4-day trip to tiger paradise!
After a flight to Delhi from Bangalore, and a 17-hour train ride later, the only thought that crossed my mind as we entered the thick dry sal forest of Bandhavgarh was: will this place actually deliver what it promises – tigers and more tigers?
Ten minutes later, we intercepted a long line of open-top Gypsies with tourists parked in a line along the jeep track. Two impressive camp elephants were steadily carrying more tourists into tall elephant grass. Their mahouts were “showing” the tourists a tigress in the grass! We couldn’t believe it! We had to see the sight and off we went into the grass atop an elephant. A minute later, the mahout announced, “Yeh dekho saab, Baghvaa!” We craned our necks to see what he was pointing below in the tall grass and lo! A huge majestic tigress lay on the grass sleeping, blissfully unaware of the many prying eyes breaching her privacy. This lady must have been in her teens and was at least 8-feet in length. Photo ops were dismal becasue of the grass, but the very glimpse of her sent our adrenaline pumping. We spent about two minutes with her and returned back to our Gypsy.
We had seen our first tiger exactly ten minutes after our first entry into Bandhavgarh! Later our driver, Dadan, who would be a huge asset to our trip, told us that she was the Chakradhara female, the grand old mother of the many tigers that we would see in the coming days. “Wow!” I thought, “So, we surely would see more tigers!” Great! Half an hour later we back tracked to a spot closer to the entrance gate – Siddababa, the place was called, as there was a small Shiva’s shrine nearby. All drivers and guides of the Park believe that a respectful bow to Siddababa before the start of a ride will bring them good luck – sighting of many tigers hence happy tourists. Beside the shrine is a large meadow, with several rivulets that drain the area. The reason we were here – “she will cross the jeep track in front of us, along with her cub. She has left one cub on the other side of the track, so she must cross any time now,” told our driver in a confident tone. She was the local favorite tigress, the Siddababa female.
To see her we joined a medley of at least 40 Gypsies with at least three guests in each. They all had gathered there for precisely the same reason as ours. Waiting curiously and patiently, there was thick silence in the air only to the broken by the occasional alarm calls of the chital and langur from the far edge of the meadow. Suddenly a loud aauugh from the grass broke the rhythm and the mood of the moment. It occurred to us that the tigress was not more than 10 feet away from our jeep. She then peeked over the grass, growled some more and walked a few steps in the grass, still hiding her full form. Our driver figured that she would be crossing further ahead of us and not along the gap some of our vehicles had created for her. And in seconds about 20 vehicles zoomed ahead to take vantage positions. Half a minute later a lovely young tigress with a brilliant ochre coat came out of the grass curtain. Visibly disturbed, but almost immediately understanding that all the vehicles and humans around meant no harm to her, she slowly and self-assuredly crossed the wide jeep track and climbed up the rocks on the other side. About a million exposures happened cumulatively from the various cameras of every species! We made our first good images. We were just about rejoicing in the marvel of sighting and photographing a tigress, in the open with great morning light, when one of the drivers pointed out to the grass and cried bachcha (“cub”)! Out came the diffident and timid one and so did our cameras. Well fed, healthy, and about three months old, the little one scurried across the track to join its mother and it sibling in the cave on the other side of the rocky hill. What a start of a tiger adventure!
Read the rest of the trip report here: On the tiger trail in Bandhavgarh