A long day awaited us – and it began at 6AM. It was pretty dark and the moon cascading back in the western sky bathed the milieu in its dim white light. I was really surprised to see the hive of activities as soon as I got off the dorm. Almost 30-40 gypsy’s had congregated in the front awaiting the access to the thickets of the forest. It was a huge crowd, but Kanha is no small jungle spreading over 1000 sq.km., once inside the park this crowd petered out soon in different directions. So in that way you never feel that the place is stuffed with too many people.
The first sightings in the forest were the mist- yes like white cotton rolls, mists muffled the entire jungle. From any point of vision, you see a layer of white mist floating 10feet above the ground and we were as if sliding below the umbrella of the white bodies. It was easily the best landscape that nature can offer.
In jungle its always like this – long hours of exploration in stoic silence with no activity and suddenly there is a burst of activity which lasts for a few seconds or may be a minute then the cycle turns back to long hours of inactivity. The key is to have patience, eyes wide open and ears too wide open. It’s not just the destiny; the journey itself is so thrilling and has lots to offer. So the first few hours of safari were just for assimilating the beauty of kanha, the mysteriously snaking game trials, the tall sal trees, golden grass and small creeks and rivulets. Amidst this drive at the background of our mind is the thought lurking out, will there be a tiger when we take the next turn? So in a sense its like a novel, where at the end of page is a suspense to be broken only in the next page, similar is the experience while driving through the winding paths of Kanha, where each turn of the track held us in suspense and anxiety as to what comes next?
As time waded by morning sun billowed in the eastern horizon, and rays of sun streaked through the branches of sal trees forming tunnels of sun rays piercing the trees and striking the ground. The scene was reminiscent of Robert Frosts Poem “Stopping By Woods”
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Safari is not just about Tiger spotting; there are many other things out there too beautiful, too artistic in nature to be missed out. Those lovely birds in chimerical colors whose morning ragas dazzle the settings. Be it Redwater Lapwing, Plum Headed Parakeet, Kingfisher, Black Headed Orieol, Herons, Whistling Ducks, Indian Roller we never allowed it let go. Every minute sound was explored and we made our guide stop the vehicle and ask which bird is that? Luckily the guides in Kanha are masters of their trade, even the faintest call made them aware of the birds.
Two hours of criss-crossing the tracks of Kanha, took us to the meadows. Meadows the easily the most beautiful part of Kanha Park.
O! the meadows the beautiful meadows
Natures filigree at its best
Revealing a platter of colors
Bathed by golden sunlight
Crimson, Gold, Yellow, Green
All had its shade in the steppes.
The deers grazing at a distance
Bringing a brownish tinge
The groups of peacock
Adding a bluish hue
O! the meadows the beautiful meadows
It was in the meadows that we spotted a family of Jackals, warming itself in the first rays of sun. Kanha Meadows – the astonishing landscape of nature, the drive through it was easily the best part of morning safari. We rounded up the morning safari around 11.30pm, without seeing our stripped friends, but our spirits high after seeing the nature’s beauty and ofcourse all those colorful birds and deers – and at the end the first stint in forest was aptly named the “Morning of the Jackals”.
After a quick bite (rather heavy ;-)) we were off again, on a trek through a walk-trial. We set out with idea of a 2km walk, so avoided taking any guides with us. But the walk really prolonged and we just started exploring farther and farther. On the labyrinth paths the first sighting was bone of some animals, perhaps killed by the predator. Unperturbed we further walked down the track chattering idly. This was when we first encountered signs of a big cat. The pugmarks of a leopard is what we chanced upon first. But pugmarks weren’t quite fresh so we just casually analyzed it and further went on and found a set of relatively fresh tiger pugmarks imprinted on the sand laden track. An intent dissection of the pugmarks made us realize it was a male tiger on prowl. In a herd, somehow we get a sense of false confidence, which again made us go in further. Further down the line again we saw more pugmarks, this time there were two tigers one male and a female. It was marked all around the place. Were they mating? Mating tigers can be dangerous if we cross their path and antagonize them. This was the time when fear congealed in our minds. Frankly for me it was not a stomach churning experience. After reading enough of Jim Corbett and Keneth Anderson, I believed that tigers and leopards never attack humans unless they are man-eaters. Also tigers and leopards never walk around that much in the daytime and their hunting hours is well after the sunset, even for maneaters. The only animal I really feared was the sloth bear, a stupid creature that attacks anyone whom it comes across. But again bears are nightriders and it was very rare to spot a bear in the heat of the sun. But you cannot be complacent in the jungle; the written rules and norms, which you may have read from the experts, can never be vouched as 100% true. For instance my friend Kunal seems to have spotted Sloth Bears in the heat of afternoon sun in Srisailam. I was really puzzled to hear that tale. At the moment we had two choices either to turn back or just take a chance and complete the rest of the trek as fast as we can. We decided for the latter (yes, we are in the herd) and walked further. There we came across two people repairing the track. We asked them about our findings and they said there was a tiger in that area and the pugmarks, which we saw were from the morning-walk of the tiger. So quickly we asked him for a shortest path to get out and he guided us on a path to take us out.
After coming out of the walk sound and safe, it was time for the evening safari. A long journey criss-crossing the tracts of Kanha amidst the hubbub of the birds and deadpanned looks of Cheetals at various junctures. Our friend – the King was still elusive. Then came something which really lifted the spirits and set the mood for a showdown. A passing jeep from Forest Department told us that they had seen a tiger 1km further down. It was just crossing the road when they spotted it. Off we went, at a blaze. I nearly made up my mind the moment has arrived and thought we would be the first to reach the spot, but on reaching the location a pall of gloom set in instantly. There were about 15 jeeps already crowding the spot. Seeing the sight of so many people I was shuddered, I knew the hoodoo of missing the big cat is going to continue. There were a group of people who were really there shouting on top of their voice and cheering to see the tiger. The tiger it seems was hiding in some near by bushes. I knew it would never come out and try to avoid this mad crowd. Stupid people don’t they know that the first rule in Jungle is to maintain absolute silence? I was really perversed by the sight I lost all hope of seeing it. Then there was a sudden excitement in the air and crowd started giving wild exclamations. I couldn’t see anything, all I was watching was the big Indian Ghost Tree which stood there blocking my view to the spot where tiger was supposedly be. It seemed tiger had moved away from the bushes and went deeper inside. My friends Alosh and Mohan saw a silhouette moving, which they were sure to be that of the tiger. I said may be it was just the wind moving the grasses ;-). Then there was sudden commotion in the air caused by incessant barkings. It was the wild dogs barking, I guessed may be the wild dogs came in vicinity of the tiger and started barking panickly and tiger might have left seeing the dogs. Again I didn’t see the wild dog either, Mini (4th member of team) saw 2 of them running around. In jungle the only animal capable of attacking a tiger is the Wild Dog. They come in packs and their team work is their strength. That was the end of the tiger show, we returned still with our eyes wide open to see the same tiger on the way back. But that was not be and by 6pm it was pitch dark and we retired to our dorm.