5AM three of us were up and gearing up for a tête-à-tête with the Tiger. Out of the bed and blanket cover, I felt a chill assuaging into my body. The bittering cold had taken control of me with a thud and my body was trembling and teeth’s were clattering, I couldn’t walk and I hobbled towards my bag and added two more layer of clothing on to my mane. 15mts on I came in terms with the environment. And then started our wait for the jeep to arrive which was supposed to be there at 5AM. Waited, waited and as each tick passed by I knew our chances of spotting animals were coming down. Usually day break and evening are the best chance to spot animals especially deers and bisons. They would generally be holed up near a water hole for the first drink of the day and might be wandering in search of food. By 5.45AM our patience had ran out and we decided to walk out from Guest House to the main road 3km away. Still darkness all around, we started our walk with a small torch aiding us. 20mts on we reached the main road and the first rays of sun were speckling out in the distant horizon. With nothing much to do there, 3 of us took our cameras and started focusing the crimson dawn. It was also one of those days where moon was also lighting up the sky along with the sun. And with the power of 12x zoom at disposal, we got some awesome shots of moon and crimson dawn, teak wood trees reflecting orange lights from the burning sun. An hour passed and the crimson dawn warmed to an golden yellow day and still no trace of our jeep. Despondently we waited and finally we decided to walk back to the guest house and when we were about to reach our room, came the zooming sound of a motor. Our jeep had arrived well 3hrs late. We gave our mouthful and started our safari.
Accompanied with a guide, we started our safari in the one of the open game routes. A few minutes on our guide spotted pug marks of sloth bear and bisons. We were excited to see the pug marks of sloth bear. My friends were inquisitive as to whether it had passed the track 5mts ago or 10mts ago and exploring/ruing the possibility of seeing/missing the beast. But thanks to Kenneth Anderson I knew it was impossible to spot a bear in broad day light. Bears are more of nocturnal in nature and they hunt for food in the night and when the day breaks they recline to their resting place. So possibility for spotting the sloth was nil. But our day had begun in a good note; the feeling of walking/driving through the jungles where sloth bears live was exhilarating. And a few meters on we came into the first sighting of the trip. A giant Indian Gaur (aka Indian Bison) was standing on our path. It gave a stare for 2 seconds and slowly cleared the path for us. It was a magnificent sight. Alas! I was precariously perching on top of the jeep and I couldn’t capture the Gaur on my frame.
The rest of the drive saw our eyes and ears wide open to capture the faintest of movement or feeblest of sound, but nothing happened and we were out of the game drive. But something more illustrious waited outside. A pack of langurs on the road side were visibly excited and making a huge hue and cry. Jungle law tells when langurs are excited; the predator is on its foray. It can be a tiger or leopard. We hoped that the elusive predator would deign to make an appearance. But the party was spoilt pretty fast when a group of grass-cutters arrived in the scene chattering on their way. Whatever little hope faded away and the langurs fell silent signaling that striped or spotted wonder has run away, stealing away our luck.
Rest of the day, we went on trial after trial to various spots inside the forest, Raipur a tiny hamlet inside the forest, Bichu keda phata, Kuwapatti and much more. But we couldn’t see anything other than trees. As the day imposed itself, we were picturing beautiful spots deep inside Melghat forests, each spot vying itself to be a picture-perfect wallpaper setting. On the way Alosh and Kunal got something to show their natural instincts and bring out the Mouglee in them. As the day unwounded, long bumpy drive on top of a jeep had started taking a toll on our back and to try our luck again we decided to drive the same game route which we took in the morning.
Barely had we entered the track, we were greeted by 3 Bisons having water on a small water-hole. This time I was on a vantage position to shoot them. Adding color to this graceful setting was a mischievous langur sitting on top of a tree above the Bison. On seeing us the langur got excited and started making strange noises and slowly descended down the tree and teased the bison. Seeing the langur coming down and making strange noises, the Bison seems to have got fidgety and swish! it heralded a charge and ran across crossing out path. And being in a too good position I could capture the running bison on my camera. It was the moment of the day, it would have been moment of my life if the bison had decided to take a turn and run towards us. But as nature would have it ran away from us and leaving us in mirth. Here you see the Bison standing, after being teased by langur it runs,runs and runs. Here is the naughty langur which was instrumental in unfolding the drama. In the back of langur you can also see the Bison staring at us.
These events made up for the dull day (dull only as far as animal spotting was concerned). As we trudged forward lady luck smiled on us and we could spot more families of Bisons and a solitary Sambhar as well.
The adventurous journey of day 1 was streaming to an end as Sun started billowing on the western horizon and by 6pm we were back in our hut after a tiring day. On the trial we heard from our guide that there was a Machan in the back of our guest some 2km away and it was used during animal census where the enumerators would stay there for a day or two to count the animals coming to the waterhole near it. As always our irrational excitement overpowered us and we thought of taking a plunge and started marching towards it and god knows may be to stay on top all night. Time was nearing 6.30pm and the darkness had made its cover all around. Barely a kilometer in the track, we had some eery sound in the bushes, some thing was creeping or crawling. Was it a tiger or leopard is it going to pound on us from the back? After witnessing the power of 1000kg bison a little bit earlier during its run, our fears were compounded, was it a bison ready for making it charge? A dilemma, a double-mind strapped us and none of us exchanged any words but 3 of us unanimously were walking back to the safety of our rooms.
That was end of day 1 in Melghat, day 2 had more exotic plans, this time no jeeps but a trek, a 15km long trek through the forests and our guide would arrive at 6AM tomorrow to start the trek. Who knows may be we are going to cross our path with a tiger or leopard or may be a sleeping bear? Only time will tell…..
(To be continued)