Over the last few years, I have been on tiger safaris in Corbett, Rajaji National Park, and Thekkadi but have never been fortunate enough to actually spot a tiger. This time, my husband, son and I decided to visit Bandhavgarh, the national reserve park in Madhya Pradesh known for maximum tiger sightings. The trip was a desperate attempt to spot the tiger in a country that had once been renowned for tiger hunting.
Bandhavgarh is located in the Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh, at a distance of 115 Kms from Rewa. Delhi to Rewa is supposed to be a 14-hour journey by the Rewa Express. But with our experience of 4-5 hrs delay, no food and water arrangements in the train, and a water crisis in the “washrooms”, I wouldn’t really recommend this method of travel to anyone. It might be better to club Bandhavgarh with a trip to the Khajurao temple and then after a day or two in Khaurao, travel by road to Bandhavgarh.
Our gruelling journey was more than compensated by the hotel in which we found accomodation. Maharaja’s Royal Retreat claims to be the only heritage hotel in Bandhavgarh. Owned by the Maharaja of Rewa, it was be the hunting lodge of the royal family. A 300-year old banyan tree; a museum displaying the Maharaja’s armory, books, past victims (now stuffed!); and spacious cottages are some of the attractions of this place.
Early next morning, we made our way to the reserved park for the morning safari. We hired an open jeep. With it came a talkative guide-cum-naturalist who seemed convinced that our primary motive in visiting the park was to hear his life story.
As we entered the park, my heartbeat picked up in anticipation. My camera was ready. I’d even brought an extra memory stick, just in case. Within about 15 minutes of entering the park, we were rewarded with the sight of a herd of spotted deer or Chital.
The guide, engrossed in his own tale, didn’t pay any attention. At loud exclamations from us, he sighed deeply and signalled the driver to stop. I immediately got into action. The Chital, well aware of their beauty, were quite obliging and gave me some good shots.
From then on, we came across one or two deer after every few minutes. Soon, we too lost our enthusiasm for the deer and started wondering when we would come across something wilder. When we asked the guide, he shrugged his shoulders.
“Only when the tiger wants, madamji! And apparently the tiger didn’t want. For the next two hours, we went on touring the park in silence, occasionaly catching sight of other varieties of deer, peacocks, and langurs.
By then, the gloomy attitude of the guide had got to me. There was now less than an hour left of our safari. Soon, we would be making it back to the park’s entrance. The 18-hour rail journey that we had made to reach Bandhavgarh and the lack of proper sleep the previous night also started taking its toll. My eyes kept closing on their own accord as we bumped along in the jeep. As the jeep rounded a corner, I forced my eyes open. And there, a little to the left of the road, was a magnificent tiger. For a moment, I thought it was a vision produced by my sleep-deprived eyes and ever hopeful imagination. Then I realized this was a real flesh-and-blood tiger!
“T..t..tiger,” I whispered at the exact moment when my husband and son noticed it. I picked up my camera quickly. What a lovely photo I’d get of the tiger’s profile!
Just then, the tiger turned and started walking down the road. We followed behind in the jeep.
“Turn around, turn around, turn around,” I chanted as I kept taking picture after picture of the tiger’s posterior. The others in the jeep were also mumbling something similar.
The tiger walked on nonchalantly, till it reached a point where the road curved. Then swiftly, gracefully, it turned toward the bushes by the side of the road and disappeared in a matter of seconds. Only my eyes could capture another glimpse of the tiger’s profile.
“Wasn’t it beautiful?” said my husband.
“We’ve seen a tiger! We’ve seen a tiger!” My son attempted a jig within the confines of the jeep. I sank bank into the uncomfortable seat of the jeep. Yes, I had finally seen a tiger! And there was only one word for the experience – DIVINE!