“Her name is Choti Maada”, meaning young female, says the guide as softly as his gruff voice will permit. He’s referring to the tigress lapping water from a stagnating, brownish forest stream at Kanha National Park in Central India. Her mother was ‘Badi Maada’ meaning older female. It’s funny how literal the names of tigers in the Park are, I think to myself.
The feline keeps an eye on jeeps lined up at a safe distance on the road, their passengers watching this routine act with utmost fascination. Her appearance brings joy to tourists, I included, and relief to the guides and drivers who customarily take visitors to the tiger reserve for a glimpse of one of the most majestic creatures of the animal kingdom.
Just a while back, jeeps were brewing up mini dust storms on the kaccha (unmetalled) roads running between the brown of grasslands and green of wooded portions. Filled with people who could have starred in an Indian bandit movie on account of their faces being barely visible through tightly wrapped scarves, the jeeps stopped to check with others if there had been a sighting. Glum faces all round said it even before the driver or guide nodded his head in a ‘no’ or gave the thumbs down.
‘The wild is such. Unpredictable..’ one might try to console oneself or others, but for people who’ve spent hard earned bucks to come all the way to Madhya Pradesh, it isn’t easy to digest the lack of a tiger sighting. You can see that pressure on the faces of guides, who are dependent on tips from tourists to survive the entire year, including the three months when the Park is shut (July to mid-October).
If you want to know what else you can do in Kanha apart from the safari, click here
Mid-May being the height of summer, is conducive though. That belief is vindicated as I spot camouflage clothing clad wildlife photographers holding cameras worthy of spotting craters on the moon, in one of the vehicles.
As the search continues, a guide notices pug marks in the dusty, dry mud. Another says a tigress has recently given birth to a litter and was seen here yesterday. Numbers estimating the time since these marks were made are tossed around between guides who have over the years learnt to identify each animal call in the Park.
“Yaar, kuch bhi dikhao, male ho ya female. Humko kya fark padta hai”, a tourist says and the others laugh as his comment says it all. Translation – We don’t care if we see a male or a female tiger, all we need is to see one.
After some consultation, our man infers she might have visited the spot in the morning and may not return. The jeep sputters back to life.
Just then, the tigress, who must have been hiding in the undergrowth debating whether or not to venture out, decides its thirst is stronger than its fear of humans. Watching it walk without a sound instantly makes me think how little a chance a big cat’s prey has of knowing its death is lurking close by. One minute back all we could see were patches of green and brown grass and now there was this over five-foot long animal walking past us.
I take pictures as does Sachin, the cheerful and knowledgeable Naturalist from Singinawa Jungle Lodge, who has accompanied us on the trip. He now has us parked at a prime spot on the road near the stream and I’m thankful for that. On my first safari in the jungles of Pachmarhi, I hadn’t even seen a cat’s whisker.
I’m torn between really living the moment and taking pictures – if you carry a camera whenever you travel, you might know what I’m talking about. Sometimes, you’re just so focused on getting the shot right that you forget to really feel and absorb the magic of the moment. And then it’s gone.
Since the tigress spends some time in the stream, I manage to do a little of both. I want to watch it a bit more, but a motorcycle rudely disrupts the silence that all tourists had sensibly maintained thus far. It is a forest guard.
The tigress gets out of the water and begins slowly walking back to the undergrowth. She stops a few times, looking over her shoulder at specimens of the human race, and then is gone.
(My stay and hospitality at Kanha were arranged by Singinawa Jungle Lodge. Click here for a link to the property). We entered Kanha via the Mukki gate in the Mukki zone.
TIP: To increase your chances of spotting a tiger, check the internet for recent sightings at Kanha National Park, though if you’ve booked your safari tickets well in advance, you’re best off checking with the hotel/Park employees a day before the safari.
WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO of the tiger sighting at Kanha National Park