The first leg of my vacation was with a few friends I was meeting for the first time. Sahana and I has been to Kanha earlier and were familiar with what to expect. Sowmya, Pratima, Santosh and Pramod joined us as first time visitors to this amazing forest. I was particularly excited about this visit given my success spotting animals in the thick November forest last year. Javed, our trusty driver from last time was in tow - as always with a keen eye for any signs that the dusty forest roads or the dry tree branches offered.
If you've been on an African safari, you'll perhaps find the notion of having to find animals quite weird. As it turns out, animals in the subcontinent are quite different from animals in Africa. Lions and cheetahs display sociable traits and are more accommodating of human presence than tigers who are reclusive and avoid human beings like the plague. I believe they're also developing an evolutionary response to poaching by staying away from humans as far as possible. Also, the dense Sal forests of Kanha and their expansive, tall grasslands provide a challenge for animal viewing at just about any time of the year.
There's something magical about spotting animals in the wild despite these challenges though; I can say that in particular about our first tiger sighting of this trip. It was in the early hours of morning, 7:45 AM to be precise. We were scouring the forest for signs of predators. We'd run into a bunch of handsome barasinghas (swamp deer) and captured some great snaps. Our disappointment from the last day of not seeing tigers on the previous day was palpable. Three people in the group were still awaiting their first ever tiger sighting and there was a strange tension in the air. "I'm feeling lucky today.", I told Sowmya. She hadn't taken me seriously until we ran into another safari vehicle that told us they'd crossed paths with a tigress. "She crossed over to the right", said the other driver. Javed is a keen naturalist himself and his instincts told him that this was a mother on the move to rendezvous with her children. "I think she'll cross over to that road", he said.
We wasted no time taking a turn and then we all held our breath and waited. "Tiger... look there, she's moving", said Javed. I must tell you, I saw nothing. I marvel at the eyesight of these local people - they see things that us city dwellers can never notice. "Don't worry, she's coming this way, right behind our vehicle." said Javed. I kept my camera trained at the fire line where we were expecting her to emerge. And emerge she did, resplendent in the red morning sun - the play of light enhancing her beauty. This was 'Collar-wali', Kanha's only collared tigress at the moment and a bold, breeding female. She seemed unperturbed at the sight of the safari vehicles around her, a quick disdainful look at all of us and off she was; disappearing into the bushes on our side. A few moments earlier, we were shivering in the early morning wind. Now, some of us were breaking a sweat!
I'm now on the train to Junagadh to reach our next destination, Gir Forest National Park - the last home of the great Asiatic Lions. I can tell you I'd be jumping up and down in excitement if this cooped up railway compartment allowed me. The excitement of seeing these amazing beasts in the wild is giving me goose bumps already. More on that in a few days when I leave that destination.
If you want to visit Kanha, talk to Gaurav Athelye of Jungle Lore to arrange Javed or his brother Shakir's services. He can arrange transfers for you and also help you select accommodation of your choice. For what it's worth, we stayed stour usual haunt, the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hostel inside the forest, right beside the Kisli gate. I strongly recommend staying either there or at the Baghira Log Huts, a far more comfortable resort of the state tourism corporation. Both these places are in the middle of the forest and you'll often be lucky to see jackals, Indian bison, sambhar deer, chital and several birds in the vicinity. When night falls, the entire area goes pitch dark - leaving just you and the starlit sky for company!