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Monday, June 1, 2009

Bandhavgarh – Day 03 – Part 1

We rushed to the jeep outside the lodge gate, we are a bit late, but in fact, the guide Deepak was still sick, and that time, we would have no guide in the car with us. Raj explains that we can choose the ranger to go with us, which will be our only guide that morning. We ask Sujan, the driver to take Siddhu with us, and he arranged this at the rangers’ post and Route C was assigned to us. We missed listening to Raj and Deepak stories while standing by the gate waiting to enter the park, but there we go for Route C.


The sunrise is still under progress and light was very weak in the jungle. We drove through winding and colorful roads. The early sun beams hit this side of the park first, and we took the chance to enjoy the whole scenery as this area is very picturesque. Strangler trees wrap the other trees like a python snake does with its prey.


Nearby along the road we could see other animals that we have seen before but passing so fast since we had always the tigers as priority. The rhesus macaques run from us quickly as we pass by. A rhesus mother kept holding firmly her baby monkey while her friend joined her crossing the road as fast as he could. Against the early morning light, the vision of the monkey running was very beautiful.



After we left the dense jungle behind we passed along a low-grass area where we were caught by surprise: “Look, look the peacock exhibiting his tail to the peafowl!!” – a peacock was displaying its beautiful queue with very bright feathers that shined a lot as the bird turned around toward the rising sun. Despite being common to spot the peacock, we found that it was not so easy to see one displaying under such clear light and with no obstructions – we were in the beginning of the mating season, then that was the first sighting of such performance.


Arriving at the Center Point, Sujan went register his position of the order of arrival and then we can continue the game drive route-free. They guide and the driver take some time in the Center Point to grab something to eat and the “chai”. In this meantime, they get the information that tiger has been located by the mahout during the morning and it is lying in a dry river bed not far from the road at the area of Siddh Baba. The cars couldn’t go where the tiger was, but the elephants did. We would go for a Tiger Show!

The Tiger Show consists in getting on-board of a sort of cradle installed on the back of the elephant. There 4 people are settled and taken for a ride guided by the Mahout (the elephant’s keeper and owner). The mahout, with his ancient knowledge, is able to drive his elephant wherever he wants just by stepping slightly on the top of the elephant’s head, giving small kicks on the back of its ears and in some occasions poking the neck with a metallic stick.

The mahout quickly turns his elephant and positions the big animal side-by-side with the jeeps parked aside on the road waiting for their turn. The “guests” scale the cradle from the top of the jeep’s roof to achieve the top and take a place. The ride immediately starts after the mahout locks the cradle with an iron bar and skillfully takes the elephant across the grassland where the dry river bed is hidden behind the bushes.


The mahout, Janooh, rides Bendjeni, the elephant that took us for the Tiger Show, while Kutapan, was the other mahout, riding Vanraj, the big bull, alternated with each other to pick people up for the ride. Kutapan is the famous mahout of Bandhavgarh, he used to ride Gotham, another big bull, but Gotham has been transferred to another zone of the park.

The experience is different, this time we are taken towards the tiger not the tiger that comes towards us. Looks like we were being taken to the presence of the king for an audience! And there he was - a huge male tiger! Not at big as B2, but a respectable big cat. The male was called “New Male” by the locals. The New Male is called like this because he came recently from another neighbor area of the park (outside Tala Range, but still from inside Bandhavgarh). He approaches the areas of Siddh Baba and Chakradhara each time deeper inside B2’s domain. There is a theory that New Male could be son of Chakradhara tigress, coming back to his birth place, and also another theory says that he could be a male looking for the missing the tigress of his harem who has been recently transferred to Sariska Tiger Reserve. Younger than B2, whatever the theories say, New Male seems to have come to challenge B2 and try take over his territory. The New Male was following Chorbhera tigress that morning, but we could not see her around.


As we crossed the dry river, the elephant turned and there we were face-to-face with New Male lying on the ground. He was quite sleepy, but with our arrival he raises his massive head and looks straight into our eyes on the top of the elephant – he is not happy with us there, but he doesn’t feel threatened even with the big elephant so close to him. Of course there is an invisible line that sets the limit of distance the tiger will tolerate our presence, the mahout does not cross the “line”.


The Tiger Show can last around 15 minutes, but this short ride is unique. Differently of the other encounters, the tiger does not ignore the curious observers. The tiger stared the elephant and looked straight to the cradle where we were. Everything is very quick, the elephant does not stay absolutely still, so it is not easy to frame the big cat and the angle is difficult sometimes when the elephant is too close to the tiger lying down on ground, but the experience was great – having seen New Male is being testimony of the history of Bandhavgarh, maybe some time from now, New Male will manage taking part of B2’s territory, who knows?


We returned satisfied to the jeep, hopping off the elephant back to the car we still remain sometime looking the elephants going back and forth until New Male decides to move from there. The elephants take back to watch where he was going and we can see him cross the fire stripe at the grassland. He is going to look for Chorbhera, maybe, but our time is over, we have to go back to the camp.


Raj was around with other guests from the lodge, he said that the next day he will join us again and promised: “You will see how a Tiger Show is different with me on-board”. We couldn’t wait for it…


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