Tiger trails at Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India.
The trail had just begun… We had already read articles on Jungle safaris and dressed accordingly. No bright colours, only camouflage prints. Even caps were bought accordingly. Kids were instructed from a week in advance to be quiet during the trails, ‘Loud voices and sounds disturbed the animals and especially tigers’ is what was hammered into their brains!!
It must have been hardly ten minutes into the trail when the gypsy screeched to a halt. The guide signaled for pin drop silence. The monkeys were giving an alarm call to alert the deers, of a tiger / leopard in the vicinity (This is what the guide told us. It’s a typical sound and the guides can differentiate between an alarm call and a normal call). The calls moved nearer and nearer, any moment now… our guide told us… and suddenly the calls stopped….and after a few more moments… the calls moved away from our trail. The tiger had moved inwards.
Wow!! What an adrenaline rush… a few minutes later we crossed wet pugmarks of the tiger. It seems he had water from a nearby water body and had crossed the trail just sometime back.
The jungle was of course strewn with deers, langurs, monkeys and peacocks. They were in abundance everywhere. It felt so beautiful to see all the animals in their home. We saw two jackals running behind a bunch of langurs, who swiftly climbed the trees. Deers, peacocks and langurs literally co-existed in a bunch everywhere. We saw a lone Forest ranger on an elephant surveying the Jungle which was his usual morning routine. He too had not seen any tigers since morning.
Then we met another gypsy who informed us that Spotty ( A Tigress) had just entered the valley an hour back and was expected on the other side of the valley soon. Some lucky vehicles had spotted her crossing over.
Our driver and guide rushed us through the hilly terrain and trust me this was one of the bumpiest ride ever. Again the Adrenaline fervor… Binoculars out… Cameras ready… the gypsy halted. A few other vehicles were also on the same trail. The guide was super confident. He showed us the exact location from where she would emerge. We waited with baited breath… 5 mins.. 10 mins.. 20 mins.. still no sign of Spotty!! The Sun was now up and Scorching. It was 8.30 am. The guide concluded… it was too hot for Spotty to now make a move. She probably stopped by at the water body in the valley to rest. Spotty would now move only once the Sun lowers a bit…
We were so so dejected!! It is said that if you don’t see a tiger in Bandhavgarh it’s probably because you were sleeping during the Safari. Out of a 20 odd vehicles in through that gate only 4 had sighted a tiger.
Day 2 –Tala Gate at 5.55 am
After the dejection of Day 1 we were not very confident about seeing a tiger. We entered the gate around 5.55 am… 20 mins later than the previous day. The guide and driver seemed in some hurry. We reached a point where we had to choose between 2 trails. The driver paused, gave it a thought for a second, and chose one. We were literally zooming past the Jungle. No other vehicle was in sight. We went on like this for about 25 to 30 mins. I started wondering if they even knew what they were doing. At last they came by a waterbody where one gypsy was already waiting. This Gypsy had been first to the other side of the Jungle before coming here. We had hardly reached there when Alarm calls sounded. Both the vehicles went in that direction. Again we waited. A few more vehicles reached the spot. The calls stopped. We went back to the original spot near the water body. No calls. No sounds from the Jungle. Yet the driver wouldn’t move. A few vehicles got tired of waiting and took the trail forward. But a few vehicles like ours waited. Still no sound… 5 mins.. No alarm calls.. 10 mins… No alarm calls. We started chatting merrily…
And suddenly the guide signaled for silence. All and I mean literally all the vehicles revved up and zoomed.. one
after the other… literally speeding and bumping and chasing.. it was like a hunt… to see who reached first… and when we reached.. lo and behold!! We were stunned.. The Royalty was in clear sight….The Tigress Kajari was in clear sight.. She came down a small slope.. crossed our trail.. just behind our gypsy… and calmly went up the other slope… Not a glance at all the vehicles standing there.. not even a turn of head… it was as if we did not exist…
And at that moment a thought crossed my mind… I wondered if she must be thinking “Looks like all the clowns of the cities have gathered near my home today!! Hopefully they will leave soon”. And sure enough all around people were feverishly taking snaps on mobiles…screaming and posing... trying to take selfies.. and I wondered… Did you even enjoy the moment? Did you even realize that a Royal Beast had just crossed your path? Did you soak it in? I heard a couple arguing with the guide that they were not close enough to take pics...to which he replied.. “Madam, you have captured the tigress in your memory… It will last you a lifetime!!”
So I must say the Tiger trail was indeed successful for us!!
And Now I know why they are called Game rides!! It’s a game… The tiger tries to dodge you and you try to spot it… You win some and you lose some!!
From my experience.. It is one hell of a Game!!
And Lastly!! It proves that we were not sleeping during the trails!!
Oh and one more thing.. Had it not been our driver’s intuition and had he not taken that path initially we would not have seen Kajari like many other vehicles who could not spot a tiger on that day!! So much for expertise!!
Kajari is the daughter of Spotty!!