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.

image

image

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

image

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.

Advertisements

In search of Sher Khan: Day 1

(I wrote this post last week, actually the following two posts as well. I couldn’t post this before because there was no internet connection and I wanted to add some photos too.)

Have you guys seen The Jungle Book yet? If you haven’t, please do. Its a very well made film and its quite an experience watching it on the big screen.
The Jungle Book has been a part of my childhood, as it has been for a few generations before me and as it will be for many generations to come. We have grown up with Mowgli and the film took me back to my childhood. My only regret would be not watching it in Hindi (yet) and so there was no ‘jungle jungle baat chali hai’.
But this post is not about the film. I am in Pench, Madhya Pradesh right now. It is a tiger reserve in Seoni, the home of Mowgli. The Seoni jungle is where The Jungle Book is based. We are here in search of the elusive Mr. (or Mrs.) Sher Khan.
We are going on our first safari here today.
Its an evening safari and we get in the gypsy at our hotel. Our guide tells us that there has been a tiger sighting in the morning safari, so we are pretty excited.
The jungle around us hardly looks like a jungle. The trees are spaced out and most of them do not have a single leaf on them. Dry, thin tree limbs reach out over the fading evening sky.

image

The heat is subsiding and the weather is pleasant. The gypsy leaves behind dust clouds as it moves on the road. Everywhere we turn, we see greys and dull yellows. Suddenly, a flash of brilliant blue makes us stop our jeep. A peacock struts into view. We are all amazed at the its colour. The blue that we term ‘peacock blue’ in paints and fabrics is nowhere close to the natural colour.

image

The first peacock garners some attention. But we soon realise that peacocks are very common in the jungle. Now, we don’t point out the next one we see but I am still marvelling at the colour.
We see many other birds too-owls, kingfishers, eagles, a tiger bird (so called because of its black and gold stripes), and many others I don’t know the names of.

image

We see a pack of wild dogs, jackals and their cubs, sambar, hards of spotted deer, nilgai, bisons and monkeys.

image

image

image

image

The jungle is alive around us and we keenly listen to its various sounds.
We go towards the river where animals gather for water. The area around the river is open and almost flat. We see storks and other birds near the water, along with a herd of deer.
But we don’t see the black and gold stripes.
We move on to another track and see another peacock. But this one has its tail feathers unfurled and it looks beautiful and graceful. We think it signals rain and as if on cue we hear distant thunder. Soon, the sky becomes cloudy, lightning flashes and huge, cold raindrops spatter on our faces. The wind picks up and blows dust all around us. The dry leaves on the ground are rushing away in the wind. The jungle is filled with the sounds of the rustling of leaves, the thundering and the rain.

image

Our safari is almost at an end. We enjoy the weather as we move towards the exit gate.
Sher Khan has managed to remain hidden.
Our search continues…

Photo Credits: My sister, my dad and well, me 🙂