In search of Sher Khan: Day 3

Today we have a morning safari again. But we’ve decided to leave a little earlier. We leave at 5:30 because we know the gates of the Reserve open at 5:45. There are atleast 6-8 cars already there and our driver tells us we are late.
When the gates open we all go in. We start the safari along a familiar route. After only two safaris we have started recognizing our surroundings a little.
But, after our two tiger-less safaris, we don’t really know if today’s the day. But we still hope, just a little.
We are on our way when we encounter another jeep coming from the opposite direction. The two drivers exchange some words, softly spoken, difficult for us to understand.
The other jeep moves in the direction we’ve just come from. Our driver tells our guide something and he reverses the jeep to go back the way we came. Our guide tells us that there is a chance that the tigress in whose territory we are currently travelling in will make an appearance.
We reach the spot-incidentally, its the same spot where we waited for almost half an hour yesterday-we see the other jeep and the driver is gesturing with his hands-slow down, keep quiet he is telling us. We park our jeep behind his and our driver shuts the engine. He tells us they have heard a sambar deer’s warning call and the tigress is definitely on the move. We know that her cub is in the jungle to our right and the warning call came from the jungle to our left. She is coming is get her cub!
Behind us, a few more jeeps have arrived, there are now 6 jeeps. Everyone is standing on the top of their seats…cameras poised…eyes scanning the jungle on the left.
Our wait is finally over. The tigress comes, majestic and beautiful, her coat gleaming in the morning light. The cameras start clicking away. But she owns that moment, that place. After all, its her home and we are the intruders.
She walks across the road, never once glancing at the jeeps, as if they didn’t exist for her and so neither did we. She crosses the road and everyone is exultant. We’ve seen what we came for.
But wait, there’s still something going on. We see her cub through the bushes. The cub’s been waiting for its mother. She goes in and gets the cub. Its a little less than half her size, and she is quite large. The cub is not very small but still young enough to not go hunting on its own, still dependent on the mother.
The jeeps have reversed and are now in a straight line along the road in an attempt to get any glimpse possible of the tigress.
But we are lucky. She comes back out and this time the cub’s with her. Its beautiful too and already has the regality of a full grown tiger. It looks a little nervous though.

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With the jeeps lined up, there’s no way for her to cross. She waits.

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Our jeeps reverse further. After all, its her home and we are interfering, we have to move. The road is hers. We back up and she crosses between the jeeps, again never once glancing at us. Her cub keeps close to her, its probably never seen crazy people in huge jeeps with black instruments that make weird clicking sounds.
They both cross the road again and go into the bushes.
Everyone remains quiet, waiting for any further activity and also soaking in the moment, not quite believing their luck. But now she’s really gone. Our guide believes she has just made a kill and is taking her cubs to eat it. She has two cubs and probably one is already near the kill.
We move on. But we can’t get over the fact that after three safaris we have finally seen a tigress (and twice no less, with a cub!).
The last two safaris seem totally worth it.
In fact, we now think that not seeing a tiger in the first two safaris just made this experience that much more exciting.
We still have about two hours to go in our safari and we hardly realise their passing. We see some more peacocks, a mongoose, some deer, two eagles, a few vultures high up in a tree, many different birds, a herd of the Indian gaur, and a jackal.
Its been a very fruitful third safari. We meet many jeeps along the way. Our driver tells them to go towards the spot where we saw the tigress. Everyone moves there, full of hope. We hear later that the tigress was spotted again, crossing over and our guide believes that one of her cubs has wandered off and she’s looking for it. But he says she has gone in the direction where she lives so she probably won’t come out again.
He also tells us that she is 13 years old and has given birth to 22 cubs so far. The cub we saw was about 13-14 months old.
We are ecstatic about this last safari. We saw Mrs. Sher Khan!
Its was an unforgettable experience!
I have seen tigers before but only in the zoo. I have been on a safari where my parents tell me we saw a tiger, but I was too young to remember it. Today’s experience is now etched in my memory. Watching a tigress in the wild could never compare to watching one in the zoo.
Our trip to the Pench Tiger Reserve has been extremely rewarding 🙂

Photo credits: My sister.

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