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On Tiger Safari in India

Do you want to meet a tiger?

We’ve all seen the pictures of tourists petting docile tigers in Thailand. But the words docile and tiger don’t belong together. We believe in responsible tourism. Wildlife is wild – so feeding, touching and altering of natural behaviour should never take place. For us, nothing compares to seeing an animal in its natural environment. A sighting is not guaranteed so to witness it, is a great privilege.

Going on tiger safari was our greatest indulgence in India and the birthday present we gave to each other.

Where to go on Tiger Safari

The tiger stronghold is the state of Madhya Pradesh where they live protected in a number of national parks. Kanha and Bandhavgarh are the most popular tiger safari destinations.

We chose Kanha for its healthy tiger population and because it is considered to be more scenic, with vast grasslands and Sal trees. Some would argue that you stand a better chance of spotting tigers at Bandhavgarh as it is smaller, yet others complain that it is more touristy.

A further reason for choosing Kanha was the opportunity to stay at Shergarh which is owed by Katie and Jehan Bhujwala who we stayed with in Gujarat. While there are more budget-friendly options, we decided to treat ourselves to their glorious hospitality. We knew we were going to have a great time there. However, we didn’t know if we would see a tiger. There is no guarantee.

Shergarh

A discreet wooden sign announced our arrival at Shergarh. We drove through the gates, past grassland baked bronzed by the relentless sun and reached a small clearing. From here we were led along a footpath to the sound of birdsong as our bags followed us on an old handcart.

Over a bamboo bridge, the main house revealed itself. Perfectly situated to overlook the water, the house has a wrap around verandah. A wonderful place to enjoy our welcome drink.

Our accommodation was in luxurious canvas tents with attached enormous bathrooms. We felt like turn-of-the-century intrepids.

That evening as we sat supping on an aperitif we revelled in our surroundings. Katie and Jehan have worked hard to regenerate the native forest and grassland on their land.

After a traditional Indian meal by candlelight we headed to bed, excited to see what our tiger safaris would bring the following day.

On Tiger Safari

On the morning of our first safari we were awoken very early by a polite knock on the tent flap and delivery of tea to help rouse us from our beds.

We had booked ourselves on to four tiger safaris and on the morning of our first, we eagerly set out in our jeep in great anticipation.

We saw spotted deer, barasingha deer, water buffalo, warthog, lemur monkeys, jackal and the occasional human.

 

But not the elusive tiger.

Disappointed but hopeful that our afternoon safari would be more successful, we headed back to Shergarh for a tasty light lunch of tarts and colourful salads.

Safari no.2 ended with the same results. The tigers did not want to come out to play.

The sky however, was beautiful.

After no sighting on our third tiger safari we were starting to get a little desperate. We decided to splurge on an extra safari that afternoon.

A tiger sighting?

After circling around the park for about 30 minutes we came across of lot of activity from the other jeeps in the park. Racing to the point of interest we found ourselves at the back of a thirteen jeep convoy. But we were unable to squeeze in to see what all the excitement was about. We could see a water buffalo on the far side of a pond. Apparently it was stalking a tiger that had been enjoying a bath. As we watched, it charged in to the water and the tiger shot off into the forest. We caught a glimpse of its hind legs and the swish of its tail and got a photo of a lot of hats.

Exhilarated but disappointed that we hadn’t managed a good sighting we raced around the other side of the forest where our guide was convinced the tiger would make his exit. But unusually the buffalo was in pursuit. While we could hear the buffalo crashing after its foe, the tiger remained firmly undercover. If we had been able to wait it out we may have got lucky but our time was up and reluctantly we left the park.

On return to Shergarh we discovered that our fellow guests had managed a ringside seat view and got some wonderful photos of the action which we tried to appear not too bitter about.

Dejected we headed to bed, hopeful that our final tiger safari would yield better results.

Last chance

The following morning we all headed out all silently chanting pleas to the tigers to show us their stripes. Son Singh our guide, quickly identified some paw prints and made an assessment of where he thought a tiger might be lurking. We were not convinced. Every other jeep seemed to be heading in the other direction.

Moments passed. The minutes ticked on. We looked to each other desperately.

And then we saw him.

Rajaram as the rangers have named him came strolling through the meadow walking parallel to the track. We were able to drive alongside. 

As he walked in to a copse of trees ahead of us our guide started to drive away in anticipation of sighting him when he exited on the far side.

“STOP” yelled Chris. Rajaram had changed path and was heading on to the track behind our jeep. We all leapt to the rear of the vehicle for the best view as he sauntered towards us!

The power and presence of this magnificent creature was almost overwhelming. He totally owned the space and was not in the least bit bothered by our jeep. It was almost as if we were not there.

He got so close that we had to keep driving away from him.

And then he turned in to the forest and disappeared amongst the trees. Those stripes offer incredible camouflage.

But that wasn’t the end of our tiger experience. We drove around the track and out he came again.

All in all we probably enjoyed 15 wonderful minutes in the company of Rajaram.

The King of the jungle.

 

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