We made an early start at 5.30AM, to enter the park first ahead of the throngs of other visitors. Luckily being Monday it was not that crowded like the previous day. The idea was to cover as much area as possible in the first few hours of the morning. So we decided for no stopping on spotting spotted deers, no stopping for Langurs, no stopping for parakeets, herons, cormorants, lapwings, kingfishers, ducks. This summed up our mood in this cold morning – a desideratum for seeing the tiger in prowl.
We took a new track for this tourney; it was different from what we had seen the previous day. It was very thick forest on both sides and very big trees lining the sides. At one point we came across a huge tree, which the localities claim to be the oldest in Kanha more than 300 years old. It was a very cold morning compared to the previous day and without protection of the gloves our hands were all numb and fingers were buttery while clicking the camera. After almost 3hrs drive the utmost close we came to the tiger was seeing some pugmarks.
Kanha is the only forest in India, where the probability of spotting tiger is high. Part of the reason is relatively healthy tiger population in the park (around 90 tigers are roaming around) and second major reason is the “Tiger Show”. Yes the Tiger SHOW. The forest department in Kanha has a stable of 30 elephants. The peculiarity of those elephants are that they are partly tamed and partly wild. Partly wild in the sense that they have to fend themselves for food and water. Every day after the morning safaris the elephants are left open in the wild and they start grazing the forest and the next day morning the mahouts go and track them in the forest and bring them back. Coming back to the “Tiger Show”, every day morning a group of 2 or 3 elephants start prowling the forests along with their mahouts from two main points in the forest – Kanha and Kisli. The mahouts scan the potential hideouts of the tiger and if they find one, they stay there and inform the central point about the catch through a walkie-talkie. Now other elephant’s sheperd the tourists on their back to the spot for the “Tiger Show”. Mostly what happens is that the elephants that spot the tiger try to lock the tiger in the spot by surrounding it and preventing it to run away. And quickly tourist flock the spot and witness the “Tiger Show”. Some day’s even mahouts fail to find the tiger and in those days there is no Tiger Show. It was really an absurd way of seeing the tiger, which we were averse and we had decided before arriving Kanha itself that we won’t take the “Tiger Show” (yes literally it was just theatrics).
Towards the fag end of safari we were left with thoughts if not in Kanha, where else are we going to see the tiger? Should we try for the Tiger Show? That were the questions weighing our minds? Suddenly we found something – a prized catch, well it’s not the tiger but a deer. Yes a deer – the Barasingha or the Swamp Deer. Well, The Barasingha of Kanha cannot be dismissed as just another deer with beady eyes and phlegmatic looks; it’s a unique pride of Kanha. The Barasingha of the Kanha have 12 horns in their antler and in the whole world such a breed is found only in Kanha. They were pulled off from the brink of extinction and now there are just 350 of them left in forests of Kanha. And as luck would have it we saw a solitary male with full-grown antlers and we could clearly mark the 12 branches the antlers took. Through its eyes I could read it saying, “I am Kanha, Kanha is mine”.
May be what’s left for us
is some Barasingha on a hillside
we can look at day after day
and the perverse affection of a habit
that like us so much it never let go
So with the jubilation of spotting the Barasingha, we prepared for the final drive, one last chance to spot the tiger and suddenly on the way a pack of wild dogs (Dhole) jumped in front of our vehicle. They were three of them. The wild dog resembles the pictures of fox, which we see in the nursery books. The three wild dogs really posed well for our cameras and were with us running in front of us for at least 10 minutes. I’m sure all of us have the maximum number of shots of these dogs than anything else of Kanha. May be the langurs near the canteen would give a competition to the dogs in terms on number of shots.
As we were making our retreat we came to know that the elephants, which had started from the Kisli point, have spotted some tiger and the show was on. But luckily this was not a trapped tiger, the tiger was just there resting beneath the foliage and we can go on elephant tops to the spot and see the resting tiger. Sounded exciting and we bought tickets for elephant safari and took the gypsy to the spot. As always we were the last to reach the spot and already around 10-20 people were eagerly awaiting their turn on the elephant. We patiently waited for our turn and hoped that tiger won’t run away and then the moment arrived. Off we went up the ladder and took our positions in elephant top. To reach the spot we needed to cross a narrow stream and do a steep ascend. The elephant slowly junketed in the path amidst thick growth of wild grass and shrubs and tooks us to the spot. It was the climax, the show down and the moment of truth. What we first saw a tigress sleeping lying down deep inside the bushes. The bushes itself had grown very thick and appeared in the shape of a den. We were standing in the mouth of the den and the tigress was sleeping barely 2-3 metres from the mouth of the den. It was unperturbed by the sound of the elephants. It was in a deep slumber and it had chosen this sweet spot under the thick cover to escape the soporific afternoon heat. Wait is there anyone else also in? Well yes there he is – a cute bubbly little cub. He was at his playful best, hopping around his mother, suckling milk from his mother then running deep inside the shrubs hiding away from us. Then again he runs out watches the elephant and the commotion outside with his twinkling eyes and then drinks some more milk and then start jumping around. What a wonderful sighting it was? In zoo we see tigers so lethargic and archaic fully covered with mud and dirt, and here in nature its just the other way, both the tigers were spotless, pristine golden yellow color with soft white in their underneath. The cub through its tawny eyes gave an innocuous and inquisitive flickering gaze that reminded me the gaze of the poet
Some mute animal
raising its calm eyes
and seeing through us
and through us
This is destiny….
Yes, this was the destiny for us in Kanha, the destiny of the seeing the tiger in its wild best. On the return were told that the above tigress had 4 cubs. With that our stint in Kanha came to a close and we packed our bags and bid adieu to this beautiful jungle in Central India. But its not over yet, jungle never fails to surprise you. As we were departing and were about to exit the gates of Kanha to Nagpur in our Indica, off from nowhere a huge Indian Gaur (wrongly refered as Bison) jumped in front of our car. It stared at us for a second and then made path for our exit. It was a huge beast easily 5 feet tall, this was the first time I was seeing such a huge Gaur. Maybe it was there to say us “Good Bye & Safe Journey”. And then started the long drive back and barely few minutes on course I was overcome by sleep and was napping sitting in the front seat. May be 2 more minutes had waded by then I heard a sudden squeak of the brakes and others behind started shouting snake, snake! By the time I woke up and peered out it had gone, seems like a cobra was there on the road. After that the whole journey sleep never evaded me, even though I tried hard for it and the rest of the drive was spent in reliving the moments spent in Kanha in my mind.
The next day we reached Hyderabad and departed with a resolve to be at Ranthambore next year. Lets see who all are game for it?
PS:- The two poems in this post are inspired from German poet Rainer Maria Rilke whose work I read in the book “The Hungry Tide” – Amitav Ghosh.
The poem on Night in first post is also Rilke’s work which I found in Internet
And poem on Meadows is out my own wild imagination