Having missed safaris in Kanha due to rain, my next stop was Tiger Safari in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. The drive started with a slight drizzle, and closer I got to Bandhavgarh the stronger the downpour became. But I was unruffled, as the safari was to commence next day morning. I woke up to the thundering of clouds, and the sound of the rain on the trees made a beautiful symphony to the ears. Without wasting time, I got ready for the safari, knowing the fact that rain does not stop the safari in Bandhavgarh, unlike Kanha. My trusted naturalist Sanjay Gupta pulled the hood over, I protected my camera gear and was good to go. We entered the park with the hope that the rain gods might give in.
What a pleasing sight to the eyes
I saw a herd of spotted deer standing under a tree, and I remembered my safari just 4 months before in the month of June in Kanha. It was hot, and dry, the water holes had almost dried up. The Langurs were looking skywards in the hope to see some clouds which might give them some rain not only to drink water but also reduce the heat. And now the monsoon did not seem to relent, it was making up for the delay in arrival by staying back late.
For more than half the safari, the rain was strong, and we enjoyed the safari from within the hood. As the safari went by the rain converted into a drizzle. Some gentle conversations with the forest guide pursued. It is a known fact that the Tigers love water, but they generally avoid getting wet in rain. The safari came to an end, but not the hope. The whole afternoon it continued to rain, and the Tigers continued to elude us.
Next day safari
Having done Tala and Magdhi zones, our next day morning safari was in the Khitauli zone. We entered with a slight drizzle, and after a while, the rain gods relented perhaps seeing our persistence. Within minutes of the rain stopping, we heard an alarm call of a deer at a distance and Sanjay turns the vehicle in the direction.
Moment of silence
We reached the spot where we expected something to happen. Waited there for 15 minutes and zilch. The last ray of hope is almost buried when suddenly our guide notices a movement in the bush. He focusses, gets up gently on his seat, looks at us, with his index finger on his lips, asking us to be quiet. We knew that he is in the vicinity. After some wait, we heard some big thing walk in the dense undergrowth, we still did not see him. The sound started to get closer, and our heart began to pound faster.
We had no idea from where he will emerge as the foliage was really thick. Then we see some movement of the leaves and low-lying branches, but still no sight, only moving branches. We knew that he knew that we are waiting for him, perhaps he could also hear our heartbeat now. My anxious finger was waiting for a go-ahead from my eyes to hit the shutter. The heart and breath were competing to beat each other. The moment for which I came a thousand miles was near.
Our guide then pointed towards a bush, behind which we saw waves of black stripes. Initially, it seemed like some black colored branches, and then those black stripes moved.
Now the distinction between the black branches and the stripes became clearer. The deep orange fur moved like silk in the foliage. Then he emerged and acknowledged our presence with the corner of his eye. It was now I remembered what Jim Corbett wrote about Tigers, and I quote, “you can see tigers only when they want to show themselves to you”. A Tiger in his habitat, my eyes gave a go-ahead to my fingers, and I was able to capture the moving stripes in his habitat. I sat back happy, but not Sanjay.
He had caught the movement of this Tiger, and he was bent upon seeing more of him. I was only eager to let him. After a while this Tiger crossed our vehicle from front. It was no Sanjay said, this is the sub adult male Tiger, son of Darrah female. Son of Bheem I was not surprised by the size of this Tiger, a monster in the making. We saw him sideways, and a got a full view of his girth. He walked nonchalantly, absolutely ignoring presence of the tourist vehicles. After crossing he sat for a while, gave us several more poses, and then again got up, and moved into the bush. He was heading upwards, began to climb the hill.
We did not give up tracking him, and we expected him to come out near the forest guard camp. After a wait for a few minutes he emerged in close quarters and looking even big. This time he directly looks into my lens as if saying that he admired our patience of waiting for few safaris. Come on go ahead and click. After giving us a few shots, he moved closer to the forest guard camp. Took a full round of the camp, entered the vicinity, and then went out doing his regular chores.
A unique Bandhavgarh Tiger Safari came to an end, my mind was still thinking of the way the Tiger had entered the camp. The risks and dangers the forest guards go through every moment to preserve our national heritage. It is because of them that we get an opportunity to enter the forests to admire and capture the flora and fauna.
Tiger Safaris in Bandhavgarh are never a disappointment, all one needs is some patience, perseverance, and company of good naturalists and guides. Bandhavgarh National Park lived upto its reputation of giving some great Tiger sightings.