Alas for the Tiger Focus, we arrived, and cloudy skies turned to heavy rain in which even birdwatching became difficult, leave alone sighting the tigers (we didn't see any leopards; apparently, leopard sightings are rare in Bandhavgarh, unlike south Indian safaris where they are more common.) So...four safaris, the morning and evening of the 1st and 2nd of March, went by. Though they didn't say much, I could sense their disappointment, which was not helped by tales of others in our resort having sighted them,and the general question, "Did you see any tigers" being always on the lips of fellow-guests.
A report of a tiger being sighted (rather deep in the jungle and far away from the road) had some jeeps rushing to the spot on the evening of the 2nd, but my friends could not actually see what they wanted to .
By the evening of the 2nd, however, the weather began to clear up, and we started the safari on the 3rd morning with clear skies.
The sun rose in the misty, still-moist forest:
We had seen pugmarks, and fresh scat, earlier:
We did hear some growls quite near at hand at one point, and Nitin and I got a fleeting glimpse of a tiger vanishing into the trees. Was this going to be the way things went for Sharmila and Manjula as well? Our driver and guide thought otherwise, and knowing the movements of this particular tiger (the Mirchaini female) well, they thought a sighting would be likely. We moved along the trail, rather hopefully.
Our guide and driver (Chuttan) stopped to ask some forest guards about the movement of the animal, and they clearly indicated that she was nearby. So they took a short detour to the trail where they thought the animal would cross. And, like good guides often are...they were right.
I did not zoom in to take close-up shots of the tiger, as all my friends had bazooka lenses and will be getting (and hopefully sharing) excellent shots. I decided, instead, to take a video. (For some reason, most DSLR photographers do not take videos as often as I do with my bridge camera.) I just clicked a few shots during the course of the video, and a couple after the beauty crossed over into the trees and thickets on the other side of the trail. So...her face is hardly visible, and she's mostly tawny stripes and white-tipped ears. Here are the images:
She first appears behind the bund on the stream:
The stripes of the grasses and the animal seem to complement each other perfectly:
The sight that a wildlife tourist thrills to...stripes in the greenery!
The following three images were taken during videography. In the video, you will hear the click and a momentary pause when I am taking the images.
Here she is, crossing the trail in a leisurely fashion
She goes off into the thicket:
I then tried to track her as she moved along on the other side. Focusing through the leaf clutter was a challenge, so I just shot what I could. However, the image below is still one of my favourites, showing the Mirchaini female, proud and regal, in her home:
Those white-tipped ears are often the first sign many other creatures get, of a predator in their midst:
Even though she was in the shade by this time, I got her face in this image.
One can see how the stripes can so easily melt into the light and shade of the forest:
That was it; we could not see the lady any more, and indeed, I was happier to see how Manjula's and Sharmila's faces lighted up (well, Karthik's and Nitin's too!). We went on to "Centre Point" where chai and hot alu bondas are sold, and here are my friends, with Tiger Smiles on their faces:
Manjula took this one, where I am in the picture, too.
My favourite image is the happiness on Manjula's face, as she looks at the images she has captured, and the satisfaction on Chuttan's face as he contemplates a job well done.
Here's the video of the tigress ambling across the path and off into the bamboo thicket...
I will be posting about the historic temples and buildings that we saw, the birds we sighted (and sometimes stopped to observe), the many plants and trees I clicked, and the other mammals in the jungle, too....but meanwhile, here's to the tiger, the umbrella species of conservation in the Indian jungles. Is it good luck or bad, for this animal to be the single-minded focus of so many visitors to the wild, from all over the world? Are we conserving the animal, or helping it along to extinction?
The future of our tigers...it seesaws up and down like the terrain this lady traverses!