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Sunday, May 17, 2009
Bandhavgarh – Day 01 – Part 1
Our first game drive in India, and in Bandhavgarh, was about to start, it was 3:00pm when we have got into the jeep (“gipsy” as they call), to go to the main gate to get the permissions. Onboard we had Deepak and the driver Sujan. At the gate, the procedure requires that a park ranger of the Forest Department goes onboard with us throughout the game drive to guide and to ensure the good practices and rules of the park are being obeyed – this time we had Siddhu, a local experienced ranger, with us.
In the afternoons, the jeeps can go anywhere without having to keep a designated route. The route system is reserved for the morning drives only, what we will explain later on the next posts.
Deepak is focused on tracking the tigers – that is what we are all looking for, right? So we enter the park through the main gate – it may sound very silly, but we felt like entering in the “Jurassic Park” – the Bandhavgarh park is a very dense jungle in most of the areas, the vegetation is not all dry yet and the trees and bamboos are tall, filtering the sun shine along the tracks and covering the ground with reddish and yellowish tones of dead leaves. The tracks are mostly designed with fine sand. As the jeep advances into the jungle, the sunlight beams penetrate the bamboos foliages and the canopies of the tall Sal trees creating a mysterious and serene atmosphere. The air is fantastically hot, above the 40°C and the shade is so convenient.
The main objective is to find a tiger (our first one), but of course we have started getting introduced to the local wildlife. We have first spotted the Chital or Spotted Deer and the Langur Monkeys, both very typical species which we will see many times in all game drives. The park is also a great place for observing the local birds such as the Serpent Eagle and the Red-Watted Lapwing.
All of a sudden, the car stops, we hear an alarm call, a loud barking of a Sambhar Deer, a big kind of antelope. Again, and again. Deepak explains that the Sambhar alarm call is the sign of potential threat, meaning a bigcat (tiger or leopard) is around. In the right side of the track there was a hill all spread with trees, dry bushes and dead leaves, the last cracking with the heavy steps of the antelope.
The Sambhar is looking fixedly ahead and calls again. Deepak releases a whisper-shout: “Tiger! Tiger!! Keep silence!”. We couldn’t see the tiger yet, but then we saw the Sambhar standing still and looking straight forward and barking again – we then realize the sound of the steps cracking the twigs and dead leaves distinctively heavy but progressing in a smoother pace than the ones we had heard before, so we turn our heads towards where the sound was coming from and, slightly upper on the hill we notice something slowly moving through the dry bushes. Deepak points: “There, a little up, do you see? Don’t worry, the tiger will come down and cross the road in front of us, believe me!”. As magic, the distinguishable head of the bigcat materializes amongst the vegetation and, in a couple of seconds after, we can see its whole body heading downwards the hill.
Our hearts were beating fast in that moment, that one was our first tiger encounter. The moment we have planned so much and aimed to see is now coming true. The Sambhar alarm call sounds again, louder than ever, breaking the silence of the jungle echoing in all around and chilling our spines – the Sambhar is following the tiger trail, chasing it away to ensure the bigcat was really moving away from there.
Then the tiger appears from behind a tree trunk in the edge of the road. No other cars around, it was our private encounter, our very first tiger sighting! We will never forget it!
Deepak says: “This is a tigress called Chorbhera. This is her territory, around Siddh Baba”. Chorbhera crossed the road calmly, just in front of us, as predicted by Deepak, and she reached the other edge of the road on the left and dives into the open grassland covered with high vegetation. She moves slightly limping one hind leg due to an almost healed injury we could barely notice.
We could still follow her for few more minutes before she vanished in the sea of tall grass, just after a last glance of her black ears stained of white spots above the grass.
That was a fantastic moment we will keep forever in our minds. The senses, the sounds, the vision. Our first tiger encounter could not be more authentic and unique.
Elliot Neep (a professional photographer who has helped us with a lot of information about tiger photography) was totally right, the 1st tiger sighting is a very strong emotional experience. You get connected with the eyes of the tiger and the World around disappears, it rests only you and the tiger. After having lived this experience, I personally think that the deer alarm calls, the deep silence, the atmosphere of the jungle, the smells, everything in the scenery evokes the deepest human instincts of survival and all senses become accurate and focused exclusively on the big cat.
We had in mind to reserve this first encounter to enjoy the moment rather than living the experience through the lenses of our cameras, but we still have taken some good pictures despite the shaking hands – we had prepared ourselves for that!