In the early 1900s, it was estimated that India alone housed ~100000 tigers and in 2015 there are close to 2200 tigers.Prior to the 1900s, tigers were a symbol of pride and greatness for the kings and they were used as a line of defence outside forts ( Agra Fort, Chittorgarh fort.. etc ). Each fort had almost 1500-1600 tigers guarding it. So where and how did the tiger population decline so rapidly in the country considered to be its homeland?? However, in the past decade owing to the increased awareness towards protecting and preserving this majestic beast, the numbers of our national animal has been on a steady rise.
The Humsafar happens to be a major tiger enthusiast and has followed, tracked and collated lots of trivia about them, thus infusing a fair bit of curiosity and love for this animal in me. Over the past 7 years we have visited the best safaris in the country with the pursuit of spotting this elusive being in its natural habitat – Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Corbett. Just the idea of travelling in an open jeep looking for pug marks, listening closely for the alarm call of a barking deer , hoping to catch a glimpse of the tigers at close quarters in its home is a major HIGH and an addictive experience!!
Ranthambore was our first stop. It was an impromptu decision to visit the park. We had just completed a wonderful holiday @Udaipur and Jaipur, happened to have an extra day in hand, the tiger reserve had just opened to the public post the rainy season and so we decided to try our luck at ‘SPOTTING’. Most of the tiger reserves have a cap on the number of vehicles that can enter the Park at a given time. It is best to make advanced reservations (online) to avoid last minute scrambling! (http://www.rajasthanwildlife.rajasthan.gov.in/booking.do)
Ranthambore is a large and very dense forest and is home to the special tigress – MACHALI – on whom several documentaries have been made. Owing to its size, the park is divided into 5 zones and is home to 60 tigers. Statistically, the tiger density in this park is very high thereby increasing the chances of spotting. There are several theories behind tiger spotting – some say it depends on the zone, some say it depends on the season, some say its pure luck and I say its ALL OF THE ABOVE:-) Ranthambore was unlucky for us since it rained heavily and our jeep got stuck in the mud and it was almost impossible to spot them. We could only spot a Nilghai and a Ghariyal.
Post our disappointing run at Ranthambore, we did a lot of research and zeroed in on Bandhavgarh/Kanha/Pench as our next stop. All the reviews built our hopes and we were confident of spotting a tiger @ Bandhavgarh. Charger and B2 -regarded as the strongest tigers in the world dominated this reserve prior to their death ( natural).
Bandhavgarh is divided into 3 zones – Tala, Magadhi and Khitauli in decreasing order of tiger density. Online bookings need to be made and the cost per safari depends on the zone. 7-10 years back , tiger spotting in Bandhavgarh was almost 100% but now since tiger conservation is on the rise ,80% of the park area is inaccessible to public thus bringing down the probability of spotting tigers even in the most dense zone – Tala. (http://mp-online.in/mponline-ticket-booking-bandhavgarh)
However, Bandhavgarh has a variety of other flora and fauna. Asiatic bears, 3000 species of butterflies ( highest in the world), panthers, leopards, wild boars and several species of birds inhabit this forest. ‘Mowgli’ of the jungle book fame is believed to have been conceptualized in this very jungle.
We were unlucky with tigers yet again @Bandhavgarh, but were lucky enough to spot a full grown male bear. Before I could get a click of him, he scurried away into the bushes!
After having drained almost a lakh in just safaris ( yes they are expensive !!), the Humsafar and I had almost lost all hope in spotting a tiger in India. It is said that for every 20 times the tiger spots us, man spots them back just once. So you can do the math and calculate the probability of spotting!!
In March 2015, we decided to give our dream one LAST chance and this time we chose Corbett. Corbett is the largest tiger reserve in India -in terms of area, it has the maximum number of tigers ~ 250, but the chances of spotting are minimal owing to the hilly terrain, just a single route for all jeeps ( no zones unlike other parks) and an extremely dense forest. Corbett is one of the few reserves in India where tigers are not tracked, named or observed. In all other reserves across India , the forest department takes very keen interest in data collection and analysis on a daily basis.
In spite of so many odds against us, rainy weather and a poor run so far, we managed to spot this majestic beauty in Corbett not once but twice – the first one was a middle aged cub ,who had strayed to the road to drink water and the second one was a large male. We held our breath as we saw the cat come close to the jeep and look at us right into the eye. A feeling worth a million bucks and irreplaceable.
Corbett is a beautiful forest with long stretches of canopying trees. During our safari we managed to spot the rare Indian Jackal, she confidently posed for our pictures.
Apart from tigers Corbett boasts of a large elephant population. They move in herds of 20-25 and what a sight it is for us to see them parade that way!
What makes Corbett a unique experience is the stay at the Forest rest house@Dhikala on the banks of the Ramganga river. Amazing rooms, view and food!. Again reservations open up 45 days prior and you need to be real quick to make the bookings. Staying IN the jungle makes for an altogether different experience!!
A little tiger trivia:
- None of these reserves are home to man eaters . All man eaters are now concentrated in the Sunderbans (west Bengal)
- In spite of their striking orange and black stripes , they are one of the best camoflagers.
- Each tiger has a unique pattern of stripes(Oh Yes!)
Hopefully , I have inspired readers enough to make a trip to one of the reserves in our country and enjoy spotting my FAVORITE animal!!