21 June 2014

Tiger! Tiger! Burning Bright at Panna, Madhya Pradesh

Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And What shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake

Surprise, surprise, surprise - the 1st draft of the itinerary has no mention of ANY of the wildlife reserves in MP. Logic is simple – according to S, he is jinxed and because in all his wildlife travels, he has NEVER seen an animal, if we go to a wildlife reserve with him, forget a tiger, we won’t see any wildlife at all. My take was – we’ll leave him behind in the hotel. Bandhavgarh was our first choice and we tried to rework the iti around that. However, we were told that tiger sighting is probable only at one gate and there is a limit to the no of safaris from that gate and unfortunately at the time of our visit it was fully booked out…destiny or what, the iti when we set out from Bangalore had NO mention of any wildlife reserves.

But then in Khajuraho, our hotel person recommended a visit to Panna national park early next morning, just about an hours drive from Khajuraho and on our way to Jabalpur. And so we are up really early next morning for our safari. Would we see a tiger or would S’s jinx prove true?

As we start for the safari, our guide keeps giving us info on the no of tigers and how many sightings in the last 2 weeks, the chance, the luck etc. I gauged he was under pressure to show us a tiger…so much so that he missed showing us so many beautiful birds that were flitting about. Finally, I told him…tiger is fine, it is a chance we may see but we are also interested in Birds and those are a sure shot. Why don’t you show us the birds and other wildlife…the smile on his face said it all! And so while the other entire safari jeeps went to the tiger viewpoint (as I called it), we were busy going to another part of the national park – more grassy, with more birds where we managed to see so many birds and two crocodiles . I have seen crocodiles many times but never, never a moving one. In Bannerghata national park, when we went for the nature walk, we saw a crocodile in the morning and on our return nearly 2.5 hrs later, he was still there – not having moved an inch!!! We saw one just lying around as usual at the edge of the water body and then …a movement in the water - finally saw a croc that was swimming and what a huge one…according to the guide he was 10ft…my friends thought he was exaggerating. I don’t care – it was swimming and was HUGE!

The Tigress Emerging from the forest and walking towards River Ken

We then moved to the tiger observation point – a small raised hillock with a building where the tracking jeep and devices are kept. The Ken River flowing below and the forest across the river…some 10 safari jeeps had been waiting there for a tiger sighting for nearly an hour since 7:30 AM.          As we wait, we see them leave one by one, bored and tired of waiting. Finally only 2 jeeps left, one in which a foreigner took a nap and ours. In 10 mins that also left and then as if she was waiting for everyone to leave, the tigress came out of the forest, walked slowly to the river edge, very gracefully looked left, looked right and then settled down in the water.

Several minutes later, she walked out of the water and literally did a RAMP WALK for us along the river edge. Now I know why they are called ROYAL. What a majestic animal. A great 12-15 min sighting, leaving us all totally wowed and me on a high for the rest of the trip.

S’s arguments that if we go with him, we won’t see thing were negated. The way he would go – where, where every time we saw something makes me wonder – jinx or a case of just looking in the wrong direction :-)

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