It was our first visit to Kanha, one of the finest tiger reserves in the country. During our stay we did safaris in all the four zones of the sanctuary. The morning safari lasts for four hours and the evening three hours. We drove through some of the most beautiful woodlands and meadows. As you venture deep inside, you feel how small and insignificant you are in the large, bewitching landscape. And to think that only 20% of the area is open to tourists!
During our first safari in the Mukki zone, we actively followed pug marks of a tiger and also heard the growls of the tiger cubs and spent several hours in tracking them, but in vain. To our great surprise and disappointment, there was an unseasonal rain on the second day of our stay and the morning safari through very dense mist, minimized the chances of any sighting of the tiger.
There is more to Kanha than the tigers…the array of bird life is truly bewitching. During our last safari in Mukki zone, we had some lovely sightings of birds. As time progressed our hopes of seeing the striped king at Kanha kept getting dimmer. However, to our great joy, a chance turn in the forest brought us face to face with a majestic male tiger. He walked out of the vegetation with a balletic grace, shoulders bunched and muscles rippling. His stripes blended perfectly with his surroundings. His colours seemed to ignite in the evening light like the burnt orange of the fallen leaves.
The forest staff who accompanied us whispered that it was T29, otherwise known as Chhota Munna, the offspring of the legendary big cat in Kanha, Munna. To our delight, he started walking leisurely in front of us, occasionally stopping for a while to taste the mud and roll on the ground. He did everything that a tiger secure on his own territory would do…scratching, marking, spraying, sitting, rolling….everything! He slowly crossed the road, stopped in the middle and looked straight at me for a few minutes. No words, no photographs can describe the feeling I got when this tiger stared into my eyes. I lost myself in his enigmatic gaze. Those eyes..they still haunt me.
Having had a good look at me, he moved with a fluid grace through the well traversed paths of his territory, with subtle energy thrumming with every step. He paused briefly to let out a soft growl at an annoying langur, chattering to warn others and continued with supreme confidence of the king of the jungle.
There is nothing as memorable as seeing the tiger roaming free in the wild.
Jorge Luis Borges described it more eloquently:
It wanders through its forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
In many ways it seems that much of Kanha remains unchanged since Kipling’s days (though Kipling himself never visited the place!). Sher Khan’s descendants rule the forest even today!
And of course, the glimpse of the Sher in his Garh will remain forever etched in our minds!
It was an extraordinary visual experience which I have tried to capture through the lens and glimpses are at: