Jan 4, 2015

The beast search- where are the tigers?

Just before we left for Bandhavgarh we got some timely providential advice from friends (veterans who have visited the reserve innumerable times) on why 'not to expect to sight a tiger' while on a safari. Keeping this mindset helps evade disappointment and lets you enjoy the wild just the way it is...in its natural state of affairs.

As the first day unfolds:
Frankly, the advice did help us quiet a bit especially since the first 2 attempts of spotting the royal beast was a true failure. While we began each safari with a single minded objective of 'we will spot the beast' somewhere at the back of our mind the friendly advice shared by the veterans helped us focus on other aspects of this beautiful jungle.

The unfolding of the morning itself kept us spell bound on the first day. So far we had only witnessed peaceful herds of spotted deer (Chittal) busy grazing the forest floor accompanied by innumerable sets of restless grey langur (Hanuman) that always camp with the deer herd. More than often, not very far off from the spotted deer one can find the Sambhar and the Indian Muntjack, also known as the 'Barking Deer' flocking together. They seem to be the most densely populated animals of the jungle. 

Tiger pugs and experiencing the trails:
While we saw this splendid sight of the jungle, we felt a rush of excitement when we learned to identify fresh tiger pug mark trails that were brought to our notice by the driver and the guide. The pug trail on the mud roads clearly suggested that we are possibly close to spotting the predator. The freshness of the trails is more than often evident and if you are the first few jeeps entering the zone it is impossible to be missed. The pug marks also indicate the possible tiger of the zone that you may expect to spot.

The "alarm call":  A fascinating reality of the jungle
Within the first 20 minutes of the safari at the Magdhi Zone we were introduced to the concept of an 'alarm call'. As per the rule of the jungle, the "alarm call" is heard when a predator is close enough to such herd habitats. It is the barking of the Indian Muntjack and the screeching of the langur clan accompanied by the birds that alerts the herd of the lurching danger. This is also a sign for the human guides to identify an opportunity to catch a glimpse of beast and hence known as the "alarm call" in the jungle lingo.

Frustrating miss!
We stopped the moment we heard the first calls. For us it was the first time and got to learn of this spectacular fact from the guide in due course. It was evident that the call was coming from very close to our jeep and so we planned on silently waiting and watching for more signs. We felt our blood gushing every-time the intensity of the "alarm call" increased until after a 10 minutes of this intense drama the guide announced that the sounds have died down. Looks like the tiger must be taking a rest break. DARN!!!
Hence it was time to continue scouting for the beast at another place...

We didn't hear any more alarm calls thereafter but did get to meet many other fellow safari jeeps who passed on exciting messages of possible tiger trails that rest of us continued to chase.

Some spotted the tiger:
As luck would have it, the tiger was spotted by another set of guests at the same spot where we had failed the attempt, the same area around the morning alarm call.

Continued effort and more determination to chase the 'T' down:
All we did for the next few days was to keep up with the tiring and heart flipping search; the search where all we did was to 'tiger chase'!!!

Close of day-1:
"Where are the tigers?" was all we felt at the end of the first day post two 3 hour safari's.
The gang was happy in a way as we had moved on from spotting deer to seeing a family of wild boar and a flock of innumerable peacocks spread across an open field that separated the core from the buffer zone. All this in the back drop of the golden ball of the setting sun, rekindling hope of a fresh new day ahead.
We went to bed exhausted but kept the hope of "catching the tiger in the morning" alive!

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