We had to get up at 0400 hrs as Lallan, our Gypsy driver was to pick us up at 0500. We had a quick cup of tea at Kipling’s Court at 0455 hrs and Lallan arrived at dot 0500 hrs. We reached the Turia gate at 0510. After making the permit by showing our web booking print out, I gave the permit and money to Lallan who did remaining formalities. Sudama was our guide for this trip.
We set out at 0530 hrs and ours was the second vehicle into the forest. First, we went to Junewani Talab, as last few sightings in the morning safari were here. There were many animals for whom the daybreak was just happening. Lake was full of life and merriment but obviously, there were no tigers because if there were tigers, the remaining animal kingdom would be in super quiet mode.
After some wait we decided to look for other animals and also check other water points for tigers too. The sighting was good with all the animals that we saw yesterday were registering their presence with us with regularity. We also saw various types of Owls sitting in the voids of various trees, a pair of male and female jungle lizards again in a void of the tree.
At a spot when we saw restless Deers and two Jackals we thought the Jackals were hounding the Deer’s. We were focused on jackals and here came Wild dog with near orange coat and black bushy tail (like German Shepherd dogs) charging behind the Deer. We saw the dog but even before our son could click his Canon 450 D, the deer and the dog chasing them vanished behind rocks. We got to see a wild dog but no photos could be clicked.
Driving further we saw variety of birds including two types of Eagles, Black Stork, scores of Peacocks, Jungle Fowl, etc. On the way to Hand Pump, there were pug marks of a tiger. Also at a spot on the route there was smell of Tiger Kill (dead Animal), so we went to Hand Pump region where yesterday two Gypsies had sighted the Tigresses with collar but no luck there too.
We decided to go to Elephant Camp at Alikatta and check for Tiger Show This is how the show works:-
Forest staff takes their Elephants out early in the morning and track tigers. At one such location they keep track of the animal and later as safari vehicles arrive the Elephant camp they are given token for sighting the Tiger in that location.
The safari vehicle then takes you to that location where the tourists board the Elephant, go in the wilderness (where Gypsies can’t go) sight the Tiger and return to their vehicles. The charge per person is Rs 100 for this elephant ride and sighting.
There was a sighting very close to Elephant camp and we went there, boarded the Elephant and saw the Tiger (actually the Tigress with radio collar, the lead actress of BBC documentary, ‘The Spy in the Jungle’, available at Animal Planet (and other e commerce sites too) website for USD 19 only, other actors are her cubs) in flesh and blood for the first time resting under shrub kind of growth. She was the same animal whose pug marks we had seen.
There was a sense of fulfilment though I must admit that other sightings had already made our trips more than ‘Value for Money’. When we returned to Elephant camp (only place where toilets are available) as the group members found there way to rest rooms, we could witness Rotis being made for Elephants right from making the dough to making the Rotis (no stretch of imagination one can call such thick rotis ‘Chapatis’, if one does it all the Chapaties of the world would commit suicide). It was interesting to watch. Each Elephant is fed Chapatis of 10 kg dough apart from vegetation in the Jungle that they eat.
From this place we set out again to check Pench river bank and other water points. After all, we had seen only one Tiger where as as per 2005 census there are 33 Tigers in Pench Reserve and the actual numbers have only gone up. On our way we also saw Bison, herds of deer resting in the shed, some standing and some sitting comfortably. Another interesting sight was to see group of three female Langoors sitting around a tree trunk, huddled facing tree with their young ones clinging to their stomach sheltered from rapidly increasing heat of the jungle between the mothers and the tree.
Eventually it was nearing 0830 hrs and the guide and Lallan decided to try our luck at Junewani Talab yet again. Reason, for last four days, a pair of Tiger and Tigress has been sighted at Junewani around 0900 hrs. We reached Junewani at about 0905.
A Tata 207 with two foreigners was the only vehicle waiting. The driver told us that Tiger roars and deer’s warning calls were being heard for last half an hour. We also decided to camp there (in the gypsy, no one is allowed to get down from vehicle). At about 0910 hrs there was commotion among deers in the vicinity of a dry nullah which leads in to Junewani (though now blocked by bandh which also serves as road and a bank of the present lake created by this bandh. Sudama, our guide sensed that Tiger(s) is present near by. Then the roar was heard yet again.
Within 3-4 minutes my wife noticed some rapidly moving object in that area and alerted the guide who checked with his binocular and confirmed that it’s a Tiger. There was no further hint for next five minutes and suddenly out of no where a Tigress climbed from the dry nullah on to slightly higher ground.
What a majestic sight it was to have an audience with King of the Jungle for the first ever time in the wild and in the open. That was not the end of a romance with Tiger for that day, it was merely a beginning. Soon yet another Tiger appeared and both sat there on the high ground. From there if they had to come to the lake they had to climb the bandh and climb down to the lake and the prospects of that happening looked good.
Soon enough the tigress started the climb, came up on the bandh, inspected the surrounding and walked down to the lake. She got into the water to cool herself and drink water. She sat down into the water and started drinking it intermittently.
In another 3-4 minutes the Tiger came up on to the bandh but did not get in. He walked down to opposite side of the lake and got into water in repeat action of what the tigress was also doing. As the tigers landed at the lake there was a pin drop silence among all the animals. The mischievous Langoors climbed the nearest tree. The small duck like birds (I was told the name but cant recollect) who were fishing into the pond just went underwater and came up to breath only to go underwater again. Peacocks and Pea hens went into hiding and there was a different kind of silence in the area. As the tiger’s roar was heard by other guides too, at the final count there were a total of six gypsies / Tata207 out of 28 that entered when tigers came.
After some time the Tigress came out of the pond and joined the Tiger on the other side of the pond in to the water. After about five minutes they both got up and walked into the nullah leading to Kalapahad. Soon we could not see them and the scene changed.
The Langoors started playing vigorously as if they were trying to make up the lost time, the small duck like water birds came up and restarted fishing in the water, peacocks also could be seen. In fact one langoor rushed to water and drank water to his hearts content as soon as the tigers were out of the scene. What an experience it was. How many in this world would get to see the Tigers up front and close? We were among the few lucky ones.
Time was nearing 1000 hrs hence we returned from the Reserve. Had good breakfast at Kipling’s court and rested. We had called for an AC Indigo taxi to drop Mom and daughter to Nagpur (Charges non AC 1600 and AC 2000 irrespective of the vehicle one hires) for their flight which was at 2035 hrs. That taxi came at 1400 hrs. we started from Pench and went to Rukhad to Bison Retreat (another property of MPSTDC, 35 km from Pench and 23 km from Khawasa on the way to Jabalpur) to have lunch. Lunch was excellent. Post lunch, mom and daughter went to Nagpur and we started form Jabalpur at 1555 (172 km). NH 7 within Pench forest was two lane. It became four lane and stayed so till few km beyond Seoni. In fact the Seoni bypass was not officially opened but we were told that we can go through it. We did go and there were little adventures crossing it but we did cross. In any case it is fully ready and would open in about 10 days (by 25 May). The two lane NH7 post Seoni has okay surface and not too heavy traffic. We reached home at Jabalpur at 1845.