Day 3 – Spotting the first wild tiger

1st Safari (morning) - Kanha Forest (5th January, 2023)

Today was the day I had been eagerly anticipating for so long. I was filled with hope and excitement, eager to finally catch a glimpse of a majestic tiger. I was determined to try my luck once again.

At 4:30 AM, the sound of my alarm clock jolted me awake. I quickly got out of bed, as did the rest of my group. We had been instructed to reach the entrance to the forest by 5:30 AM, so we needed to make sure we were on time. The timing for safari tours changes throughout the year, depending on the sunrise and sunset. On this particular day, the tour was scheduled to start at 7 AM. To increase our chances of getting a good view of the tigers, it was important that we arrived early at the gate, ideally an hour or two ahead of the tour start time. This would ensure that our safari vehicle would be among the first to enter the forest and secure a prime viewing spot. The queue to enter the forest was only open to vehicles that had tourists onboard.

My group, consisting of Deep, Swapnil, Shirish Sir, and I, arrived at the forest entrance by 5:45 AM. The darkness of the early morning was only broken by the dim light of the stars and the moon. Deep swiftly located our driver and guide, who had been assigned to us by the forest department on a random basis. To book a safari tour, we had to provide a copy of our government-issued identification document, which we handed over to our driver before the start of the tour. He then took the documents and stood in line at the forest office to get them verified. Once that was done, our vehicle was cleared to enter the forest as soon as the gates opened.

While we waited for our driver to complete the necessary procedures, I took in my surroundings and noticed around 20 to 30 other safari vehicles, all filled with tourists who were dressed warmly to combat the chilly temperature. Street vendors and shops along the road were selling breakfast and tea, and one man was offering to rent binoculars to the tourists.

As our driver returned with our verified documents, we all took our seats in the safari vehicle, eager to embark on the adventure ahead. The anticipation was palpable as we waited for the forest gate to open, surrounded by the bustling energy of other safari vehicles on one side, and the peaceful stillness of the forest on the other.

While we waited, Deep spotted a group of owls perched high up on a tree. Despite his efforts to point them out to me, I was unable to see them. But as Deep began to mimic their call with a soft whistle, the owls suddenly took flight, descending to a lower branch where I finally had the chance to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures. Although it was still too dark to capture their beauty in a photo, the moment was unforgettable.

From left to right, myself (Pranay), Swapnil and Deep, waiting at Kanha gate for the gate opening and start of the safari. We spotted the female tigress - Neelam, during the same safari.

At 7:00 a.m., a forest official in a khaki uniform opened the gate. Despite being one of the first five vehicles in line, we were delayed in entering due to the late arrival of our guide. Our vehicle drove through a shallow concrete pond filled with water, which I assume is there to wash the tires and prevent any litter from human settlements from entering the forest. Finally, we made our way into the lush and thriving Kanha forest.

This was my second visit to the Kanha forest. The forest was breathtakingly beautiful and teeming with wildlife. As soon as we crossed the gate and entered the forest, we noticed a sudden drop in temperature. My hands started to freeze, so I put them in my jacket pockets. Further into the forest, a dense fog blanketed the entire area, enhancing its beauty. For a while, all the safari vehicles followed a single line, but soon they started to take turns and went their separate ways. Each safari vehicle is randomly assigned a specific zone in the forest and is only allowed to explore that zone. Our vehicle soon took its turn, and we began the journey towards our assigned zone, away from the crowd.

As we moved through the forest, I couldn’t help but admire the stunning scenery. The sun had risen, and the temperature had risen enough for me to take my hands out of my pockets. We saw a variety of birds and other wildlife as we progressed. Our guide and driver turned off the engine, stood up, and listened for alarm calls in the forest. However, the forest was eerily quiet, with only occasional bird sounds.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’ll explain what alarm calls are. In the forest, animals make a distinct sound when they spot an apex predator in the vicinity. This sound is known as an alarm call and alerts nearby wildlife of the predator’s presence. In this case, the predator was a tiger. This form of communication is a survival mechanism developed by forest-dwelling animals. Our guide and driver were highly skilled in listening for these alarm calls. They often waited for two to three alarm calls to not only determine the tiger’s location but also predict its movement direction. They would then drive the vehicle to a spot where they believed the tiger might cross.

Despite our guide and driver’s best efforts, we received no indication of the tiger’s presence. We continued on, until we came across an open field and saw all the safari vehicles lined up near a tree on a small hill in the distance. Most of the tourists in the vehicles were standing and pointing their cameras in one direction. It was clear what this meant, and our driver sped up to reach the spot. My excitement level was through the roof, and I knew I was going to see a tiger at any moment now. When we reached the spot, I tried to look in the same direction as the rest of the tourists, but I couldn’t see anything except golden grass swaying in the wind.

And then I saw it. Black stripes gliding through the overgrown, dry golden grass. The tiger soon approached the tree, and I was finally able to see the full tiger. Our guide informed us that it was a female tiger named ‘Neelam’. She lingered around the tree, and I took countless photos with my camera. After 11 years, I had finally managed to see a wild tiger.

My very first wild tiger sighting

The tigress soon vanished into the grass and was no longer in our line of sight. However, the experienced guides of the safari vehicles were able to predict her path and we all moved accordingly. Our efforts were rewarded as the tigress reappeared and lingered near the vehicles for some time. It was amazing to see how wild tigers are unfazed by human presence and go about their daily business in the jungle.

Throughout my previous safaris, I learned why tigers do not attack humans in safari vehicles. The answers were quite surprising to me, but here’s what I discovered. Tigers do not see humans and the vehicles as separate beings, but rather as one single entity, appearing as a large animal. Additionally, tigers are generally not interested in eating humans as human blood and meat are too salty for their taste. They only attack humans if they feel threatened or if they see a human near their cubs. In the current situation, if anyone were to foolishly step out of the vehicle, they would immediately become a tiger’s potential prey.

In one of the photos above you can see the tigress sniffing the ground. This behaviour is known as “olfactory investigation”. Olfactory investigation refers to the process of using the sense of smell to gather information about the environment. When animals stick their nose into the ground to gather information through scent detection, they are engaging in olfactory investigation. This behavior is critical to the survival of many animals, as it allows them to detect the presence of prey, other animals, or potential dangers in the area. So, “olfactory investigation” is a more general term that encompasses the behavior of scent marking, which is a specific form of olfactory investigation that involves the release of pheromones or other scent cues to communicate with others of the same species.

After the unforgettable tigress sighting, the time seemed to stretch on endlessly. The excitement of seeing my first wild tiger in its natural habitat was indescribable. I had booked five safaris, hoping for just one tiger sighting, but my luck had surprised me and I was able to spot the magnificent animal in my first safari. At the time, I thought that this was the highlight of my trip and that I wouldn’t be able to top it. However, I would soon discover that I was wrong. The next blog will take you through my amazing experience on day four.


Safari Details

Driver : Lakhan Yadav

Guide : Suryakant Yadav

Day 3 - 2nd Safari at Kanha (evening safari)

The evening safari on the same day didn’t yield as much excitement as the morning one. As we approached the end of the safari, I had lost hope of seeing any tigers. However, as we were making our way towards the gate, we noticed a group of safari vehicles gathered together. We joined them and were pleasantly surprised to come across a male tiger. Unlike the female tiger, Neelam, that we saw in the morning, this male was much more elusive and remained hidden in the overgrown grass. Although we could catch glimpses of its face, the low light and the obstacles in between my camera and the tiger made it difficult for my camera to focus properly. I put down my camera and fully immersed myself in the last tiger sighting of the day.


Safari Details

Driver : Lakhan Yadav

Guide : Niranjan Yadav

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Pranay Meher

Full time cg/vfx artist / part time traveller, photographer and hobbyist

Hi, I’m Pranay. Welcome to my website. This is my space where I share my travel stories, my musical progress, photographs and some CG/VFX related stuff.

Pranay Meher

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