Another safari and yet another attempt at spotting the Royal Bengal Tiger. This time it was the Pench Tiger Reserve. While I was excited about the trip, I wasn’t really hopeful about spotting the big cat especially after my three earlier attempts, one each in Ranthambore National Park, Jim Corbett National Park and the Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary had been unsuccessful. Also, while this tiger reserve was near the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, it did not carry its reputation of assured sightings. Hence, my expectations were set right – this 3-day trip was all about disconnecting from work, being one with nature and yes, putting my ageing DSLR to use for some candid shots of Pench’s wildlife…spotted deer, drongos and egrets.
This trip was organised by the Mumbai Travellers and I was travelling with my friend, Amit Deorukhkar who unlike me is an avid traveler while also indulging in photography as a hobby. The itinerary comprised of four safaris using two of the regular gates to the Tiger Reserve – the Turia Gate in Madhya Pradesh the Kursapar Gate in Maharashtra. The forest terrain through both the gates is very different and I personally loved the safari through the Turia Gate. Our first safari was through the Kursapar Gate and immediately after entering the forest it became evident that the chances of spotting wildlife here would be minimal. The hilly terrain coupled with dry deciduous trees would make sightings (and photography) difficult. The driver drove us around through various routes including some water-holes but with no luck. However, it was the driver’s knowledge of prior sightings and the guide’s sheer determination that led to the very first tiger sighting of my life.
This Royal Bengal Tiger (or tigress) which could not be identified was resting on a flat piece of rock in the middle of dense foliage and trees. Since we were not allowed to move away from the route assigned to us, we were unable to get a better view of this fabulous creature. We spent the next 30-40 minutes waiting for the big cat to move out of the clearing, hoping for it to walk out onto the dirt road. But apart from the intermittent roars, nothing much happened. I was however satisfied with the sighting.
The next day, we entered the forest through the Turia Gate and was immediately greeted by the Indian Jackal who seemed to be focussed on a clump of bushes and refused to budge from the road. Eventually, the jackal moved away but not before I managed to take a shot.
This terrain was far better than that of the earlier day as it was flatter and the trees were far more spread out giving us a better view of the forest. After a short drive, we approached the Pench river and as we were about the cross the river our driver abruptly stopped the vehicle. A couple of meters away from our vehicle and closer to some boulders was a young tiger cub. The cub which looked like a full grown adult to me was sipping water from the still and stagnant rivulet. On seeing us, it gave us a long stare before walking from us, behind the rocks.
This trip had already crossed my expectations. Two tiger sighting in this Mowgli land! I couldn’t have asked for more. We spent the next couple of hours at the same spot after driving through the forest hoping to catch a glimpse of the cub again. We were told that this cub was one of the many of the famed ‘Collarwali” tigress. Also called as ‘Collarwali Baghin’ or ‘T-15’, this tigress was fitted with a radio collar to track and monitor her movements.
While we could not get a glimpse of the cub or her mother, I did manage to take some pics of the forest and its inhabitants. Our endless wait for the tiger also helped us to soak in the forest and its silence filled in with some bird chatter and tweets, occasional alarm calls by monkeys (I guess) and the faint rumbling of engines of the safari jeeps from far away.
For the next two safaris, we were not as fortunate as compared to the first two. While we did not get to see the big cat, we did come face-to-face with another member of the cat family – the leopard. We were returning
late in the evening from the Kursapar Gate after the third safari when we found ourselves staring at an animal in the middle of the road. By the time we realised that the creature was a leopard, it had quietly glided itself into the bushes adjacent to the road and further into darkness.
Although the rest of our stay in Pench passed on with nothing much to crow about, I was satisfied with the outcome of our journey to this less fanciful tiger reserve. With two back-to-back tiger sightings the Pench Tiger Reserve had already become one of my most memorable wildlife safaris. The jinx, it seemed had been broken. Maybe, it was time to start planning for more safaris.
I must also mention that apart from the excitement that was brought on by the tiger sightings, the trip was made even more enjoyable with a bunch of folks who were part of the group for the trip.
Pictured here are the ‘the bunch of folks’ along with our guide from Mumbai Travelers.
Location: Tea-stall outside the Turia Gate, Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. Time: 5:30 AM.