Sunday, April 10, 2011

Muchmucha Tigers

A Wildlife Safari at Muchmucha

Night had set in by the time we reached Kuan village on road to Barhi and turned in for Muchmucha. It was going to be a tiring night and exciting as well, I could feel the coming in my bones. As we moved on I saw a pair of Chinkara then a Jackal and Spotted deer...things had started to happen. 

After negotiating a rough road with  lots of bends and turns we finally reached the Old Hunting Lodge at Muchmucha. The lodge belongs to Avinash Pathak landlords of Katni District in Madhya Pradesh, India. The lodge as I had imagined was a colonial style structure with touch of class. Modernity only exists as electricity for some hours, antique, appealing furniture and stylish cutlery. But refurnish exercise is being planned for travelers. The hunting lodge stands out imposingly amidst the rustic dwelling of the tribal.  

The folks hang around the lodge whenever Avinash Bhai is there. They come to pay their obeisance to a family that has nurtured them since ages.
Jeep Safari

I finally settled down for a brief rest in the bedroom. Till this day the grand lodge is as it was built. Neat clean and spacious with old style bathrooms in the vicinity. The hunting lodge has been host to large number of top brass who came here for hunt and to enjoy the family's gracious hospitality.   

There are no trophies anymore, but photographs of wild animals adorn the whitewashed walls. Steeped deep into nature conservation the owners now work for preservation of local wilderness. 

While sitting by the fireside we decided to explore the surroundings. Our night safari began at two o'clock and it had become cold Brrrrrr! We traversed a short distance from the village and soon entered the confines of dense forest. I was expecting a scanty denuded forest but was surprised by dense canopy all around. We crisscrossed through the rough jungle road on the old Willys Jeep in expectation. Soon we were greeted by a small gathering of barking deer foraging in grass amidst tall stands.   

The night safari went on, and in the halo of the starry night we came across nocturnal animals like civets, porcupines and fox. Night jars and Eurasian Thicknee were in plentiful. The eyes of Nilgai and Samabar shone like sparkling diamonds in the darkness.  After an exciting safari we finally headed for the lodge, happy and contended. 

No tigers here eh?

Avinash Bhai gave a benign smile and beckoned me to was four thirty AM. I received the answer next morning as locals who came to greet the landlord informed us about two cattle kills. One about four hundred meters from the lodge and the other near neighboring Barmani village.   

The kills were made by the young adult tigers, recently separated from the mother, the herdsmen informed us.  Much earlier a tigress with cubs was spotted near the village often. Strips of forest make in roads into the surroundings near the village. Or rather the expanding human habitation has stripped the dense forests on village border. Fields intrude in what was once a dense patch of woodland.

Part of dense Bandhavgarh canopy small belts of the forest encircle the village. Muchmucha is about 25 km as the crow flies from the park and about 30 km of drive.   

On closure inspection the surmise came out to be true. The cattle was much larger than we had expected. It was a clean kill with canine punctures on throat that ruptured the arteries. There was no messing around as leopard do with kills larger than they are made for. The pugmarks around seemed to be that of a young tigress and we followed them till the water hole. We came here again in that night but could not see the tiger. The animal had eaten more of the hind part and had probably slipped into the darkness on hearing the jeep. In order not to disturb the animal at kill, we stopped crossing through this area and hoped that we will sight it in the neighborhood.       

Being so close to human habitation the shy behavior was evident and there was no movement during the daytime. We heard alarm cries often, but by the time we reached the spots the animal moved into the forest. The other kill was probably the work of a male since it was made right in the cowshed of a large dwelling and dragged into to the neighboring forest for consumption. The kill at Muchmucha was made by a tigress and she was not big enough to drag it into the canopy. Hence she could consume only at night that to with great difficulty as it lay near an open field. After a two days of feasting she probably moved into the dense forests some distance away?   

We stayed at Muchmucha and explored the surroundings for safaris and bird watching which was our purpose. The old hunting lodge is to be turned into an ethnic accommodation for night/day safaris and birding. It is highly suited for niche travelers nature lovers and birders. Those interested in ethnic stay and rural experience alongside exciting wildlife safaris in India. The plan is to offer a combined holiday experience of local culture, day and night safaris and bird watching. A trip to Bandhavgarh tourism zone is possible on request. This will be good for those interested in exploring the tiger reserves neighborhood and visit to Bamera Tank, Umrar River, Marzad Garh and Muchmucha forests. This part of the tiger reserve has not been explored yet for tourism and is much exciting. The tour is being promoted online on Indiana Safari Website

It was a fun stay at Muchmucha and I could get the feel of old days. The lodge is a grand affair of simplicity that makes life possible in remote areas. The offerings though simple have a touch if class in colonial style - the days of the British Raj.   

The Muchmucha village of 400 is on the way to progress. But I am sure it will retain its wilderness in the surroundings though not in immediate confines as it is now. The animals we could see suggested of good population of spotted deer, samabar, wild boar, langurs, barking deer and Nilgai the desired prey of the tigers. There are many leopard sightings taking place where ever the forest exists. One can come across sloth bear, wild dog and perhaps Hyena and Wolf? Highly endangered animals beside the tigers find shelter here. The prime example is the Chinkara which has lost large grounds in Madhya Pradesh. A proper population estimate of animals especially the Chinkara would require subsequent time to be spent here. The place is rich in forest birds and combined with expeditions at near by wetlands, scrub and fields the birding is exciting. 

The cattle kills though suggestive of the vanishing tiger augurs threat to the big cat. Humans think of themselves firsts and more incidence like these would lead to the cleansing syndrome.