Sunday, May 29, 2016

"Land Of Tigers", Bandhavgarh!

 “Tigers, except when wounded or when man-eaters, are on the whole very good-tempered...Occasionally a tiger will object to too close an approach to its cubs or to a kill that it is guarding. The objection invariably takes the form of growling, and if this does not prove effective then it is followed by short rushes accompanied by terrifying roars. If these warnings are disregarded, the blame for any injury inflicted rests entirely with the intruder"… Jim Corbet

No need to introduce the author as the name though an Englishman but so much merged with wild life lover in India that we named our first project tiger by his name! And these are the very first words I have read about the tiger (though in Marathi) when I was some ten years old & had not seen a tiger even in a zoo’ but the words made me curious since then about the tiger. And later on when I started seeing them in forest I started realizing that if I like the tigers then I should like the forests first as it’s there where the tiger can be seen at its best! Agreed tiger is one of the best creatures to see in forest though there are competitors for the honor, for e.g. I myself will rate equal to a full grown Barsingha (swamp dear) flaunting its horns & walking with head high in the grass lands of kanha, yet tiger remains brand ambassador of the Indian forests & a major attraction to visit the same. But very few knows a little about the tiger nor have observed its pattern of living or moving around in its kingdom, all we are happy is to get just a sight of it, click the snaps in whatever way we can & share it on FB, that’s all. Here many will say it’s already so difficult to even have one glimpse of the animal then how we can observe a tiger to know more about it? Well what I meant is there is difference in seeing a tiger & observing it; we observe a tiger whenever we get a chance to see one & that’s a difference in common tourist & a true wild lifer.

Coming back to the topic of bandhavgarh, best known as “Land of Tigers’, it was on my agenda but somehow couldn’t make in last few years. Two reasons, from Pune i.e. where I live its bit difficult to travel as even by flight which one has to take from Mumbai, it’s a day long journey & my last experience of the place wasn’t much nice. We have to left the tour half way as park was closed due to death of a tigress, which forest dept claimed that because of tourist vehicles while the guides & gypsy drivers claimed its due to a forest vehicles itself! In that dispute most the park was closed for tourists & we have to curtail our trip. This time I inquired about all the park situation & this is something I will like to share with those who goes to forest for any particular purpose i.e. for tiger sighting or for bird watching or for a peculiar specie say some migratory birds or expect to see some unique animals. You must inquire about particulars forests flora & fauna as well weather over there before you leave for the destination.  For e.g. I will share a classic example I witnessed, at our bandhavgarh trip we were staying at a resort & some other guests whom we came across  at dinner, shared their annoyance for not being able to see the tiger at all when they have been told that no one gets without seeing a tiger from bandhavgarh! And they were surprised to know that we were able to see at least six tigers on day of forest itself & that was their third day without tiger! Here I asked which zone they have gone to. As in Bandhavgarh, the entire forest has been divided in three zones, Tala, Magdhi, Khataoli & there is a buffer zone too. The Tala zone in fact is a premium zone as it has more biodiversity & in past more tiger sightings. They have booked all Tala zones but unfortunately this summer somehow due to a male tigers dominance who killed few cubs & a tigress in the Tala zone & has drove out two more male tigers suddenly there want any tiger sighting in tala zone. And one more female tigress with cub has migrated to Magdhi i.e. adjoin zone, so rather the sighting was more at magdhi & khatouli zones. That’s the reason the poor fellows even being in for three days in best tiger sighting season, couldn’t have a single sighting of the tiger!

I have inquired before starting for Bandhavgarh & though I myself also have first asked for Tala zones booking but after speaking to personnel over there changed myself to magdhi zones & other one. And that proved so right that this trip became like a tiger den trip! Usually when I come back from forest approximately 30% of total snaps are of tigers & rests are of birds, other animals & landscape. This time it was reverse case with 70% snaps of tigers only & all size & shape! Most importantly I got to see tigers a lot closer & could focus on their behavior patter a very interesting thing to do. Agreed by now tigers have been studied a lot than Jim Corbet days & yet after all tiger is one of the rare species & two things whatever you have read about the tiger to see it happening in front of you as well see something new happening, nothing more exciting than that in a forest!

To start with its hot summer in bandhavgarh & by 5.30 am day light is enough & yes one more thing there is lots of dust, so much that it surrounds everything including your camera, which has to be considered. Even while photographing a tigress which is standing close to the road side, the dust is clear in every frame making it difficult to shoot the clear image! So, one need to be prepared for such extreme weather & local conditions while visiting the forests. And while travelling in the forest your driver as well guide should be smart enough to avoid a path where already a gypsy ahead of you covering you in dust bath! That way bandhavgarh forest department is doing great job along with the guides & drivers. Best part was while the car awaits at gate to enter the forest guard herself (well to my surprise as magdhi gate there was a lady forest guard story of her will come ahead) used to come to the gypsy’s in queue for tourists verification instead all the people making crowd at gate. This practice can be followed by other parks, it does saves time too & much convenient for the tourists. Another best thing I observed amongst the gypsy’s is the way they were co-operating to maintain the distance between the vehicles as well allow every tourist to get a clear sight whenever there is a tiger around, so instead all blocking each other’s way & making a mess, a little patience & understanding does help; a lesson kanha & tadoba guides & drivers should take. The forest patrolling staff also was more hostile & friendly & instead in punishing mode all the time were more keen to have every tourist gets a glimpse of the tiger as that’s what they have come at bandhavgarh! There is no fuss about rules like taking a U turn or reversing vehicle on same track as such things hardly matters, what’s most important is self discipline; lets understand all park managements that extreme harsh rules to monitor the traffic won’t work but to take guides & gypsy drivers in confidence & let themselves manage the decorum of the forest is what works & bandhavgarh is a classic example for the same!

So finally we entered, May sun is already up in sky & our gypsy rolled through the gate of Magdhi zone on dusty ride. Soon the mercury is rising as the sun rises & the forest started displaying its colors with all shades of yellow & on its background moves the tiger! It’s not nearly 22 tigers in seven safaris which has made the trip special, it’s the entire landscape & the excitement of chasing it by pug marks in dust & with alarm calls is what makes the sighting a real fun, that's the way you get to know jungle as you learn to see many details in forest as well listen finest of the sounds like difference in calls of jungle fowl & even identify the essence also as if there is a kill around your nose starts picking its scent! Most importantly you learn to become patient as in jungle you are in no control not even that of a tiny orange throated thrush also, leave apart the tiger! All one can do is get immersed in the surrounding & get rejuvenated with the nature; that's the best way to be in the jungle! We saw a tigress not only marking her territory but in tussle with her own four years daughter which has been now separated & shoo her out of her territory! In one of the evening safari within distance of hardly one kilometer we saw three tigress & last one I will never forget as it taught me a lesson again that till you don’t get out of forest never consider safari has ended; in one evening ride at bandhavgarh, when all gypsy's where happily had sighting of nearly seven tigers, suddenly we saw a tigress laying low in open field & obviously we stopped! And to my surprise tigress is unaware of us but fully focused on a male chital grazing some fifty feet ahead, we realized she is behind the kill & suddenly all cameras are at alert & in typical Discovery Channel type movement the tigress inched towards the chital which was unaware of its presence! I have never seen any tiger attempting a kill in so open as there was not an inch of grass or any cover for her! When she was just about to make final leap suddenly a languor gave alarm call & chital sprang away! The tigress gave a frustrated look & walked straight towards us & then in head on shot I realized her empty stomach, sure she was very very hungry that’s why she made such desperate attempt which she has nearly succeeded! I was wondering whether to be happy for escape of chital or be sad for poor tigress being hungry & will need another effort on empty stomach! Whatever it may be I have witnessed wonderful display of nature in wilderness!

So many such moments with tigers I witnessed, the way it moves silently through the yellow grass & dried forest & get comaflauged rather merged is proper word, that many a time all you see is a yellow black striped wave silently moving on the surface of the ocean of same color, is what the effect! One more interesting thing I witnessed, during a safari I saw a gypsy wit kids in it & a volunteer with them. Those kids were surely not the usual tourists or with groups like pugmark or foliage type but poor village kids. I asked to my guide whether forest dept has arranged them to show the jungle. He said no, there is one gentleman Nitin Nagare from Mumbai who from his pocket makes all the expense & arrange to show the jungle to all the village boys in neighborhood, it includes their food also! Such people are around & I will say they have really understood the forests & true wild lifer!

Lastly on one morning ride when we started from the ticketing office, after collecting entry form a lady forest guard with her one year old baby girl requested that can she come till the gate which is nearly five kilometer away from booking office. Life of a forest guard is very hard & specially when u are a lady & have a small kid to look after! Daughter’s name was Tanvi & Namita , who was a forest guard at magdhi gate of bandhavgarh forest in MP. Each morning at 5.30 am Namita has to be at gate to check the vehicles entry, at village tala there is no crèche where she can keep Tanvi so she carries Tanvi with her at forest gate & the kid keeps playing alone at forest gate in extreme summer which goes to 43 degrees & come back with her mom when she finishes her duty! Its women like namita who makes entire forest dept proud! Wild life is not just tigers but personalities like Namita too, so let’s think what we can do to make their life better! Then only I always say we have earned our forest trip.

One more thing while visiting any forest place do try to cover in your travel itinerary places around the forest or nearby like we visited Khajuraho temples which are some 200 km away & if forests are natural wonders then monuments like khajuraho are man-made wonders. For ages khajuaraho is considered as just sex figures but that myth, yes there are sculptures covering erotic poses but the entire architecture, the philosophy of life carved in those temples is sign of how wise & matured our ancestors where & somewhere in the time river we have lost all those wisdom & knowledge! About the khjuraho temples will share sometime later, just wanted to mention that along with forest do try to cover such places which are equally important in understanding not just forest but entire life cycle.

After all why I go to forests is something always asked to me by many & even I also try to analyze it! Though yet to find the perfect answer but it’s a journey towards understanding nature is all I will say & this is a journey which is beautiful than merely reaching to the destination; so go on, find you own path & just follow those pugmarks in the dust!
At link below you can see most of the forest moments I captured…

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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