Monday, December 9, 2013

Tigress on the hill

In the Kisli Range at Kanha National Park in MP there are two hills famous for tigers. Dig Dola and Sal Ghat the latter is named after numerous Sal trees present along with associates and bamboo. Dig Dola is named after a rock balancing on another.  This mountain has more of bamboo but practically the topography is the same. 

Some water bodies intersperse these mountains and the dense canopy in the valleys provide ideal cover to the tigers. The dense canopy also makes tiger sighting difficult although these areas are dominated by big males. Sub adult males sired by the dominant tiger and few tigresses some with cubs inhabit these mountains. 

The climb uphill is a rugged jungle path which twists and turns precariously along the edge. The "S" turns make the road ahead almost invisible and you can be surprised by a big cat if not careful. Leopards also inhabit the area but they are very shy and rarely seen. 

The tree line begins right where the road edges and some patches of small grass are often encountered. The dominant tigers are often encountered on the road. Munna the present male is often seen here by people on  tiger safari. This tiger maintains a large territory in the Kisli Range which keeps on changing. The tigresses are shy and rarely seen. 

We missed a tigress on Sal Ghat as she refused to come out of the bush. We heard her calling as I have mentioned in my earlier blogs. This is the tigress I wished to see and one fine day the wish came true. We where climbing uphill from the Saunf Meadow on Dig Dola Mountain trek whence we came across a group of jeeps at the Siliari Tank. 

"There is a constant ring of alarm cries,'' the guide on other vehicle informs me. We decide to wait but in futility since the tiger was deep inside the grass near the tank.           

"Move on." I goad the driver. "Lets move"

I surmise that the tiger is too deep and disturbed to come out hence it is futile to wait. The tempting thought of empty road downhill is the second incentive to keep driving. And as luck would have it a couple of kms  and we see a tigress coming straight at us. 

This is the Dig Dola tigress that we missed so often. She is shy and nervous and strangely does not vanish into the forests.  A large cat she appears to be pregnant? "Surprisingly big for a tigress," I inform the guide and he too confirms that she is pregnant by the bulge in the belly. 

The tigress keeps coming towards us and warns whence we are too close due to steep incline. A terrifying grimace, but then eases down as sufficient distance is maintained. We maintain a distance of twenty meters and my guests from Slovenia have time of their life photographing the big cat. The tigers have markings that differ and this female has thin stripes on white brows.

After giving long moments of filming the tigress vanishes into the jungle. One last look and we move on to our luxury hotel in Kanha for a comforting accommodation. The tiger safaris are tiring mind you,
Tiger at Kanha By Uday Patel
the jeep ride can be excruciating at times.

The guests are extremely happy having got amazing pictures of the big cat in Kanha. The evenings are spent over drinks and bonfire both helping us to contain our joy and the bitter cold.               

The menacing leopard of Kanha

Kanha Tiger Reserve - MP - India 

Our earlier trip to Mukki Range in Kanha National Park was devoid of big cat sightings. The range is unique since it holds extensive grasslands and two important water bodies. There is an old rest house built during the British times and worth a stay. The Mukki Gate is about 35 km from Khatia Gate and can be approached from inside as well as outside. The forests are much visited from people of Raipur in Chhattisgarh State of India and those who stay in hotels on Mukki near the park.  

Our recent trip to this range boiled with excitement. My guests were from Europe from a country called Slovenia. Both were professional photographers and one of them was also a tour operator. At Mukki we saw two tiger cubs near a water body. Probably the tigress was out hunting as we could not get any signs of her presence.    

Earlier we had seen two tiger cubs of Umarpani Female at Kanha meadow but the images where not satisfactory. The tiger family kept a distance and most often hidden in the bush. But the cubs near Babathenga Tank at Mukki were quite in the open and we could get some fine images. 

Satisfied and much happy we had a fulfilling breakfast of cheese and vegetable sandwiches, aloo paratha and fruits. Post breakfast we moved on to return to the Khatia Gate via a long stretch of jungle road. 

The unexpected happens, we were still in the confines of Babathenga Tank on the Zila Fireline in the Mukki Range. Driving casually and quite relaxed after having an onerous task accomplished we were ambling across that road at 20/km per hour. This is the prescribed speed of the park and allows your sensory apparatus to work more efficiently.     

Somewhere across the Zila Fireline, I spotted a leopard crossing the road few feet away. There was just enough time to react and I asked the driver to stop right at the spot from where the crossing took place. I was expecting that the big cat would have melted away in the bush. This did not happen!!!!!!

The surprised leopard was starring at me. The guide, driver and two lens men were taken by absolute surprise. Stunned into silence by fear is what I will describe the scenario as. Having heard me shout, "Leopard" the big cat sat there in "about to spring" position starring menacingly at me. I was on the seat. The eyes shone bloody as cryptic patterns created by strands of sunlight  formed on the animal. The chiseled canines,  deadly claws and the musculature,...few would like to view from so close. Given a choice, I would maintain a safe distance.

This is what was least expected although big cats do behave aggressively at times. I slid down behind the driver unnerved. But the lens men though out of wits were at their job with such a wonderful opportunity knocking at their cameras. But the guide was apprehensive as he could sense my trepidation. And soon the leopard was encircling our open jeep.   

This was a dangerous moment for the spots could strike. At a distance of six feet we were a sitting duck. The guide sensed trouble and shouted full throat, "HAAT." The leopard slid into the thick bushes and vanished for good. The driver was already moving forward during the episode in order to maintain a safe distance of 20 meters but then things happened too fast.
Leopard Photo by Teerath Singh
For some time there was stunned silence as we got out of the big cats range. The leopard could have gone unseen but for my alertness (Ahem!).  I turn toward my guests, my face beaming with pride, "so" I manage to speak. Still in a state of surprise they poke fun at me...yeah...ok...good. They had got super delicious shots of the leopard which we could see at the Courtyard House.

The rest of journey was full of exciting moments as we came across many animals of Kanha National Park.