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Clare’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 03 Feb 2008

Location: Kanha Tiger Reserve, M.P., India

MapPicture the scene:

Its 6am and the sun is slowly rising over a frosty forest. Its not yet light and we are driving along the road in an open top safari jeep just inside the Park entrance, wrapped up in coats, scarves and blankets against the icy cold. The Teak and Sal trees which make up the Jungle rise vertically to about 30m on either side of the road and are completely black in the morning gloom. The dirt road is made from white limestone and stretching out before us is reflecting the pinks and oranges of the misty sunrise like a ribbon. We round a corner and suddenly there is a big black shape padding along the road some 50 metres in front of us. The guide jumps to his feet in the jeep, pointing and hissing "Bagh Bagh!, Tiger Tiger!". The Tiger stops walking and slowly turns his head to observe the frantic activity in the jeep as we all throw off our covers and reach for our cameras then, unconcerned, turns and continues padding along the road.

This is my first, significant, un-orchestrated wild Tiger sighting and not only that but this is the new as yet un-named alpha male or King of the Cats who not two weeks previous had killed Gonda, the male who had ruled over this territory for some 10 years.. he's still quite agressive and is HUGE! My previous 2 sightings were either fleeting or the slightly contrived ''Tiger shows'' where the Mahouts and Elephants find a tiger who is sat up with a kill or sleeping and ferry the tourists in on elephant back to see it at close quarters. These make for great photo ops and are a brilliant experience, but not as exciting as driving round a corner and finding the tiger going about his business in his territory.

We had the new main man to ourselves for about 5 minute before another jeep rounded the corner and we saw him scratch a tree to scent mark it and start to head up a smaller jungle track. I didn't get any decent pictures, it was still too dark but it was such an exciting moment to come across him like that. I saw him again on a 'Tiger show'on my final trip into the Park where we watched him loll under a tree with a vantage point over the road coming into the park not some 100 metres away from our first sighting of him. This time I got him on camera and he performed by yawning stretching and lying down for a nap. The pictures are just great!

I had a really lucky, idyllic couple of days at Kanha. Not only did I have 5 tiger sightings in as many drives, but we also caught a glimpse of one of Kanha's incredibly elusive Leopards, we'd caught sight of him in long grass stalking Chital Deer and he made a discreet exit from the meadow into the Jungle behind our Jeep. Apart from the big cats Kanha is also home to little Jungle Cats, Gaur (Indian Bison), Chital, Muntjac Deer, Sambar Deer, the last thriving population of endangered Barasingha Deer, Sloth Bears and an incredibly varied collection of bird life including Indian Rollers, Owlets, Eagles, Vultures and Minivets. As you can imagine, there is plenty to see - and I saw everything except the Sloth (though we did see pugmarks).

When we weren't on extended game drives we could loll around the gorgeous camp (Kipling Camp) in the buffer Zone of the park - Tigers and Leopards are regularly sighted on the edge of the camp itself!! Kipling was a lovely luxury haven with cosy comfortable beds, pristine bathrooms, delicious food, toasty evening firepits and good company both from the other guests and the two English volunteers (Bertie and Helen) who are jammily living and working there for the whole season. Kipling is also home to Tara the Elephant - the same Tara made famous by Mark Shand's book 'Travels with my Élephant'. Tara is the resident mischief maker and afternoons can be spent riding with her Mahout down to the Banjar river where she is scrubbed and pamepered before standing munching greenery on the rocks and giving herself a pedicure with a twig (I kid you not!).

All in all the last few days have been magical, away from the noise and hassle and stress of working things our for yourself. We even had hot water bottles provided for going into the park on morning game drives. It was a real pleasure to get out into the countryside and away from the cities and see some of life in rural India. On top of all that I really did get some amazing tiger sightings. This is the first place in India that I've thought I would really like to come back to - I just hope the Tigers will always be there too.