vantage points. It was mid afternoon and its unusual for tigers to move in the heat of the day. Yet, like god wanted us to see a magnificient male in his prime, Bokha was walking in sweltering heat, and we had spotted him without any help from other animals who usually would let out an alam call. It was pure luck.
We waited with heightened expectation at the spot for around 10 minutes, and then, the silence was broken with frantic alarm calls from langur monkeys and Chitals. It was as if the jungle had sprung to life. Standing on our seats we peered through the canopy to spot the big male walking our way. The alarm calls were getting closer as the tiger was coming towards us. Then someone, spotted him, through the foliage, he was coming our way. Afternoon light, filtering through the canopy were making him look mysterious and almost mythical. He stopped at some distance from our vehicles, probably to judge the situation. Soon after, being sure of no harm from us he walked out in the open, and started crossing the road. To get his attention and get that eye contact shot, someone let out a growling sound. Quick to pick up that sound, Bokha reacted with a nasty growl and bared his teeth for all of us to see. It was a warning for us to maintain safe distance. No one would dare to over rule his command and we stood still, looking at his fearful symmetry. As if overpowered and humbled by his supremacy in his domain we stood frozen.
After seeing him vanish in the jungle the way he had appeared from the woods, we heaved a sigh. Being there to witness such a graceful animal was our wish come true and all the praise that we had for Bandhavgarh as the “
Satisfied with sighting Bokha, Mukesh would tease other drivers and guides on the way back by asking. “Did u hear that 4 vehicles saw Bokha today”? They would say with a sad face, “We heard some guys saw him today”. And then Mukesh would let out a big smile, almost a smirk, and say “Well, his tummy was full with an overnight meal”. It was a fun moment, a moment all of us enjoyed, and will cherish for long time.
It was now time to bid farewell to tigers of Bandhavgarh. We exited the park early, packed our bags and set off towards