Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting to sight the Royal Bengal Tiger at Pench. After all that is how it has always been. All my Tiger Safaris in Ranthambore National Park, Jim Corbett National Park and Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary were in vain and it seemed that the tigers too had taken a vacation and had gone visiting their cousins around the same time. So, without raising any hopes my friend and I booked into a package that was being offered by the Mumbai Travellers for a 2N/3D Tiger Safari at Pench Tiger Reserve.
We left by the Mumbai Nagpur Duronto Express at about 9 PM from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and arrived at Nagpur in the morning at about 8 AM. We were accompanied from Nagpur Railway Station by a group of absolutely amazing people (also from Mumbai) who were a part of the same safari package. The drive from Nagpur to the resort in Pench was uneventful with only one pit-stop for breakfast. The quick two-hour drive from Nagpur gave us enough time to survey the resort, have lunch and set ourselves up with all the gear and clothing for the evening safari.
We entered the Tiger Reserve from Khursapur Gate which is in the State of Maharashtra – Pench Tiger Reserve is spread across the States of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. This section of the Reserve was more of a hilly terrain with very heavy tree cover.
Our Gypsy comprised of the driver, a guide from Mumbai Travellers, the ever-jovial trio from Mumbai and my friend and me. We drove through several trails – even went back and forth several times across some sections but there was no sign of Shere Khan…not even Bagheera or Baloo! So what was the Jungle Book all about? I wondered. Just when I had decided to give up on yet one more of my attempts to spot the big cat, our driver brought the vehicle to a halt and asked us to quieten up which we did almost instantly while he looked around and waited, listening to the forest sounds all the while. Finally, he turned around and informed us that there was a tiger in the vicinity.
After some brief murmurings between the driver and the guide, he reversed the vehicles, a little away from the trail and stood up and peeped down towards the steep side of the trail. And there he was…Shere Khan…The Royal Bengal Tiger. The picture below is all I could manage considering the dense foliage and the restrictions on getting off from the vehicle.
Shere Khan did not seem to be bothered by us as he seemed to be taking a power nap. We waited a while, took some pics and moved on. The jinx seemed to have been broken. However, there were no more sightings and we exited the Tiger Reserve and got back to our resort.
Next morning, we left early for the morning safari and reached the Turia Gate which is located in Madhya Pradesh. The terrain here was very different – grassland with fewer trees. A little into the ride, we spotted some jackals right in the middle of the dirt road. We waited for them to move away before proceeding towards the Pench river.
We reached a tributary of the Pench river and were about to cross the nearly dry rocky bed when our guide spotted a tiger cub quenching its thirst at one of the puddles. He called it a cub…I called it a tiger! As we neared the stream, this cub of a Royal Bengal Tiger looked up at us, took some more sips of the water and strolled back through the rocks into the forest.
We did not wait for long at this spot as there was news of people having spotted “Collarwali” or T-15 along with her cubs a couple of days ago. She was called Collarwali due to the radio collar placed around her neck. Having gone around the trail several times, we finally got back to the same spot where we had sighted the cub and waited to catch sight of the cat again. That did not happen although a Sambhar did come along to the stream to have a drink and take a wash…I guess.
Nothing much happened after that. Apart from the zillion bird calls and sounds from the forest, we spotted nothing else. Some notable mentions are below though.
The remaining two safaris, one each at Khursapur and Turia were uneventful. Thats how these trips are. I was satisfied though. Two tiger sightings in one trip was more than what I could have asked for.
At the end of the journey, it seemed like it was worth visiting this Mowgli-land, the land of the Jungle Book. I may not have spotted Bagheera or Baloo or even Kaa, but the mere sight of Shere Khan was satisfying enough.
So here are all the happy faces along with the guide (extreme right) from Mumbai Travellers.