A Travellerspoint blog

Kanha to Bhopal - Blood on the Tracks

Tuesday 26th October

Our last safari of the holiday starts at 6am, and its much colder than previously. The animals seem to be sheltering. Poor viewing of all mammals, and no tigers. We do however spot a serpent eagle and a very colourful yellow footed green pigeon.

After a delicious breakfast of paratha, pickle and curd, it is off to Jabalpur to catch a train to Bhopal. The road from Mandla to Jabalpur, a national highway, turns out to be the worst road we have been on India. Little more than a dirt track in places.

We arrive in Jabalpur in plenty of time for our train and settle down in the A/C waiting room. Even this simple task has railway bureaucracy attached to it, as we have to fill in an Indian railways form.

The 2192 Jabalpur New Delhi Super Express pulls in on time and we settle into our bunks. We set off in the dark and we all try to get some sleep, since we are going to be arriving in Bhopal after midnight.

At 11.50pm the train slows and pulls into a station. It is 15 minutes before our scheduled Bhopal arrival time, but we cannot read the name of the station. In my rush to find the carriage attendant I hit my head of small metal bracket protruding from the top bunk and immediately warm blood starts to flow down my face and back. I apply pressure with a tissue and the carriage attendant, apparently un-phased by his blood soaked passenger, confirms that there is still 10 minutes to Bhopal.

Sarah attends to my cut and after a few minutes the blood flow slows. Sarah thinks the cut is only 1cm long and is not sure whether a stitch is needed.

Bhopal soon arrives and we are met by Reliant Travel, who are arranging our car in Bhopal. After turning down offers by Indian Railways to see one of their doctors, we head to the nearest private hospital. The cut turns out to be 5cms long and hospital staff get a senior surgeon out of bed to attend to me!! He takes me into the operating theatre and under a local anaesthetic puts in 6 stitches. 30 minutes of a surgeon’s time, local anaesthetic, tetnus jab and four different drugs, total cost about $30. If you have got to cut your head, India’s a cheap place to do it!

The hospital itself, although private is grubby and relatives are sleeping on every available surface. I don’t understand why a hospital cannot be kept clean. Labour is so plentiful and cheap, the one thing a hospital ought to be able to do better than in more developed countries, is keep the place clean.

It takes less than an hour in total and we are finally in bed in the excellent Jehan Numa Palace by 1.30 am.

Posted by Timbob 06:07 Archived in India Comments (0)

Tigers at Kanha

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.
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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.
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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.

Posted by Timbob 06:04 Archived in India Comments (0)

Kanha National Park

Sunday 24th October

We say goodbye to Bandhavgarh and set out for Kanha.

We travel 150kms through a noticeably poor rural landscape. Even though it’s Sunday everyone is out in the fields, and not a tractor in sight. Fields are ploughed by oxen pulling wooden ploughs. Rice is harvested by hand and then carried back to the village either in ox carts or with a sheaf tied to either end of a wooden pole carried over the shoulder by a woman or man. Rice is separated from the plant by spreading the sheaves of rice on a large hard mud circle with a wooden pole protruding from the centre. 3 or 4 oxen are then harnessed next to each other and to the central pole. They then walk slowly in a circle crushing the rice sheaves under their hooves and separating the rice. It’s like an Indian version of a Thomas Hardy novel; fascinating but somewhat depressing in what is now one of the world’s richest nations.

Our journey to Kanha takes much longer than I had expected because I hadn’t realised our hotel is on the opposite side of the huge national park from Bandhavgarh, which means we have to traverse 30 kms of rough park roads and tracks. Then when we arrive at Mukki gate, only 4 km from our hotel, we discover that the Forestry Department has closed the road and we are led by men from our hotel on a 30 minute detour through tribal villages on rutted mud roads, with the villagers all staring at this strange spectacle.

Our hotel, Chitvan, is a peaceful oasis run on environmental and organic principles, with a small farm attached, providing many of their vegetable requirements.

After a quick lunch we venture into Kanha National Park for our safari. Kanha is much bigger than Bandhavgarh and at this time of year the undergrowth is much denser. This combines to make animal sightings less frequent. However, we still to see the elusive jungle cat for a few seconds. We also spot Basinga Swamp Deer, which can only be found in Kanha which is home to the remaining world population of 350. Another new species we spot today are Guar, huge wild cattle, with males weighing up to 1 tonne.
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Our first sighting of a male Sambar also occurs on this safari and sightings of Chital and langurs complete the list of mammals seen.

We complete the day with a gourmet Indian meal in the hotel restaurant.

Posted by Timbob 09:08 Archived in India Comments (0)

Elephant Safari and more Tigers

Saturday 23rd October

Up early again and off this morning to zone 2 for our very expensive elephant safari. After a short safari in the jeep we return to where the mahouts have brought their elephants. We are told that the mahouts have found a fresh tiger kill and they expect the tigers (they think a mother and three cubs) to be still in the area.

We climb from the Gypsy roll bar up onto the howdah on the elephant’s back and head off into the early morning jungle. The ride is a once in a lifetime experience. A totally unique way to see the jungle. Total silence apart from the elephant periodically tearing off chunks of bamboo to eat on the move.

White spotted deer no longer run away from us as we approach and we get a much better view of both the wildlife and the countryside.

We reach the approximate site of the kill and the mahout urges his elephant into the undergrowth to locate both the kill and the tigers. Excitement turns to disappointment as we discover the kill, a domestic cow, but not tigers.

The ride back gives us an impression of the elephant’s great suitability to traversing the jungle terrain as we crash through heavy undergrowth and splash through deep swamps that no 4WD could hope to cope with.

We say goodbye to our elephant and have a final hour safari in the jeep.

Our evening safari adds a rare red headed vulture to our list and a second sighting of the elusive barking deer; as well as the best sighting yet of sambar, wild boar and chital.

Then another jeep informs us that they have just seen a tiger lying in undergrowth next to a track. We drive to the scene to find some seven or so jeeps jostling for position next to a juvenile male lying about 5 metres off the track in undergrowth. The jeep drivers show all the discipline of their compatriots on the road i.e. none; as one gets bogged down in a desperate attempt to get closer to the action and another reverses into our car
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As we watch the tiger, suddenly one and then two and finally three of his siblings emerge from the forest. It’s so exiting to see four tigers in the wild that the jostling almost doesn’t matter.

We have to finish our safari at breakneck pace to make the exit on time. What a way to finish our time at Bandhavgarh.

In the evening our hotel has laid on a dance by local tribal people. These things usually feel horribly contrived, but in this case the dancers seem to be full of enthusiasm and energy as the play drums and bang sticks in a manner reminiscent of English morris dancers, but with about twice the energy.
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This brings to an end a memorable stay at Tiger’s Den, except for the inevitable Delhi belly which strikes us all that night. Luckily only mild.

Posted by Timbob 09:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

Our first Tigers

Friday 22nd October

Up at 4.45am with Masala Chai and biscuits. Our morning safari is a slight disappointment. Plenty of deer, wild boar and Langurs. Even some fresh Tiger pugmarks, but no sign of the king of the jungle.

Nonetheless the 4WD journey is quite exciting in its own right and the early morning is stunning.
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The middle of the day is our own and Jake and I swim and read in the sun, while Sarah relaxes.

After another huge lunch we set of into Zone 1 for the second time today and soon find fresh pugmarks on a trail, but no Tiger. We have good sightings of most other large mammals, including our first barking deer. Then with on an hour left a jeep heading towards us signals they have seen two tigers lying in open ground only 2km away. We head off as fast as the uneven tracks will allow.

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When we arrive there are already four other jeeps in attendance, but we get a clear view of two juvenile tigers at about 200 metres distance, lying in a maidan, just in the buffer zone. We feel relieved and excited and take many photos and view them through our binoculars.

Our quest to see tigers in the wild achieved, we head high up in the Bandhavgarh hills to witness a spectacular sunset, with the sun forming a perfect orange disc in the sky. It was a sunset the like of which I have never seen in Europe.
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On the way to the park exit we stop at an ancient rock dwelling, where we are shown hundred of great eastern horseshoe bats, both hanging from the ceiling and flying.

It’s been a full day and we head for the hotel.

Posted by Timbob 09:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

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