In search of the Royal Bengal Tiger

Tiger at KanhaWe were woken up at four thirty in the morning with a gentle knock by our butler, who put a tray of tea and biscuits in our tented suite.

This was the earliest I was up on any vacation, unless it was for a flight… but this one was necessary, cos we were in search of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

For that alone, we had endured a one hour flight from Mumbai to Nagpur followed by a five and a half hour drive to Kanha, in Madhya Pradesh.

We dressed up in layers in preparation for the mid morning heat, and set off with our naturalist Payal, to Kanha National Park. We were fascinated to learn that she was the only female naturalist working in the area at the time. She was born and brought up in Mumbai, but chose the great outdoors over the crowded, noisy city to make a life in (believe me, this is NOT an easy course to take in India).

We picked up a spotter (each vehicle gets one – being local, they are able to provide a lot of info on the flora and fauna in the area and also ensure that the park rules are followed) and entered the park.

There was a buzz that day – a mother tiger had killed a large gaur (Indian bison) for her cubs. It would be eaten over three days, therefore she was expected to stay within a certain radius of the kill and chances of seeing her were high.

All the naturalists and spotters on different vehicles constantly communicated with each other, sharing information on tiger sightings. After all, that’s what majority of their clients were there for, and they did like to ensure that people went home happy.

In the jungle, camaraderie trumps competitiveness.

And so we drove around, seeing a lot of amazing creatures along the way – sambars, spotted deer, barking deer, gaurs, sloth bears, langurs, brown fish owl, barbets, kingfishers, peacocks, bulbuls, etc. We were also lucky enough to spot the extremely rare barasingha.

But the tiger eluded us.

There were a lot of near misses. We saw a lot of fresh paw prints. We came across another vehicle that had just seen a tiger… rushed to the spot, only to find no tiger in sight. And then there was this monkey (I forget which kind), who made LOUD noises, which are its tiger distress signals. A lot of the vehicles rushed to where it was, only to discover that it was just showing off to attract a female (apparently that particular species is notorious for doing that…men!).

As the closing time approached, dejected, we started driving back towards the park entrance. Hoping to have better luck the next day.

Around a bend, there was a vehicle stopped in front of us, its occupants excitedly pointing and clicking away.

We looked in that direction, and there she was.

Walking slowly. A bored expression on her face.

A truly majestic creature!

Tigress in Kanha

Happily, we returned to Taj Banjaar Tola, to be spoiled by the amazing service and excellent food, as we relaxed in our luxurious jungle oasis.

Goal for the next day – to see a leopard!

Taj Banjaar Tola

The fab accommodation at Taj Banjaar Tola

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But it’s on the agenda for the next safari vacation – whenever that is!

P.S. In my excitement, I only managed to get a pretty lousy pic from my point and shoot. The photo at the top is a sighting from elephant back, deeper in the jungle. In Kanha, when naturalists are able to locate tigers deeper in the jungle, visitors have the opportunity to go on elephant back to see them. We saw the cubs too!

P.P.S. Madhya Pradesh is known as the Tiger state of India and has the highest tiger population in the country. There are three other national parks in MP where tiger sightings are reported frequently – Bandhavgarh, Pench and Panna. Some tourists make a trail out of it, and visit at least a couple of the parks during the same trip.