Monday 25th October
The day starts early again for our 6am safari.
The reality of living amongst tigers is brought home to us when our naturalist tells us that a village girl was killed by a tiger overnight, in a remote hilly area of Kanha.
We set off into the beautiful early morning forest, the foliage heavy with dew and mist clinging to the lakes.
An hour or so into our safari and our forest department guide picks up some fresh pugmarks and we starting tracking. We had followed fresh pugmarks at Bandhavgarh without success, so our hopes are not high. Then after about 1.5 km, we come over a rise in the road and their, less than 10 metres away, is a 3 year old tigress. We skid to a halt, our hearts pounding. She turns towards us, flattens her ears and bares her teeth. We back off rapidly to about 25 metres and she slowly settles down on a sunny patch of grass next to the track. We are alone with one of the world’s largest and rarest carnivores. A very special moment.
After only a minute or two, the sound of an approaching jeep startles her and she vanishes into the undergrowth. Only we have been lucky enough to spend time with her today.
We continue our safari with good sightings of various birds including a jungle owlet and a collared scoop owl, together with numerous chital and langurs.
A delicious breakfast picnic of pakora and pickle punctuates the morning and we head back for a swim and lunch at Chitvan, thoroughly happy.
The afternoon safari starts at 3pm and when we arrive at Mukki Gate we are the only car. Kanha is much quieter and therefore more pleasant to tour than Bandhavgarh.
We set off through the forest spotting peacock, langur, chital, bassinga and various birds including the common and racquet tailed drongo, jungle fowl and Indian rollers.
We also spot our first snake, a keelback snake, lying in a stream waiting for frogs.
At about 4.30 pm we are driving along chatting with our forest guide and naturalist when suddenly our forest guide shouts “tiger”. None of us can see anything, but he says he saw a tiger just disappearing off the track into the dense undergrowth.
We spend the next 30 minutes or so searching and listening. We can hear the alarm calls of langurs and peacocks, but the undergrowth is too dense for us to see anything.
We break off the search to answer “the call of nature” at a nearby jungle lodge, then we drive back to the area where our guide had seen the tiger and park at the junction of two tracks. Within seconds the word “tiger” are again uttered by our guide and this time we see the three year old brother of the tigress we had seen in the morning, walking slowly away from us up a track running at right angles to ours.
Our driver quickly follows at a safe distance. We have already been told that this is the new dominant male in this area, who in the last few weeks had killed his predecessor alpha male and is therefore very aggressive and establishing his territory. As he walks he stops by a tree, lifts his tail, and sprays a scent mark.
We come over a rise heading down to a bridge and he has disappeared. We cross the bridge and there he is, in the classic crouched pose, drinking from a stream. We stop in full view, only 10 metres away. We later admit we were all, including our naturalist, a little frightened. He stays drinking for 2 or 3 minutes, then slowly walks up the bank onto the road behind our Gypsy. He turns towards us, bears his teeth and takes a step or two in our direction. Our forest guide urgently tells our driver to pull forward and the tiger relaxes. He nonchalantly crosses the track and descends again to the stream and as we reverse onto the bridge, we see him slowly walking away up the stream bed until he disappears round a bend. Our adrenaline is still flowing.
Our forest guide and our naturalist both tell us that this was a rare and special encounter. Jake, Sarah and I all agree that this was the wildlife encounter of or lives. 10 metres away from an adult male tiger and just us and the tiger present. No other humans and no form of protection.
The evening is rounded off with the most delicious meal of the our holiday so far.