By Somali K Chakrabarti
Continued from Kanha : A jungle safari in the forest of Mowgli- Part 2
Part 1 can be found here : Kanha : A jungle safari in the forest of Mowgli- Part 1
The second safari was in the afternoon. The zone allotted for our safari was Kanha. The gate, this time was far off from the resort. It would take about an hour to reach the forest.
We started at 2.30 p.m. The hot afternoon Sun was radiating its intense fury in the form of oppressive heat. With a scarf and hat on my head and a wet towel over my face, I endured the gruelling heat and the dry hot wind in the open gypsy. Somehow we managed to reach the forest gate.
Inside the forest, it was much more manageable as the shadowy trees absorbed much of the heat. A stray hare or two would suddenly cross the road, and jungle fowl would crow cock – a- doodle –do every now and then. During the drive, we caught the sight of birds such as the Black drongo, Golden oriole, White-rumped shama, Kingfisher and Indian rollers hovering between the trees.
While passing by one of the meadows, we saw a mixed herd of spotted deer and barasinga (swamp deer). Barasinga, the State animal of Madhya Pradesh is an endangered species and is endemic to Kanha. A full adult male stag has “twelve-tined” antlers, which are shed and regrown every year. The species has restricted food preferences, it feeds only on grass and does not eat leaves, shoots or fruits, and the female of the species gives birth to only one fawn after a gestation period of about nine months. The special biology and ecology of this deer, coupled with external factors may increase the likelihood of the population going extinct. To ensure their survival and safeguard against extinction, the Forest Department has made efforts to translocate them to other reserves as a part of the wildlife conservation effort.
A pair of antlers was lying on the ground. Our guide reiterated that visitors are not allowed to collect or carry anything that belongs to the forest. He showed us some tree trunks with scratch marks that were left by the male tiger, as a means to mark his territory.
We again waited by the side of a water body, which looked more or less like a scene drawn out of a fairy tale. A herd of spotted deer was drinking water from the lake, some egrets and ibis were wading in water, and monkeys were jumping on the trees. Just by the side, was a flashy peacock crowing hoarsely and spreading its plume in a desperate bid to attract the attention of its mates. The peahens, didn’t seem to be in a mood to oblige though.
The sight was so captivating that we kept on watching the dynamics of the animals around the lake. Our guide was entrusted with the job of watching out for any signals or forewarning calls of the tiger. When he could hear none, we decided to move on, but not before we had spent more than half an hour by the lake.
In one part of the forest, there were many butterflies. As our jeep moved, the butterflies kept flying alongside, giving us the feel of a continued journey through the fairy land. While traversing through the zone, we stumbled upon a herd of nilgai, bisons, wild boars, and a jackal, and caught a peek of a variety of colourful birds such as the Scarlet minivet, Golden fronted leaf bird, Purple sunbird, and White-rumped vultures.
The driver would habitually slow down at each fire line in the hope of catching a glimpse of the ruler of the jungle. Though sometimes our guide spotted pug marks on the road, however, there was no sighting of the real tiger. At around 5.30 pm, the guide told us that we would soon have to start retreating as we were deep inside the forest and it would take almost 45 minutes to reach the gate. By now, the weather was pleasant and breezy, but the fact that we still did not have a single tiger sighting in our second safari trip left us with pining for the big cat.
However we tried to convince ourselves that we had experienced the beauty of the jungle, but we knew that the safari would remain incomplete without a tiger sighting. The exuberant voices of our friends after they had seen the tiger and her cubs, echoed in our ears and a few questions repeatedly popped up during the conversations.
“Have they sighted another big cat today?”
“What will we tell them now?”
We had almost given up the hopes!
Just as the jeep negotiated a curve on the road, the guide told the driver to stop, and he pointed his finger to the side right in front of turn. Lo! There was a tiger right there facing the jeep and walking on the road towards us. My heart skipped a beat at the sight of the elusive creature, who seemed to have appeared out of the blue, at a distance so close.
On seeing the jeep, the tiger deflected towards the bush. The guide instructed the driver to stop and reverse the jeep, so that the tiger would come back on the road. He was right! There she was out on the road, and continued with her majestic walk. How beautifully he understood the psyche of the animal!
In a hushed tone, our guide told us that she was a tigress, with four cubs. Overwhelmed, and with a mixed feeling of surprise and awe, we watched her stride confidently towards the jeep, as if to claim her right of way in the jungle.
At one point, where there was a turn and the road was wide enough, the jeep stopped and we waited for her to cross over. This was a rare sighting and a lifetime opportunity for us, as we looked on with astonishment at the majestic gait of the Tigress, who, luckily for us, seemed to ignore our presence completely. I thought she might be looking for her cubs.
Brimming with excitement on seeing a tiger in its natural habitat from such close quarters, none of us in the Gypsy wanted to miss the opportunity to click it.
The sighting made my day. The moment is etched in my memory forever. As we left, we were gloating with delight that no one could have had a better sighting than what we had. Our score with the other group was even or better now. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset on our way out, seeing a sloth bear digging an anthill.
At the gate we eagerly waited for Group 2 to join us, so that we could share our moments of the rare encounter. As we saw them approaching we just couldn’t hold ourselves and rattled out the story.
“We were right behind you at a distance. After you had left, the lady later sat on one side of the curved road calling out to her cubs, who came out one by one from the bushes to cuddle up to the mother. It was like seeing a grand family reunion, of a mother tiger and her five grown up cubs.”
Happiness is relative. Our excitement shrunk like a punctured balloon.
Unbelievable as the story sounded, the pictures of the royal family gathering proved that it was true. The score remained uneven, and could not be matched in the next two days. In the forest, I learnt anew that comparison doesn’t help, especially in a jungle sojourn.
We came back to Mumbai with many happy memories of the trip.
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