Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kanha A glimpse of natural history

Ashok looked at me and smiled, a recognition of our years of association. We had explored the infinite corridors of Kanha together as young over enthusiastic nature lovers. We have experienced the depth of the forests unraveled its mysteries, and learned about the intrigue of animal behavior.   

The imprint of numerous adventures at Kanha still recall instances which have been narrated thousands of time. Kanha is an exemplary display of fragile chain of life hinged together and constantly evolving. The bitter occurance of violence erupts unexpectedly amidst the stillness of the magnificent stands, gushing rivers and breezing meadows. Yes the forest offer an unbridled element of surprise that shatters the silence in one eye flip. 

The Courtyard House guests are expectant, for them the forests are an unfathomable mystery. They listen rapt with attention as to what to expect. 

"Keep you eyes glued on the forests and your ears always alert, " I said. "Tigers lurk surreptitiously in the depth of the canopy and you should not miss."      

The forest appears to them as diaphanous veil of secrecy, an exotic abode of mythical creatures. The tiger appears to be a huge blood thirsty creature along with equally rapacious animals that inhabit his kingdom. I turn around an look at them. They are Germans but surprisingly well versed in English. Ashok is busy delivering a lecture on the park in his own broken English. I do not interfere, he is a knowledgeable guide and experienced, he will certainly make them more informed.    

In the early morning just after dawn we could see the sun breaking over the horizon. The gold orange hue of ball of fire rises over the table top mountains impressing upon our guests to stop the vehicle. They are busy taking photographs of a magnificent spectacle that unfolds every day in Kanha. We are bit uneasy for we wish to come across the big cat before the sun goes up and an intolerable heats descends on the land of the tiger.

"We will go for Munna," I tell the guide.He nods in affirmation.We have crossed the Kisli barrier and proceeding towards the Dig Dola Road. The mesmerizing landscape of Kanha is ever changing from insipid grassland to rugged mountains that gain height gradually but are densely forested. We are on high alert for this is Munna's territory.  The road twists an turns as we climb up, I cling to the bar as the jeep turns sharply throwing us all around.

Finally we arrive at the top, the road here is straight and level. All the time we look for the tiger or expect the cacophony of raucous alarm cries. Nothing happens, we come across a herd of sambar and stop for a while. They are relaxed, forgotten are the days when they used to be hunted down mercilessly. They do not perceive humans and their contraption as threat anymore at least in the protected area.   

"Largest deer in Asia," I tell the guests busy taking photographs, they are impressed by the gentle creatures.  The majestic antlers of the leading male swell out disproportionately creating an appearance of diabolic proportions. Naturally he is the cynosure of the lot. "Beautiful," our guests utter as we proceed further.      

"Tiger! I whisper as we reach the water body. The large creature is absolutely camouflaged in the thick curtain of bamboo and shrub. The majestic proportion of the beast are strikingly evident, the most prominent is the foreleg hanging in mid air. The massive paw is being dropped very gently on the ground."He is going to ambush the deer at some distance," I whisper.

For  a long time the tiger is frozen in mid air, we watch intently at the natural history drama being enacted before us. Oblivious of us the deadly gaze is well focused on the deer who is unaware of death lurking at close quarters. The proximity makes the whole episode nerve wrecking...the tiger appears to be of extraordinary proportions.     

We watch with baited breath and then a rush and a scuffle. Well no, the tiger misses the query. The drama is over, the dried branches of the impeding shrubs has given the game away. In frustration the tiger  continues across the shore of the water body glaring angrily at the stupefied prey. The jungle is abuzz with petrified alarm cries as the deer, langur and sambar scurry away to maintain  a safe distance.

The tiger crosses over the lake, arrives right in front of us on the road and then sulks into the hidden creek on the other side. "That's it," I
exclaim. The guests appear to be thrown into throes of frenzy as they twist an turn to unwind themselves after an acrobatic rendering of their mind and body getting the tiger in full frame.   

We are all relaxed now...the tiger has been seen. We continue with the safari exploring the stunning features of the tiger reserve. The sunlight filters sharply through the tall stands of Sal in a well defined geometric pattern. It breaks through and strikes the ground with evangelical divinity creating a haloed spectacle, a curtain of grandeur no less impressive and spell binding as the big cat that enthralled us few minutes back.

All across on the soft jungle road the deer, monkey, wild boar and dancing peacock invoke a mild degree of thrill...for we have experienced the utmost thrill in terms of black, yellow and white.                    

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tiger On The Road

"He has just crossed over at Karia Ghati and heading this way (Towards Silyari Jalasay)", the excited girl on the jeep said. We were right there at the Silyari Water Hole in Kanha National Park in MP. 

I could see the excitement on her face. In these tiger reserves you can make out if tourists have seen the tiger or not. And you can also make out the grim countenance whence the tiger is not seen. This is applicable to one and all including me since my job is to fetch the tiger for my tourists.        

There is an excellent tiger tracking mechanism in place amongst the forest guides. 

Not to boast I do have a roll to play at times in fetching the big cat out as we are close friends - rather age old friends as I have been visiting the park since seventies. Out of love and faith they heed to my request and make a special appearance (Only for me) Hic!.  

Anyway we were  waiting at the water hole for some time since tigers and other animals localize around the water during intense summer. The big male tiger we call Munna (Loved One) had probably gone deep into the forest to check on Lal Aankh another big male challenging Munna's territory.

We knew that Munna hangs around a hidden creek near the water body whence the sun goes up and hence we were waiting in expectation. As it transpired the tiger did not appear and we went towards Karai Ghati in order to check him out. There was no sign of him....

"Turn Around," I told the driver. So we returned to the water body to begin a long wait. In between we saw many birds and a monitor lizard on a Saaz tree. When you are in a tiger land the world comes to stop and your eyes cease to focus on every thing but yellow and black...the mystical stripes and ignore the surroundings... and your ears await the nerve wrecking roar and your heart thumps incessantly. But I always keep a look out for numerous illusive & amazing creatures in this wonderland as well.   

At Courtyard House while leaving for the tiger safari our German Tourists had requested to see a tiger on the road. But so far there was no alarm cry that would have signaled the tiger's approach. 

We had to leave the park by 9.30 am since the guests had a long drive to Bandhavgarh. "Another half an hour", I requested Raimond. He agreed and we waited. The thrilling and nerve racking alarm cry epitomizes harbinger of death.

And that is what we heard, a staccato of sambar alarm cry from a distant followed by a barking deers terrified bark. Our eyes where glued towards the direction of the calls. And then spotted deer near the water body started crying in extreme frenzy. Out of anticipation the guests held their camera ready. 

The tiger emerged from the far end of the water body. He completely ignored the deer, langur, wild boar and sambar foraging in the neighboring grassland on shore. We could see him walking at a brisk pace  nonchalantly towards the jungle road we were on. The tiger paid no heed to the men on jeep, he completely trusted us knowing we were harmless. This makes one realize how cowardly the big cat hunters were. And how ruthless betrayal  do the poachers indulge into.  

He was about twenty five feet away from us whence he came upon the road and then crossed over. "He has gone into the creek and we won't be able to see him" I said. But that was unwarranted, my guests had a good load in their camera for memories sake. 

"Incredible" Raimond said. His wife shook her head gleefully in affirmation.

"Chalo", I said to the driver. 

Male Tiger
Photo Teerath Singh