For this one post I am going to turn into a show off and you have to bear with me. You see, I waited across six national parks to sight a tiger/tigress. I have been to Dudhwa, Rajaji National Park, Jim Corbett, Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh before. Initially I was patient. I knew tigers can’t be produced at will. Jim Corbett was a college trip. After the safari one of my students came running and showed me a video footage. I said to him in disbelief that he downloaded it from Youtube. He told me in earnest that he saw the tiger. Then came other students with pictures and videos. They saw it in the same area as we were, where as I did not. That is how lucky I was with tigers, but lions were a different story. The same was the case with Kanha. Others saw it, I did not.
So when I was invited by Taj Safaris to visit their lodge Baghvan at Pench, I did not know what to expect tiger wise. I have been to their Banjar Tola Lodge at Kanha and I was sure what to expect of the lodge. Taj lodges are sheer luxury. If you are willing to pay the price and looking for luxury, look no further. My cottage (and all others) at Pench had an observation deck of its own! It also had an outdoor shower. But more about the lodge in a later post.
I took an evening safari on the day I arrived. It was the usual story, many birds, wild boars, deer but no tigers. In the evening I was cribbing to someone that in all my life I have not seen a single tiger. One of the naturalists told me to be patient and not to expect it. A couple Demmark told me, “So what if you have not seen the tiger, maybe the tiger has seen you.” I replied that after 6 national parks my patience was running thin. I still knew that it could not be produced at will, but I wanted to see one and soon. Little did I know that wish was about to come true.
I had a 5.15 am wake up call for the morning safari. I was really tired that morning. The previous morning I woke up at 3.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Nagpur. Two early mornings in a row do not make me happy. At Taj Safaris they serve you tea in the room before morning safaris. I thought I heard a knock on my door but could not figure it out exactly the first time. The knock persisted. When I got up a young staff member was there with my tea.
All of us, Suraja, Pari, Harsh and I were on time. Ramesh (our naturalist) drove us out. The air was cool and crisp. There was a short wait at the park gate. Motiram ji the park naturalist also joined us. Ramesh casually remarked, “We will try to see the tiger, we are not going to stop for other things unless it is something really special.” We went around for more than an hour without much luck. And then without a warning, it suddenly changed.
No, this was not the first look I got. But I told you I am going to be a show off in this post! As I said before, when I saw it first, I saw its vanishing tail. A jeep full of school children were ahead of us. They had seen the tiger tail and all. They waved their cell phones at us. I told Ramesh that after all I saw the tiger! I was happy just to see its vanishing tail. But he and Motilal ji had other ideas.
Even before the vanishing tail sighting they were excited about the pug marks and the calls they were getting. After the first fleeting sighting they decided to go a little ahead saying she usually crossed from a particular place. I was not hopeful at all. After waiting for a few minutes there was a commotion. Jeeps started coughing to life, there were voices everywhere- woh raha, woh raha (it is there). And then I saw her, walking towards us. We were the third jeep in the row. I could still see her so clearly. After a few seconds Ramesh decided to get out of the queue to give tigress the space to cross. She walked away regally in front of our jeep with hardly a side glance at us! Which was good as well.
They say tigers are creatures of habit. And the naturalists know them. After the tigress vanished a second time into the jungle all the jeeps headed in a particular direction. They thought she may cross the road at another junction! In a while all the jeeps were parked waiting patiently for her royal appearance.
Of course the naturalists sighted her before anyone of us could. This time she crossed right in front of my jeep. Friends have asked me if I was scared. I was quite excited I have to say. I remembered to click pictures and make a video. In my excitement I forgot to get scared. I do remember Pari clicking my picture after the first full sighting, saying he needed to record my tiger grin. I have to ask for that picture to see how I looked! After the tigress crossed into the jungle again the jeeps moved a little ahead to wait for another possible crossing. We were waiting next to a water body and Motiram ji told us she would almost certainly not get into the cold water.
In a while he was frantically pointing to all of us the tigress crossing through the water! The trouble was that apart from Ramesh none of us could spot it. It went on for a while Motiram ji excitedly trying to show us the tigress in the water and we not being able to spot it. Then I too saw it. It was a speck even with my full zoom which is a puny 300 mm. I have cropped the picture heavily to get this faint scene. I clicked for the first 3 seconds and then saw it with my eyes for the last 2 seconds and then it vanished in the bushes again. But the day is never going to vanish from my memory!
I broke my jinx after all and sighted a tiger! And what a sighting it was! She is known as the collared tigress of Pench. The trick is the collar no longer emits a signal. So it is a double whammy in a sense. You see a collared tigress where the collar provides no help in tracing her. But then I am in no mood to complain! She passed so close by that I could capture a video on my cell phone! So here I go.
Her Royal Highness the Collared Tigress of Pench
Actually I saw just a vanishing tail to begin with. A jeep full of school children were in front of us. After I had looked at the vanishing tail they told us the tigress passed by them just a while ago, waving their cell phones! I was sure they had their cell phones full with the tigress pictures. I was happy with that fleeting glimpse as even this was a first. I could get nothing on the camera as she was in thick bushes. But then our ace trackers (and other ace trackers in other jeeps) decided to pursue it. We had Motiram ji from the park. And we of course had a naturalist from Taj Safaris as well, Ramesh. I did all my rides with Ramesh and he is an excellent naturalist. I am always going to remember both of them as this has been my first sighting after I do not even know how many safaris and national parks!
And if you are on a slow internet connection here is a photo for you, otherwise do watch the video. I actually had to zoom out to click this picture, the tigress was so close. More when I reach home.
I am still dazed. I was of course excited to death. But what really amazes me is the excitement and enthusiasm of the naturalist show even though they see so many big cats. They take trouble to track it down, drive far away and show amazing patience both with the animal and the human beings! Thank you Motiram ji and Ramesh for breaking my jinx. I also had lovely companions from Maharashtra who were in a group of three. But they included me so well that it never felt like I was an unknown outsider.
I started my India travel blog, Travel Tales from India in 2005. In 2016 I realized Travel Tales from India and Abroad better reflected my writings. I love to walk and ride in metros around the world. I have not been everywhere, I am not even close, but it is on my list. I also quit my job as a professor in 2015, it was a happening year! I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur ages ago!
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