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The striped delights of Kanha

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

It was quiet. Even the usual forest sounds seemed muted, as if a little wary.


We peered into the forest. Alert. Tense. There was a little clearing and we could see a tiny stream running.


Alarm calls from both langurs and deer had led us here. Would we get a sighting here ?


Another langur call !


This time moving away from where we had first heard. Was it on the move ? The short, sharp call of the langur sounded again ! Further away !


We reversed the jeep and hurried down the track we had come from. Took a left turn. If we go by the langur call, it could be moving away and if that is the case, it might come down a pugdandi ( a beaten path that has been used by generations of animals and humans…doesn’t the word sound lovely !? ) that was there a little further away.


We reached the spot where the pugdandi crossed our track.


And, now we wait.


In hope.


The forest was quiet.


*****


However fascinating the secrets that the forest has to discover could be, there is a nagging sense of incompletion if you haven’t had a tiger sighting.


Almost every single jeep that gets in, goes in with the single bloody-minded focus of seeing a tiger. The standard definition of a good game drive is one where you have had a tiger sighting. If you had multiple drives with no tigers crossing your path, your entire trip is considered to be a waste. That sort of thinking is pretty lame in my view, but right now, I must admit I was pretty keen to see one.


We had had four drives with no sighting. While we were thoroughly delighted with every single drive and luxuriated in the sheer delight of being in the wild, by the time we started our last day, we too were itching to see the apex predator of the Indian forest.


Watching the hint of the tawny stripes through dense foliage, silent, mysterious, occasionally breaking into a golden yellow shout as unfiltered sunlight strikes it, a tiger sighting is one of the most thrilling experiences in a forest.


However, the true experience lies in the entire package – hear the alarm calls, chase, missed chances, chase and then a spectacular sighting. There is an entirely different rush in listening to the forest sounds, identifying the location from where an alarm call sounded. Decisions have to be made – is it worth rushing in the direction from where the alarm came or do we wait for more clues ?


Do we demonstrate the patience that is essential in a forest or do we meander off in search of other delights ?


On the last day, we were clear. Our focus was the tiger.


*****

Tigers are solitary animals.


You usually see them resting or walking down a path, crossing a path…coming out of the bushes into an open clearing. Alone.


You have to be incredibly lucky to see a family together, to watch them interact with each other. Cubs playing. Mom giving them lessons.


Well, we were lucky on our last day. Incredibly lucky.


The day started with the usual near misses. A glimpse of a flash of orange ( I would never figure out how our naturalist spotted that ! ) made us brake and reverse the vehicle only to see the gorgeous animal look up and step back into the green blackness.


A little later at another place, a slight movement was spotted (where we, of course,  could see nothing ) and got another tantalizing glimpse of a few stripes dissolving far away.

This is never a good feeling …seeing a tiger moving away 🙂

We decided to head back to the first spot. As we neared the place, we could see a large cluster of vehicles and could see many more rushing there.


Could this be the moment ?


Or are we late !?


A few tense and anxious minutes later, where we fretted if this was going to be a morning of near misses, we saw the glorious, magnificent creature step out.


And then another.


Followed by one more !


An entire family of four, with three sub adult cubs spent their morning in front of us.


Resting. Playing. Chasing. Exploring.


Out in the open. In the bushes where the light struggles to get through. Head on. Crossing the track. Name it. We got it.


Bliss. Total. Bliss.

THAT moment….when a tiger steps out, in clear sight…phew !

Hearty meal over, it felt as if it was time for some rest

But….kids will be kids. A full stomach is probably the best time to start playing !

The Throat Grab…in an ideal world that bit of grass in the foreground just shouldn’t be there

Play fighting maybe…but all invaluable lessons for adulthood

Pretty intense !

While the mother stayed alert…

The head-on look

Out for a morning stroll…pretty soon, these cubs will be on their own.

This male cub was already quite a hulk…bigger than the mom !

There was another cub lying down smack in the middle of the track…but it was this cub that attracted me. The mysterious play of light and shadows.

Meditating

*****

Oh and that tiger we waited for by the pugdandi ?


We waited for a long, long time. There were no other calls.


But we decided to wait.


And, suddenly, the bushes parted and she appeared.

A casual stroll down the pugdandi

*****

We stayed at the Taj Safaris.


How does one describe the overall experience ? It was beyond superb. There were two birthdays in the family during our stay and the way the entire staff went out of their way to create a truly memorable experience for us was just fabulous.


Forget the luxury of the rooms or how wonderful the food was. What really stays with you is the personal touch, the care that everyone takes about your comfort.


We also were extremely lucky that we had an outstanding naturalist for all our drives. Yaju. Possessed of such a deep love for nature, it was impossible not feel and be part of his wonder and delight at everything in the wild.


Forget stopping to look at dragonflies, butterflies and spiderwebs, I have never stopped over a small puddle by the track and studied the thriving life in it !


As I said, there is so much that lives in the forest and we were tremendously fortunate to have someone like Yaju who could point them to us.

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