The encounter of a tiger in the wilderness is quite different than a sighting of a big cat in Africa. In Africa, the tracking activity, most of the times, reveals the lion, cheetah or leopard quite in advance of approaching it, allowing us to spot it far away and get closer in the sequence. Scanning with binoculars, a gathering of cars, radio talks, all artificial tools that the guides can count on to find the big predators.
In the jungles of India, we have to rely on the signs of the wildlife, fresh pug marks, alarm calls of antelopes, monkeys and peacocks, dead leaf and bush cracking, and sometimes the own tiger roaring, to track them. What happens is that you will usually see or hear a sign and will then stop to listen and wait quietly for the next sign of the forest, then these signs will guide you to the right place. So, in this meantime, you already start to be involved by the smells and sounds of the jungle, and the guides and drivers call their instincts to help them look for the tiger. The atmosphere is set. There is no radio communication, sometimes a SMS arrives despite the use of cell phones by the guides is prohibited by the Forest Department, and the forest is too much dense to see other jeeps in the distance in advance.
Our afternoon drive continues in the search of more tigers. After having spotted Chorbhera Tigress at Siddh Baba area we enter the Chakradhara Meadows and get around it to take a road that turns before the main elevation of the Tala Range, where the Bandhavgarh Fort is. We haven’t been to the Fort, but we can see it always from any point as it is the highest point in the region.
We had set our course towards an area called Aala Naala to follow pug marks left by another tigress that lives in that territory. We get to Ghorademon, a rocky spot, in our way back and then we meet other jeeps. The guides are following tracks of a male tiger that they said he had made a kill in the morning and had hidden the carcass somewhere near there.
We stopped there for a while and then after some time the male tiger comes toward us, just walking slowly as if we were simply not there. He is B2, the current King of Bandhavgarh, the dominant male tiger of the Tala Range. Deepak told us that he is almost 15 years-old, a very old, and thus respectful, age for a wild tiger. Despite his age he is still a massive animal, 10 feet length and weighting around 660lbs, his huge paws and the wide white whiskers give him an extreme menacing appearance. His heavy steps could be cleared heard as he moved continuously passing through the space left by the jeeps just piled along the track. He just ignores us.
He was actually walking to the entrance of a cave where there was a waterhole and a river bad, both out of our view, as the cavern seemed more like a hatch on the floor. The place is called Babehi Waterhole. B2 will go there to refresh and probably will stay far from our eyes for some time. Deepak assure us about the behavior of this tiger: he said he was going to stay there, but in the end of the afternoon, when the sun would be already much less hot, he would get out again to go back to the carcass that the other guides saw him hiding in bamboo thickets back there in the direction where we first spotted him. So we have left him in Babehi just after he entered the cave, and restarted our game drive.
Despite our search, we could not find any other tiger signs, and we then enjoy the ride through the park, watching the new wildlife that we were just meeting for the first time. We come back towards Aala Naala to take a look once more, still unsuccessful, and then we go back to Babehi Waterhole to wait for B2.
Some active langur monkeys were around the rocks totally unaware of the proximity of B2, and we in our jeep listening to Deepak stories and about his book he had just printed.
Langurs disappeared, but had not produced any alarm call, but still the movement called attention of the guides who quickly announced that B2 was getting out of the cave.
The sighting was perfect! We could clearly see him jumping up from the bottom of the hatch, scaling the cave out to the opening where we saw him earlier.
He stops and gaze all cars parked along the edge on the road, as if he was saying: “Oh, you are still here?”. And then he just starts to look for the right place to climb and finally leave the place to come after the carcass. He apparently selects a track and starts to walk again towards us.
Watching B2 so close is a real prize. He is the perfect example of a successful tiger in the wild. B2 is very important for the tourism of the park and he has recently been given a symbolic life-time achievement award by TOFT (Travel Operators for Tigers), for his contribution to the park and to the region estimated in USD7.5 million per year! We will tell more about B2 in the next chapters.
He then decides to stop and rest in the bushes, and Deepak asks Sujan: “that’s it! We must go now.” – the park rules are strict, the gate closes at 18h30, so we just go straight there taking a shortcut through Charanganga area and finally reach the Siddh Baba area and the gate just next. In the way to there, we have just stopped once to take a picture of a wild rooster, very colorful. But sunlight is gone, game drive is over!
Still sitting on the jeep, while crossing the small bridge to the village, we took just 2 minutes to reach the lodge, but it was time enough to realize how amazing our first game drive in India was. 3 terrific sightings, Chorbhera and twice B2, in one afternoon in our first safari experience in Bandhavgarh. Who could ask for more?
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