It had been years since I was ignoring my allure for the wild, Tigers to be precise. It had been years since I actually went for those Jungle Safaris, which were way too frequent as a child being daughter of an I.F.S. officer. Reasons span from between making a life for yourself to becoming too self-occupied. Also, this year I was running out of ideas for summer trips. Almost every place that came to mind was either a winter destination or otherwise – but definitely too hot for summer. I wanted to use my Labour day weekend on something nice. I finally decided I have to do my long pending visit to a National Park during summer time and meet the man of the jungle, no sorry …God of the jungle “The Tiger(s)”
Summer is said to be best time to do a Jungle Safari for obvious reasons. The Jungle runs out of water in most of internal areas, and the man-made water holes or lakes become their obvious abode or regular visit area, that helps us spot them more often. That said, however, some National Parks like Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Kanha in Madhya Pradesh, assure a visitor atleast one sight of the national animal. This is just possible because these 2 Tiger Reserves have had enough funding and support for them to develop their skills at striking a balance between a wildlife friendly ecosystem and host tourists without disturbing it much. On the other hand, most wildlife animals in these 2 national parks have seen more visitors in their lifetime than any other – making the animals almost ‘human’ friendly. That may not look like a merit though, it isn’t. Other famous Nationals Parks like Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand, Panna & Bandhavgarh in M.P., Bandipur & Nagarhole in Karnataka, Periyar in Kerela, Sundarbans in Bengal or Kaziranga of Assam – none of them can assure you a fruitful visit, even in the summers. That is, if and when you call spotting a ‘Tiger’ as a fruitful visit. Luckily for me right before visiting Kanha,
I happened to visit Tadoba Tiger Reserve situated in Chandrapur, Maharashtra – nearby for me – and my most ever visited NP. Tadoba has increasingly become popular among the wildlife enthusiasts in the past decade, due to magnificent efforts made my the staff in charge for years together, including my Dad. It now houses almost 56 Tigers, and a vast variety of wildlife species well-protected. Only down-side we could feel was not being able to freely move around as we did when young. We were allowed to get down from the jeep! pick a stick..take a stroll till the machaan .. ah! nostalgia.
The Wildlife Protection Act passed recently a couple years ago, strictly prohibits anyone and everyone from entering or wandering about in the reserve premises – including the officers themselves and many other restrictions. Safari rides are monitored and monetised, with strict timings.
Anyway, my luck boasted of its goodness in Tadoba Andhari Reserve itself. Even though a 60 second glimpse of a Tigress and its grown cubs, it was worth it. The charge that you experience within your body that urges to hold your breath while the King of the jungle strolls before you – is just out of the world. I couldn’t manage to click a good shot on my Cam, at this amateur moment I was experiencing. I made a mental note to make up for it at Kanha – my 2nd chance. We also saw a 20 sec glimpse of a bear in Tadoba, I had wished for that too 🙂
While Tadoba was a usual family visit with homies, Kanha was going to be with the girls, and we all were very excited about it. Everyone flew from Bangalore to Nagpur. We had made a taxi booking with Kumar Travels in Nagpur for a drop at Kanha and pick-up 3 days later. A air-conditioned 6-seater Innova costed us Rs.7000/- one way, including all taxes and driver charges – best deal I could find. Nagpur to Kanha is approx 275 kms, and with amazing highway built, it takes not more than 5 hours to reach. We left Nagpur in the morning, and were in Kanha in no time by afternoon. We had a booking at the Forest Rest house at Kisli, Kanha – 1 of few accommodations that are inside the reserve. Only Govt. accommodations are situated within the reserve and you have to be lucky to find vacancy in them, as they always have priority given to the Govt.Officials than civilians. All private resorts are always outside the National Park Main Gate.
Kanha is divided into 4 zones open for tourist visits – which is only 20% of the entire forest area. Kisli, Kanha, Mukki & Sarahi. Each one has its own gate, where you require to buy an entry pass at the designated safari timings i.e. 6 a.m. & 4 p.m. Morning Safari is longer for about 4 1/2 hours, while evening on is only for 2 hours. Costs do not vary, so it is advised to take up morning safari for larger zones of Kanha or Mukki. Kisli & Sarahi are relatively tiny zones. Each safari ride includes cost for the Zonal fees + Jeep + Guide fees. Kanha is defined the premium zone, costing more than other 3 zones. Each Jeep can house 6 people. Kanha = 1850 + 1800 + 300 per jeep & Mukki = Kisli = Sarahi = 1250 + 1800 + 300 per jeep Since we were 4 of us, we had more comfort in the jeep to be frank.
We had no booking for Safari the day we reached. Ideally all tourists, living in a resort outside, buy the passes at the gate itself when they enter. For us, we had already entered and come inside, and we also had booked taxi only for a drop, as it did not make sense to keep it for next 2 days when we won’t be able to use it for anything. With no commute options, we couldn’t have made a visit to the gate outside in any way. We requested the Range officer to help us. After a couple of phone calls and some recommendations from my now Retd. Papa, they were able to take payment from us and arrange the next day safaris. You always need to fill a long form for each Safari you opt for, with duly filled details of all members boarding the Jeep, ID number and all. You also need to present your ID cards for verification. There are no advance bookings, unless you have contacts, one needs to fill such a form at the gate and get a pass. Ticket window opens at 5:30 a.m. & 3:30 a.m. for the respective safaris. We were lucky to get it all sorted out from within the reserve 😛 Since we were staying for 2 days, we decided to check out each of 4 zones using 4 Jeep safaris. We pooled in and paid for all in advance.
Our first evening, while we gazed at the beautiful landscape before the Guest house, where cheetals grazed without a care, and monkeys hanged out – we all eagerly awaited to enter that huge forest the next morning.
For the first morning we opted for Kanha Safari, we were told we can have breakfast at the Kanha Visitor Centre in middle of safari where they take a customary halt. We pulled ourselves out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and braved out in the dark to board our jeep. Dawn just broke and we rode our way into the beautiful dense jungle of Sal trees.
We were greeted by a humbling sight of the near extinct ‘Barasingha’ – with the 12 tipped antlers. Barasingha is a species very unique to habitats like Kanha, they have recently been propagated to other Reserves for conservation purposes. Next we saw many beautiful Birds, and some tiger paw marks that were moving in completely different direction. Somehow our guide did not seem too determined to show us one today, so we headed where we were headed. Kanha zone has large beautiful landscapes, and several lakes. We saw way too many peacocks, in the heat, opening their feathers and all. Unlike the usual belief, peacocks do not open feathers cause of the rain, but only when a peahen is in sight and they are horny. Yea, thats about it. So we saw 2-3 peacocks courting a single peahen, talk about choices! ;). The Visitor Centre has a cafetaria, that serves limited menu like fried goods and beverages. You won’t find plastic much, don’t expect chips n shit. If you aren’t a fan of fried breakfast, advisable to pack fruits and other items you like to have. There is also a museum fabricated for your amusement and knowledge, not great but a reasonable effort to fill you with information. Our close to 5 hour safari was okay, with not much to boast of, but witnessing the landscape is always worth it.
Our evening visit was for Kisli zone. Our guide and the driver were much more talkative and easy to mingle with, we made sure they understood our dismay about fruitless morning safari. We saw more and more peacocks, stopped and clicked them in every possible pose. While we were at it, we did come across some paws, and then suddenly – one of the jeeps crossing us informed us about a Tiger sitting in an area near by, according to them we should hurry up before he decided to leave. Right that second our driver hit off on an unauthorised speed to help us catch a glimpse. You won’t believe..this was a ride of our life-time! we were literally flying in the behind of this open jeep, the ride was a total rollercoaster, ups and downs, turns and swirls! All that to catch one glimpse of a Tiger. On our way, we came across atleast 8 more jeeps who urged us to hurry up before HE leaves. When we finally reached, there were atleast another 15 vehicles, holding their breath to catch a glimpse. By this time, Mr.Tiger was feeling too exposed and he had moved into the bushes. We could just about make out an outline, about 6 feet away from us in the bushes, our driver had drove us that close. Because of this, all other vehicles were already angry on him for arriving late, and blocking them out. It didn’t matter, as ‘Munna’ gave a rats ass about whether we could see him or not, but ofcourse (they have names for most famous tigers – google him, you’ll see him). Munna is famous for having a unique letter-like ‘CAT’ appear on his brow. After we missed him, the guides had estimated him to cross the adjacent road to head where he was headed. They were right, and we saw him finally in the open, but from far away. With so many jeeps around, you might guess its so cruel and noisy for the chap. Well, it is, and it is very sad indeed, that we flang the poor guy like that. From a tourist’s perspective, he has paid a large amount for a single 2-3 hour ride, and as an Indian would think – he has to ‘paisa vasool’ it! On this our tour guide had some ‘tippani’ to share. According to him(and we noticed that guy), the only loud tourist during this ordeal was one in an opposite jeep, who unlike all other 20 vehicles couldn’t control his excitement+temper. When a Tiger is around, humans by default lose their voice – but not this guy. Our guide said, such impatient and loud tourists always came from Pune side..as put by him “Poona wale choona lagate hain”. A funny anecdote, but we needn’t take him seriously 😉
We all finally saw the magnanimous humble fantastic animal on earth. Did you know that Tigers are on top of our food chain? Every continent or terrain has one such beast on top of food chain, in order to create ‘Order’. Basically help you survive. You might’ve seen that documentary about introduction of Wolfs changing the environment in Northern America, well..Tigers will mean that to Indian sub-continent. We are too ignorant to care for it, or even question our existence in absence of Tigers. But they are essential for us nonetheless.
Next morning we had booked for Mukki zone. Our Guide, Mr. Jaisingh is quite a famous guy already. He has witnessed many historic feats that take place in jungle with the Tiger, and features in some of famous Kanha youtube videos recording such events. While he told us about all such stories, we enjoyed our jeep ride, munching on junk food. And suddenly! paws! “Chal chal, nikaal nikaal” were the hushed in excitement instructions given to the driver by Jaisingh. He was just coaxing the driver to go faster, when we had to push brakes as one Jeep blocked us on a very narrow road. Jaisingh turned back at us with wide eyes, suppressing his voice “Madam! Tiger ..Tiger!”. There he was. The large beast, very much aware of our presence and the awe on our faces, but still ignoring us and looking at his surroundings for something. Just before we tracked this guy, some jeeps passing by were talking about spotting a Tigress in this same road, she had slipped away from the crowd in the hills. The Tiger was trying to smell in that direction, probably looking for the Tigress.
Anyway, this Tiger decided to walk down in our direction..towards the jeeps. Holy Sh** , we had lost our voices, and might just have a heart attack. He was just 10 feet away..walking closer and closer, while we struggled to back out the jeeps in the muddy hill on a downward slope. The one jeep ahead of us, was just 2 feet away from the Tiger. They were shit worked up! “Gaadi pe chadhaana hai kya? peeche lo!!” While the dear Tiger was so damn humble, he kept walking giving us a chance to view him, it felt like he knew we were really really trying to get out of his way, and had no intention of disturbing him. The Tiger patiently waited till we could back out our vehicles. Finally he thought it was better to change his route, and he went away into the bushes on side. Some Jeeps tracked him some more time, as he was bound to come out at the lower road down the hill given his track. On our way back we heard more stories from passing jeeps of seeing Tigress with cubs, we were so jealous! Some saw him bathing in the river. So so so jealous!
Last zone to do in evening was Sarahi. The FRH we were living at is actually right beside Sarahi. Ever since we arrived, Sarahi was the hot zone where more than one Tiger was residing at for that period. On our first night, we actually heard roars which scared the shit out of us for real. The guards confirmed that Tigers were infact in this zone, so quite possible we heard them. But in 2 days, Tigers take a walk and change their area of residence. We didn’t find anyone in Sarahi, unfortunately. Some Barking deer calls, very close by, but no one came out. That was our last evening in lovely Kanha, and we were almost melancholic and saying quiet goodbyes staring into the full-moon evening.