Me Sarthak and Deep were at the Khapa gate the same time in the morning as yesterday. I was really hoping that I’d get to see tigers today. There was another gypsy already waiting on the gate with an entire family occupying every inch of the seat. Our gypsy stood behind it in the queue. We had a new guide and driver today. The gates opened and we entered the jungle, into the same serene, parallel world. My eyes were scanning for the yellow fur with black stripes. Yesterday the engine’s sound was bothering me and today there was a new car with a family that could not stop talking. In the calm serene jungle, their voices were violently loud. I wondered how they expected to see any wildlife at all? At one of the junctions, where forest paths crossed, our driver took a turn and we lost the car that was before us until now. The driver became my hero for the day.
We continued deeper in the jungle. In that dense forest, I saw some twigs slowly moving about. In the next instance those twigs came to life and revealed their symmetric form. The roots of the twigs were fixed on the head of this beautiful animal with it’s sparkling eyes. We were looking at a spotted deer. What I thought to be twigs were mere antlers of the deer. The presence of antlers signifies that it was an adult male. Soon many such antler bearing heads popped up behind the first one. These deers were startled with the human presence and were staring right at us and I found myself staring at these magnificent animals without realizing that I was carrying a DSLR camera around my neck and a binocular. As soon as I remembered about my camera, I held it up and started shooting. The silence of the moment made the camera shutter sound too loud. I was afraid that the sound would drive the deers away but that did not happen. Soon the deers started grazing on the grass, minding their own business.
At once, our guide did hear a call from a wild animal marking tiger’s presence. Our driver drove fast in the direction of the call. My heart started racing, I thought this was my time when I would get to see a tiger in the wild. The fast paced drive in the jungle gave me an adrenaline rush but the tiger was nowhere to be seen. We went back to normal speed. We came across many barking deers, langoors, and some beautiful birds. That was all the wildlife I could see that day. Our safari was over with no signs of a tiger. We came out of the jungle by 11 am. This was my last safari of the trip.
Back at the homestay we had a super delicious meal. By now Deep had learnt that I’m a solitary person. He told me if I want to spend the afternoon on the machaan then he’d asked the homestay staff not to bother me. I liked the idea. It’s not that I don’t like being around people, it’s just that I like to spend some time with just myself. I went to the machaan with my camera and binoculars and enjoyed the solitude with the jungle. A sudden rustling of bushes caught my attention. I turned my head to look in the direction. Two beautiful spotted deers were looking in my direction. I guess my sudden reaction had caught their attention as well. I wanted to capture the moment so raised my camera and looked through the viewfinder but only saw bushes. When I looked around for the deers I saw them taking a long jump and running into the forest. I was bustling with joy. Even though my intention to come to this jungle was to spot tigers in the wild, not seeing them did not leave me with any disappointment. Other wildlife activities were equally enjoyable.
Probably in an hour or two, Deep, Roop, Sarthak and Dharmendra (one of the homestay staff) came by at the machaan. It was time to go for a walk and explore the area. Deep had planned to show me a nearby adivasi (aboriginal) village – ‘Baigatola’. We went through a dense forest patch, crossed water streams and even quicksands. At one point Sarthak’s right leg even got stuck in the quicksand. It was quite an exercise he had to go through to take his leg out. The Baigatola was a small, vibrant village completely hidden away in the forest. Deep suddenly realized that it was 4:15. The forest elephants, the ones domesticated by the forest department to aid in the forest work, are often bought at the riverbank at this time for bathing. We all walked towards the river. Deep sent Dharmendra to get some snacks that we can munch on while sitting at the riverbank. Accompanying us were these cute two little puppies. They had showed up at the homestay and had been following us during our entire commute here.
When we reached the river I realized that we were on a plateau. We had to climb almost 20 meters down through a narrow passage to get to the river. This river was called ‘Banjar’ river. When we arrived, elephants were already there with their mahout. The mahout was bathing a big elephant while a baby elephant was running around and playing in the river. Watching the little one was fun, he (or maybe she) was full of energy. While we were enjoying the view, these puppies started making weird sounds, almost similar to crying. We did not understand what was happening. We drew a conclusion that they were feeling cold. They were even burying their faces under their paws. By this time our snacks had arrived and the elephants were gone. We spent some time sitting on the rocks by the river while enjoying our snacks. There was a big tree in the middle of the river and near it’s base were small idols which the villagers worshipped. A long bell hung from one of the branches. Sarthak and one more guy decided to go to that tree. They jumped over the rocks and crossed through shallow waters and reached the tree. When it started getting dark, we decided to get back. The puppies were back to normal now. When we reached the narrow passage through which we had climbed down, Roopsingh saw something and jumped. When I saw it I had goosebumps. It was a pugmark of a tiger. Deep said it was a female tiger. I asked him how he can tell just by looking at the pugmark, he explained to me how to recognize male and female tiger pugmarks by its shape. I found the following image on the internet which explains the same.
The weird behaviour of puppies was now making complete sense to us. Roopsingh didn’t jump at the sight of the pugmark because it was new for him, in fact it wasn’t. He jumped when he realized how closely we had missed a sight of a tigress. This pugmark was merely 200 meters from where we were a while ago. Perhaps the tigress wanted to drink water from the river and we were sitting at her usual place. Perhaps the tigress was looking at the puppies from the higher vantage point and puppies were aware of it. This was all scary and thrilling at the same time. We followed the pugmarks in the jungle with a hope of seeing her but all in vain. We came back to the ‘Baigatola’ village and I saw an old lady taking her goats towards the riverside. She was heading to the same place where we had seen the pugmarks and I was surprised nobody was telling her not to go there. When I spoke to Deep about it he said probably the old lady already knows the tigress would be there. These villagers have learnt to co-exist with the wildlife in this region including tigers. They are even used to tigers killing their domesticated animals. A thought dawned upon me, we urban people try to destroy everything that threatens us, whereas these aboriginal people learn to coexist even with the deadly animals. And the irony is, we call them uncivilized.
In this video you can hear the puppies making sound which meant the tiger was around but we didn’t realize it until we saw the pugmarks.
We came back to the homestay. Prem bhaiyya and other guys had made a campfire. I was cold and hence the sight of the campfire was a relief. We all sat around the campfire narrating the entire day’s experience to each other. The puppies cuddled around each other near the fire.
The next day after lunch, Deep, me and Sarthak were to head back to Nagpur. I was going to spend a night at Nagpur and catch a flight to Indore the day after.
To be continued…