21st May – It was hot!!
We started about an hour late, around 2pm, in Mr Arjun Dhanwatey’s Sumo. Along with him were his wife and daughter, I immediately was relieved because Aasim had some company and would not get bored, though it was bit of a squeeze in the Sumo for 6 adults and 3 children. The 260 km took us about 7 hours due to stops for refreshments and a detour which cost us 30 mins. The first three hours were as if sitting in a furnace blast. Along the way we saw the occlusion of Venus by the moon, unfortunately we were running a bit late and could not stop to setup a tripod to capture it – I now seriously regret not having done so now. We reached our lodging “Tiger Land Resort” and were welcomed by the manager Mr Denzil Stephens, fondly called by everyone and I mean *Everyone* in Kanha as Uncle Stephens. A middle aged true English style gentleman who has hand reared tiger cubs and has the T Shirts, err… photographs to prove it. We settled into our rough but comfortable rooms, read no AC, no TV, but nice clean beds and clean toilets. We soon sat sipping a drink in the open, Uncle Stephens regaled us with stories of his Jungle adventures and gave us tips on what to do and see on the safari the next day… Some time during this we were visited by a full grown male Chital (Spotted Deer).
22nd May – It was dusty!!
We slept at 12 midnight and woke up at 4 am. At around 5 am we were all sitting in an open top Gypsy 4WD on our way to the core area of the park. Even before we could enter the core area we started seeing the wild life. Chital was the first and then the Gour bison. At the main gate we paid the entrance fee and a guide was assigned to us. The ride was inside very dusty as there was a horde of people who are going insane trying to spot wild life and there are animals all around… The most magnificent sight for me was the peacocks in their full plumage, after about 2 hours of clicking away to glory we were told that we had to go to the Kanha camp site from where we will get information on where the Tiger has been spotted.
Once at the camp, we had breakfast which was packed for us from the kitchen at the “Resort”, we waited for about 45 min, suddenly the air was a buzz that a Tiger had been spotted, we had already been allotted tokens for the Elephant ride. At first I did not understand what it implied, I gradually pieced together that Tigers are usually sitting some distance from the road in the shrubs and vehicles can’t go there but Elephants can! The Elephants are brought right next to the Gypsy and you climb on to them… the tokens are for the queue to get on to the Elephants. The key is lower the token number higher the chances of seeing the Tiger before it moves away. and co had a number 2 less than us and when they returned gleefully told us that there were two tigers a male and a female. managed to get a few decent pictures. In about 5 min we, viz: me , and Aasim, were being herded on to climb on the back of a 47 year old she Elephant named “Chanchal Kali”, as luck would have it the Tigers started to move… the mahout was determined to show us the “Tiger Show” as they call it. What followed was one of the most amazing 10 min of my life and probably I would not believe it from anyone else. The mahout started urging the Elephant up a hill with nearly 40 to 45 degree slope!!! Now I know from my facts that Elephants are NOT made for climbing, still this man managed to drive it at a near clipping pace at the same time clearing the path of the shrubs, bamboo and tree branches. Soon we were so high that looking back made me swallow hard… but this man was determined and did not stop for about 50 feet more. We did manage to catch a glimpse of the tiger fleeing… was awestruck at the Elephant’s performance. We were very disappointed at not being able to see the “king”. Our guide assured us that do not be disappointed there will be another chance and true indeed. In about 30 min there was another “spotting” of the same couple and we were again on the elephant and this time we did manage to see the pair resting beneath a bamboo clump. Also around the drying river bed were so many butterflies that kept exclaiming with sheer delight “There are so many of them!”
Around 11 am we returned to our rooms fully encrusted with dust and sweat, tired and hungry. We bathed, gobbled down our lunch and fell asleep, oh! this resort offers a menu of nice near home like cooking of Indian veg and non-veg dishes.
We were ready for the evening safari at 4:30 pm – without much ado I can say that the evening was a disaster. The guide had his own idea of what he wanted to show us and kept racing from one point to another say that there was a Tiger, all three of us (me and ) were bitterly disappointed. was in a different Gypsy and was more lucky – they spotted a female Tiger and some other animals as well. complained about this to Arjun and made it plain that the next day we want a different guide and that he should accompany us as well. We also made it clear that since we had already seen a Tiger we will not “run” after it but rather take time out to see the jungle, spot the birds, hear the calls and if time and opportunity permitted try and see the “Tiger Show”
23rd May – It was worth it!!
4:30 am, Arun got into the Gypsy with us, and woke up a bit late and were left to come with the other vehicle, however at the main gate they caught up and crossed over to our side as the other team intended to go Tiger spotting. We got a new guide and made it very clear to him what we wanted and he said he will show us exactly what we wanted, He told the driver to take the route through a place called saunf lands, apparently almost no one goes there… and indeed there were no vehicles on the route. The ride itself started out on a lucky note with spotting of the rare “Yellow wattled lapwing” and a pair of Jackals playing in the distance. As we went the route the guide showed us pug marks of a male tiger, a sloth bear, a jungle cat and a tiger cub with his mother, all these were coincidentally were spotted in real life by the other team which had . We came across a herd of a female Barashinga deer which is an endangered species, we spotted the most beautiful Scarlet Minivet, a Jungle owl, two magnificent White-back vultures, a Little Cormorant … A resplendent full grown Peacock almost posed for us, as did a lot of male and female Chital deers… and still more birds than I care to write about at the moment.
In about two hours we were ecstatically happy at being able to do what we really wanted and said to the guide that now let us do what he pleases – to which he said lets go to the Kanha camp and see whats the situation with the Tiger show, we were early there, got a token number of 5 (last time we had 20) and race off to Bison road where the female Tiger named “Indrani” was spotted. We went through the same routine of Elephant ride, spotted the Tiger clicked a few pictures and came back happy.
It was not yet 10 am, so the guide suggested lets go to the place of other sighting… Very satisfied and smug as we were, we agreed but were not really interested, we passed by the spot and came to know that the tiger was sitting right besides the road in some bushes and the Elephant rides were over. Arun told me to keep watching it as he felt it will soon get up and move. It did!! What followed was purely due to the contact and good PR that Arjun had with the mahouts and guides… Suddenly an Elephant appeared by the side of the vehicle and the mahout said “ Chalo, dono kalakar log Chalo!” the urgency in his tone made it clear that it was more of an order! Quickly me and climbed over, he directed us which way to face and took us down the river bed… about 20 feet in front of us the Tiger was slowly walking down away from us. As we excitedly started snapping, the mahout said “Sahab! abhi ruko” implying don’t waste your efforts yet. He then predicted every move of Tiger correctly and said that the Tiger will sit at place X, which he did, the elephant positioned itself optimally for us to get pictures like this one, which I have before this seen only on Nat Geo and Discovery channel. Meanwhile Arjun managed to get on another elephant so that she could also see what we were picturing.
We had a bit of bad luck when our Sumo broke down while on the way back, thankfully very near Kanha and we were delayed by 5 hours and reached back Nagpur at around 1:30 am.
Given an iota of a chance I would like to repeat the experience again, we have promised Uncle Stephens that we are coming back for more and he has promised that this time he will take us on walks through the Jungle. At just about $80 per person (clarification for ) for 3 nights 2 days all inclusive (yeah even transport from and to Nagpur) this is the biggest bang for your buck that you can ever get.
I am still tired but I am also fully de-stressed, there are several things that we have learned on a personal level but thats another story for some other day.
P.S. Some of the pictures have been borrowed from , thanks to him, those carry his credits.