Saturday, February 20, 2010

Call of the Wild !!

A couple of weekends ago, I was in Nagpur to attend a family wedding (my first taste of the big fat Indian wedding - ceremonies all through the weekend, lavish resorts, a few thousand attendees at the reception etc etc.). Anyways, that is not the point of this post. Getting to Nagpur (which has, believe it or not, a spot that marks the geographical center of India) gave me the chance to go visit one of the several wildlife sanctuaries that are not more than a few hours drive from the place. After evaluating the options (Kanha, Tadoba etc), we finally settled on a visit to Pench National Park (about 90 kms from Nagpur on the Maharashtra - MP border).

It seems that the best chance of seeing animals in the wild is in the morning safari, so that is what we decided on. This involved starting from Nagpur at around 4 am (in the February cold), sipping hot chai on the way and making sure we reached the park by around 6.30 am. When we reached, the open-air jeeps were already lined up, ready to cross the gate and into the wild. After paying for the entrance and the jeep (I believe 750 bucks each), the nine of us got ourselves into two jeeps. And once the jeeps entered the park, a wave of emotions swept through the body (especially since it was the first time I was in an open jeep in the jungle). There was, of course, excitement (after all, don't all of us want to get in the shoes of the guys on NatGeo n all ?) and fear (to think of what would happen if a tiger happened to cross the road ?). But on that day, it was the feeling of getting frozen that dominated everything else. Although it was early morning, the cold temperature (must have been around 7-8 C) and the open jeep made us especially cold.

The initial hour or so was pretty uneventful. Most of if was spent seeing deer, monkeys and the odd jackal. The other jeeps that were doing the rounds also did not have better luck. Information related to the possible whereabouts of the big striped cat was being exchanged regularly (to put in perspective, about 290 sq km of the park is open to tourists and it is said to house 22 tigers, so the chances of seeing one were actually not that great). After about an hour and half, with patience thinning, we got to hear the news that a couple of tigers had been sighted (by forest officials on elephant who navigate the thick interiors of the jungle). So , after a small break, promptly the jeeps went in that direction. After going as close as the jeep would take us, we then moved over to the elephants. Then the elephants went inside the vegetation to find the resting tigers (they had, apparently, hunted the previous day and hence could be counted on to behave themselves ;-). After around 10 minutes or so, we finally got our money's worth !!. Hidden amongst the bushes were three of the 22 tigers in the national park !!. I could make out that one was still feeding while the other two, at some distance away (tigers are generally not social animals). The excitement in our camp was palpable. Of course, the elephant and tiger did not come too close for comfort but we did get those precious few minutes to savor our encounter with the tiger in the wild (at just about 30 feet or so ;-).

The day's objective being achieved (and we were told later that we were quite lucky - people have gone there thrice or so and returned back empty-handed each time), everything that followed was almost an anti-climax. But we did get to see a lot of peacocks, sambhar etc etc. That included a wonderful moment when a peacock glided from one side of a small lake to the other: I did not know peacocks could glide that far. The flora was also very good, most notable amongst them were the so-called 'ghost trees' which are so-named because in the dark, their white trunks give them a ghostly appearance.

After about 3.5 hrs of travelling we finally arrived back and where we started. I personally was delighted with my first experience in then wild and will definitely visit some other and more famous wildlife parks.


1 comment:

Dhananjay said...

Great, to spot the tiger in the wild is indeed special.
Considering that there are only 1422 left in India its indeed a rare treat.
Cherish the moments, our next generation may be seeing the tigers only on Nat Geo.
Hope you have more images to share.