A bunch of wildlife enthusiasts, 2 wildlife sanctuaries, 1 aim...spotting the elusive tiger!
It doesn't feel special till you spot the first pug-mark. The size of the imprint tells you that this isn’t any ordinary animal. With a body length close to 11 metres and weighing close to 400 kg this hulking mass of stealth, muscle, stripes and teeth provokes nothing but awe. Things go into a frenzy the moment the guide tells you that this might just be that moment. The silence is deafening. Every muscle in our bodies is tightened, trying not to make a sound. The unmistakable noise from the alarm call of the barking deer breaks the silence, and we become even more alert. You will most likely be warned of the tiger’s presence before you actually see it. The forest works together to warn all creatures and all creatures listen. I can feel my heart beating, the adrenaline pumping, there it was, the alarm call once more. The jungle is silent, holding its breath, you can feel the tiger is close, there is stillness and all the animals are waiting for the king of the jungle’s next move. He could be just feet away without you knowing. Now if we could only catch a glimpse.
While our eyes looked high and low for any sign of movement, most failed to notice the environment. Pench National park, nestling in the lower southern reaches of the satpuda hills is named after Pench river, meandering through the park from north to south. It is located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, in the districts of Seoni and Chindwara. Pench National Park, comprising of 758 sq km.
The area of the present tiger reserve has a glorious history. A description of its natural wealth and richness occurs in Ain-i-Akbari. The area has always been rich in wildlife. It is dominated by fairly open canopy, mixed forests with considerable shrub cover and open grassy patches. The high habitat heterogeneity favours high population of Chitals and Sambars. Pench tiger reserve also has highest density of herbivores in India. While I have been to Ranthambore and Gir, I found Pench to be a much more greener and not to mention beautiful forest. The trails are not totally off-road either which makes it quite comfortable going around the park.
While unfortunately we did not manage to spot the elusive tiger, we did hit spot an amazing bunch of the rare and endangered white rumped vulture amongst a horde of deers, Sambhars and serpent eagles and not to mention a shy Jackal as well.
Disappointed after not spotting the stripped one, the Mahindra convoy headed out from Pench to try their luck elsewhere. This time we were headed to Kanha which was about 245 km away. Its a brilliant drive all the way with a few bad patches which our Scorpio sailed over. Its on drives like these that you realize how important it is for your car to be an all-rounder. While this wasn’t the latest generation Scorpio, it still comes across as the perfect vehicle for nature trip like this. Comfortable on the highway, chiller of an aircon, seating for seven and that powerful diesel motor which keeps munching miles and takes you to places which you can’t think of as well, thanks to its 4WD capability. Mahindra made sure the convoy was together at all times made good time and without having to rush things which is important. It was dark by the time we hit Kanha and a quick check in later we were already talking about how chances of spotting the tiger at Kanha were more than at Pench.
However nature had different things in store for us. I woke up at 4 am to the sounds of thunder and showers which definitely wasn’t a good sign. The forest however was a sight for sore eyes. Lush green with the smell of the wet soil and other flora tickles your inner most senses. Its a sight difficult to put into words and at that moment we really felt that spotting the tiger was just the icing on this otherwise amazing amazing cake. The picturesque Kanha National Park was the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling's unforgettable classic, The Jungle Book. The romance of the Kanha National Park has not reduced over time-it is still as beautiful. The park was created in 1955 by a special law and, since then, it has dedicated itself in preserving a variety of animal species. Many endangered species have indeed been saved here. Today Kanha is among the few most scenic and beautiful wildlife reserves in Asia. This 'Tiger Country' is the ideal home for both predator and prey. By far the most striking features of this region are the open grassy meadows, where sighting blackbuck, swamp deer, sambhar and chital is common. And, if one can transcend into time, a barefooted Mowgli would perhaps come padding along the dusty trail, for this is the land of Kipling's Jungle Book.
Now there is a wide variety of flora and fauna at Kanha, however if one animal species were to represent Kanha, it would probably be the barasingha, or the swamp deer. The barasinghas at Kanha are unique, being the hard ground variety, which populate the large open tracts of grass amidst the forests of teak and bamboo. Twenty years ago, the barasingha was faced with extinction but some desperate measures including the fencing-off of some animals helped save them and again the air in Kanha echoed with their rutting calls.
Three more safaris is Kanha and the tiger still managed to elude us. While most of us were more than happy with the whole experience, there were a lot of discontent faces. There is so much emphasis in the parks on seeing the tiger that it sometimes takes away the joy of exploring all the other aspects of the jungle. The captivating sounds, the endless varieties of other animals and the stunning vistas just to name a few. Most tourists we saw seemed disappointed that after weeks of game drives, they only got a brief vanishing encounter that they had waited so long to see. We feel that it is important for the park to understand that tourist value is also a crucial element for the tiger’s protection. Finding this balance between conservation and mass tourism demands tough choices. Whether you spot the tiger or not, Pench and Kanha are an exquisite haven that needs our protection. Nature trips like these are best enjoyed with a well planned and laid out itinerary and of course with like minded people who share the same enthusiasm as you. Mahindra managed both extremely well which is why I am already set for the next trip to catch the elusive king of the jungle.