Sunday, June 12, 2011

Big Cat Trail--Beautiful Bandhavgarh

For some reason, this has been a post very long in coming...but finally, I have put down my thoughts.

Situated close to In Madhya Pradesh, this was our next destination--our penultimate halt in the Trail. We boarded our train from Jaipur for Umaria, a tiny station probably known for it's proximity to Bandhavgarh. Our pick-up awaited us, and we drove down to the White Tiger Forest Lodge about 30 km from the station. The short ride was a pleasant one. The road was exceptionally well-maintained, and soon we were at our destination. We had the rest of the day to freshen up and rest till the time of our afternoon safari.
I had heard that tiger spotting in Bandhavgarh is almost a given because of the sheer density. However, our first ride into the park belied this hearsay. The forest is beautiful, like all forests are; however, it lacked a bit of Ranthambore's elegance and mystique.  Anyhow, that did not deter me from enjoying the ride. What perplexed me however was the route system that decreed not only following a specific route (which is completely understandable and should be done to avoid overcrowding of certain sections), but also completing it. This meant, more often than not, that we were driving to complete the route within the stipulated safari hours, hardly stopping to enjoy the wildlife. We also came across forest officials blatantly disregarding any such rule and using forest vehicles to take friends and relatives on tours. This did put us off.

Anyhow, back to the experience. Our first tiger sighting at Bandhavgarh was of the Bokha male and his cubs. This shy tiger was just coming out after having had his drink of water and was climbing up the slope of a small embankment when our jeep arrived at the spot. He is beautiful and as he paused to glance around, I marveled at the grace and strength. He walked up the slope and vanished into the undergrowth. At this point, our safari guide said that we could take an elephant ride inside to see if we could spot him resting.
Agreeing with alacrity, we mounted our elephant and went in. Sure enough, he was resting under the shade of a tree, and this afforded us ample opportunities to take some close-ups. Just as I was gazing my fill, we heard some commotion and our mahout said, "tiger!" This is a magic word, and we looked up from Bokha. Sure enough, there was a tiger emerging from the forest. He passed very close to our elephant. We were informed that this was one of Bokha's cubs. Happy fortune was with us, and soon the two other cubs soon followed. Full grown in size, they nevertheless stayed together not having yet acquired the hunting skills needed to survive alone.
I was overjoyed when we saw the legendary Kankatti the next day. She was sitting half submerged in a pool of water hidden by thick undergrowth, shrubs and foliage. Her face had a certain sinister beauty-- perhaps because of her sightless eye. The green leaves partially blocking her face from view added to the mystery. Her good eye glanced at us, sharp and bright. She is a beauty with an attitude.
When we left Bandhavgarh, I knew I wanted to come back. To see more of the forest, see Kankatti and Bokha and the new male. I just hope and pray that they and the rest of our existing wildlife stay safe. I hope that with rising awareness, we will be able to control poaching, restrict encroachment on wildlife space and grant them the security and peace they need to exist, to survive. We want our tigers to roam our forests with pride and in safety. We don't want to see them on our long list of extinct aimals.
Glowing ornange against rusty red...

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