Eversince the great British chronicler wrote about the forests of India and its inhabitants (The Jungle Book) the attention of people from across the world was drawn towards the magical forests of this incredible land,a land so exceptionally biodiverse that it never fails to astound us with its awe and beauty. In this blog I will write about one such beautiful jungle of India, Bandhavgarh, The land of the tigers. The welcoming nature of the forest gave me warm fuzzies and I quite felt at home ... and this feeling leads me to ask a question to the readers... have you ever felt the warmth of a forest? or the love of it? I am sure a forest lover will understand what I mean by the terms "warmth" & "love of the forest" and for those who don't understand please it is an earnest request call on a forest for yourself and feel it .
There is something about a forest, and by a forest I mean any forest, that can't be described in words, words fall short, yes such is the degree of magnificence of the wilderness.
Close to mother nature, away from the city humdrums, into a whole new world full of peace and beauty. "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her" - Sir William Wordsworth, the forest made me realise how true these words are.. as though the forest was talking to me and its interminable charm got me hooked on a feeling that the love is indeed mutual. By the way, on 5th Jan I started for Bandhavgarh from Kolkata, for the first time in my entire life I was travelling to a forest in search of tigers on the 7th of Jan I entered the forest, prior to this date I had no idea what a forest was like... I thought a lot about how I would react on seeing a tiger in the wild for the first time in life... before embarking on this new journey, I had only heard of the breathtaking facts about these legendary cats, about how big they are, how elegant an animal can be and more... but the early morning safari of the first day was a life-changer for me and also I must say that the love for tigers got instilled in me from the very moment I beheld them in the wild. I wanted more and more and the craving for more only got escalated.
Our safari for the 7th of Jan was booked in Tala zone owing to the better frequency of the number of sightings in this zone as compared to the other zones. Confused, cynical about how things will turn out I was sitting quietly in the gipsy, contemplating what will it be like inside the forest. When we entered the forest it was very calm and quiet, we were just driving around the area where Spotty and her cubs were being sighted repeatedly on the preceding days… we kept on checking the nearby areas continuously. My brother, Vikas bhaiya (our gipsy driver) and guide sir all were engrossed in tracking down the family, we found fresh pugmarks but little did I know that all the looking will suddenly smile upon our stars and we’ll finally have the moment we longed, so badly, for. The religious efforts paid off and within 45 mins on the safari, I got my prize,3 subadult females were right in front of me … what I felt? I cannot describe… Good heavens! What beauty, what charm, what charisma they bore I don’t know I started feeling woozy, I thought I was in a hypnagogic state but no …. They were standing, sitting, walking, sniffing (Flehmen response) right in front of my eyes. Yes, I watched them with naked eyes... I literally felt weak at my knees, I was shivering not because I was frightened or anything but because something captivated my sensibility, my senses, my entire being as a matter of fact and a chill ran down my spine like thunder. One thing that I must mention here is that it takes a lot of effort, a great deal of perseverance and also determination to even get a glimpse of a tiger, even rigorous tracking, at times, fail. To everybody’s surprise getting to see 3 tigers within 45 mins of entering the park and that too for the first time ever in life was tremendously awesome… everyone said it was my cat luck that played its role but if you ask me? I will say … it was due to good tracking, picking up the hints fast and last but not least we were in the right place, at the right time… okay maybe luck too played its game anyhow I don’t believe in luck and all I believe in honest hard work… So our hard work paid off.
We all felt the adrenaline soaring up in our systems. The second round in Tala was full of tracking, tension, enthusiasm and the undaunted determination to find out a tiger and watch it elegantly move away into the forest again. By now I was trying to understand the behaviour of the animals, identifying pugmarks of tigers… I went on trying and trying because practice makes a man perfect, right?... now my lookout was crystal clear I wanted to see a tiger again and again. The forest was dead calm and losing hope wasn’t really an option for us so we went on searching and searching, while crossing the Rajbehra area in the Tala zone we, suddenly heard a lot of commotion, frantic alarm calls of chitals and langurs… The continuous loud calls made us affirmative of the fact that something was definitely on the move so we stopped at a point where the calls suddenly came to a halt from this we understood that the something which was moving has now stopped at that point and probably has sat down to rest… we waited patiently there and the next moment what we saw was the least expected sight, in the lap of the distant hill were sitting a courting pair of leopards, but the leopards were literally light-years apart from us. So even though my brother, the guide and Vikas bhaiya could see their movements quite easily owing to their good eyesight and an amazing sense of the forest, I and Suparno da (the guest of GoingWild) were having a great deal of difficulty in even spotting them out, however, my brother helped us to spot them and what we understood from their behaviour was that those two were most definitely preparing to mate because wherever the female went the male followed it. I did not have the proper equipment so getting decent photographs of them was out of the question but the moment is there captured in my heart, forever, till the day I die it’ll remain intact.
When your stars support you everything falls in the right place and in this context I remember how we were crossing an area in Tala zone when we saw two forest guards talking among themselves… as we stopped by them, they, with great vigour and enthusiasm, told us that there was a chance that one of the three cubs of Spotty could possibly cross the jeep track since those kids were on the move and the forest guards knew it. Say just a few meters from where we were standing at the end of a turning. On hearing this Vikas Bhaiya didn’t waste a single second, pushed the accelerator and soon after we reached the spot the tigress crossed the jeep track yielding a myriad of beautiful photographs and memories to be cherished throughout my life.
To a city person like me, watching the sunrise in a forest that too in winters is a real treat to the eyes and senses and quite fascinating, honestly, I long to back to the place away from the mundane city life…. Anyway coming to the point, in the 3rd round we weren’t fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of them but of course, we thoroughly enjoyed driving through the entangled heart of the forest and visiting some historical places in Bandhavgarh like Seshsaiyaa- a monolithic sculpture of Lord Vishnu resting on Sesh Naag- serpent having seven heads. Our guide enlightened us by delineating the historical events that make Bandhavgarh such a sought after place among photographers, nature lovers as well as people who love to time travel (History lovers) he related to us the significance of this place where once dwelt the great Kalchuri Kings, Bandhavgarh, till today, remains a place which is wearing the glory of the Kalchuri Kings proudly (one can understand that from their creation that still exists in Bandhavgarh from time immemorial and will continue to stand with pride till the end of time) time stopped right there… we happily travelled in time.
Round 4 in the Tala zone began on a very depressing note as the forest was abnormally quiet, the quietude was penetrating, unexplainable and very uncomfortable. This time I thought the forest wanted us to go away … still I just hoped with all my heart to see the majestic beasts, just a glimpse and that would make me happy, I thought…. Just as we were starting to lose hope we saw a gipsy approaching us the guide in that gipsy told us that he heard a low throated growl from the nearby area, we didn’t believe him since we were standing near the area from where the growl was heard as per the guide in the other gipsy but we didn’t hear a single sound of anything .. not A THING...still there was no harm in checking once so we drove to the place and guess what? We were wrong the guide was right but he missed the girls and we were lucky enough to have witnessed the beautiful sight of three girls playing on a distant rock and their mommy, Spotty just sauntering around the rock and then slowly disappearing into the dense forest… The very sight of them brought a smile to my gloomy face… Tigers light up my world, Really….
Today we had our safari booked in the Magadhi zone, I heard a lot of talking going on about how frequently tigers were being sighted, how every other gipsy had their luck with the tiger and stuffs like that.
When we entered the forest early in the morning it was as usual very quiet but there were fresh pugmarks of a tigress on the jeep track and this led to the fabulous and intelligent tracking that followed. My brother, Vikas Bhaiya and the guide all three of them were so intently tracking down the tigress that I was self-assured of the fact that today we’re so close and we’ll definitely succeed. Wow! I was spellbound by the ways, techniques and logic that they were applying, learning from them gave me sheer pleasure. All the vigour, the hard work, calculations and the honest tracking bestowed on us the grand sighting of Dotty ( Spotty’s sister, she too is a tigress :P ) walking on a jeep track and we captured her… what? Why so surprised? Not literally .. we captured her in beautiful frames and the mind’s eye :)
Evening in Magdhi… all I needed to be happy… it was pretty special, why? Well… because it was during this safari that I got the chance to see the MAN… till now all the ladies kept me hooked but now it was time for the man to enter and finally, he did… the hunk, his attitude was something... He made me realise why tigers are called the king of the jungle, he was huge just humongous his style was killing. All I can say is … I was looking at the most amazing MAN in the world Mr X (a tiger).... Finding him was rather easier. When we were crossing the area where Mr X was seen, we saw 3 or 4 gipsies waiting near the forest patch. Nobody was talking, they were rather conscious and trying to listen to something. We asked a guide what the matter was, he said that they had heard a low throated growl from inside the patch and also cheetals and langurs were giving out alarm calls. We stopped there and within a few minutes we heard it too and finally, his majesty came out of the patch… walking in style. He then crossed the gipsy track and gradually disappeared into the thick forest.
The last safari for this tour made me really sad. With heavy heart, I entered the forest but little did I know that the last safari would end with a baam! again back to Tala zone and Spotty made my day. We struck it lucky and saw her walking on the jeep track on our way back to the centre point. Some guides and drivers were talking among themselves and we heard them say that Spotty and her cubs were sleeping inside the forest patch so we were convinced that the last safari won’t be as promising as the previous ones but then she appeared from nowhere and ours’s was the only gipsy present there… we saw her walking, sniffing a tree nearby, marking her territory and vanishing into the woods again.
The tour did end on a very happy note but for me, leaving Bandhavgarh and returning to Kolkata, again, was heart-wrenching indeed but I don’t worry much I will be back again In the summers… and write about SUMMERS IN BANDHAVGARH.