Sibling Rivalry in India’s National Parks
By Julie Maris/Semel
Two tiger cubs squabble and their mother reprimands them with a reverberating ROAR! Like drums resonating through Bandhavgarh National Park, the roar puts every living thing on high alert. The memory of that penetrating sound echoes louder than my first glimpse of a tiger crouching in the bush.
Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, and Panna National Parks in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, provide cover not only for the Bengal tiger, but also for Langur monkeys, Chital and Sambar deer, jackals, and countless birds.
Before dawn at Bandhavgarh, I awoke in the chilly darkness to join the lodge’s naturalist. At the park’s gate, only a limited number of safari vehicles are permitted to line up for assigned routes to which the drivers strictly adhere and to pick up their local park guides. Vinod, a formidable guide with fifteen years experience, spoke only when necessary. Sitting on the rear, upper seat opposite the driver’s side, he constantly looked at the road for footprints and listened to the whooping calls and yelps. Everyone else spoke in hushed whispers while scanning the landscape in anticipation.
Sunrise revealed the dusty roads, now crowded with caravans. The sun rose over the hills illuminating the ancient fort as the grasslands below filled with spotted deer.
A quick break for tea allowed us time to peel off our multiple morning layers of clothing. As we stopped at watering holes and meadows along the way, a chorus of chattering monkeys with a pink-faced newborn, a howling jackal posturing his dominance, and a four-foot tall Lesser Adjutant stork feeding among the Chital came into view.
Romantic visions of quiet jungle safaris where one is alone on a plateau immediately dissipate when signs of tigers become apparent. The first sighting of those magnificent cats takes our breath away! Even though difficult for the novice to spot through dense bush from the jeep, finally there he is, in full view. Standing with muscular shoulders, huge paws, mascara-like, rimmed, green eyes, black lips that emphasize canine teeth, and forehead stripes always in an inquisitive frown, he’s the perfect model posing for the paparazzi with their long lenses and rapid-fire cameras.
Soon bored and obviously unperturbed by human presence, the tiger sits for his photo ops, yawns, licks his paws, and then calmly walks away, either for his morning nap or perhaps a cool swim.
We do likewise and retreat to our safari lodge to be met with refreshing fruit drinks. After lunch made with organically grown vegetables from the garden, we did what any smart tiger would do.
Late in the day, we headed back to the park to meet the mahouts, the elephants’ drivers and handlers. Barefooted, they direct the elephants with varying foot pressure and verbal communication. Another tiger was spotted! This time, you wait your turn to climb the ladder to the howdah, the seat atop the elephant.
Once I had direct eye contact with that tiger at close range for several minutes, I felt as though we bonded, and I’m sure he smiled at me when we turned to leave.
The Taj Safari lodges range from the rustic ambiance at Baghvan in Pench to the sophisticated and elegant Pashan Garh at Panna. Mahua Kothi at Bandhavgarh with its seasonal raised and tented camps and Kanha’s Banjaar Tola’s folk-art filled rooms are luxurious enough for any Maharaja, not to mention the matchless food and service. The Taj Safari lodges practice sustainable ecotourism and conservation.
If you go, the options include short flights to local airports, but for those intrepid travelers, driving between the parks is another adventure and opportunity to see rural life and to meet people.
Madhya Pradesh Tourism: www.mptourism.com
& Beyond Taj Safaris: http://www.tajsafaris.com