On the Tiger Trail
The essence of the visit was of course the Jungle Safari, or the park ride. In fact we had booked the two safaris from Delhi office of MPTDC and booked the rest of the holidays surrounding the dates.
The first of them was an early evening ride in an open Gypsy, with a guide for company. A little inquiry at the information kiosk of the hotel has revealed that Mukki Zone of the forest, our safari route, is not that much in demand and sighting a tiger is a rare event. But forests always held a special place in my heart, and a ride inside following the tiger trail was enough for me.
There is something about the forest sights and sounds that keep your senses sharp, your mind free and your body alert. The joy of overload of senses and the thrill of flirting with danger kept me occupied. The road into the sanctuary core stretched through the dense foliage, from where peeped in a colorful jungle fowl, a serpent eagle, a family of startled Sambars and a herd of Indian Gaurs.
‘Listen to the sounds, calling chal rahi hai‘ said Soni, our guide for the safari. ‘Calling chal rahi hai? What is that?’ I asked. Soni explained in a subdues tone, ‘in the jungle, when the big cats are out, their preys, the deers and monkeys, call outwarningsto each other. When you hear these calls, you stay aware, a tiger must be close by’. Really, will we be able to sight the most elusive of the animals in India’s forests, the Royal Bengal Tiger?! The suspense was palpable, as I started scanning the side of the narrow path! And then there was this hushed silence inside the vehicle, forcing me to turn my head to the road, and my heart stopped!
Walking about a couple of meters ahead of us was this majestic animal, a tiger! In that moment in the forest, sitting in an open Gypsy, I felt my senses register nothing but the animal walking ahead of us. Regal, is the word that came into my mind, and beautiful. ‘She is four year old female, has a litter of cubs, and is probably walking to the nearest water hole,’ said Soni is a hushed voice. ‘Lets follow her, and keep a distance, or we’ll scare her away,’ instructed Soni to the driver of the vehicle. Scare her away?! My numbed mind couldn’t even comprehend the logic. ‘Saab, aap photo le lo, jitna chahiye‘ was his instruction for my photography-crazy husband, who looked absolutely star struck, and then suddenly found his finger on the shutter.
For the next 20 minutes the only sounds were monkeys calling, deers barking, shutters clicking, soft purr of the engine, and an occasional tiger roar, as a mom reassured her children, as we followed the big cat on her stroll.
Tigers had always been portrayed as one of most ferocious members of the cat family. In Kanha I learnt that if man takes care of the fragile ecological balance with all it’s members, it is possible to coexist respectfully with all kinds of animals, a fact that the animals also acknowdge and accept. ‘You stay out of my hair, and I stay out of yours’ an adage that never meant so much except in the context of ‘Live and Let Live’ perhaps.