Meeting tigers in the jungles is unthinkable for a majority of urban Indians, who are fed on fancy legends and television stories. Driving through the lush green forests of Satpura mountain range in Madhya Pradesh dotted with a variety of chirpy birds , bees, deer, boars, sambhars, bear, snakes and colourful butterflies in pristine environs is the most cherishing and rewarding experience.
Tigers literally came to meet us in the core areas of the Bandhavgarh and dense Kanha forests while we were around in open Gypsies. Not being able to converse with them, was our loss!
While on our visit to the Bandhavgarh forest which has the highest density of tigers in India, a sprightly tigress walked in from the forest , from our right side with slight limp. Spotty, as the three and a half-year-old tigress is named , walked in on to the road very close to our Gypsy and valiantly scratched her claws on the ground for quite some time, to mark her territory, we were informed.
Confidently walking through the road, she crossed on the other side to move into the forest.
Dilip, our tribal driver who belongs to Tala village, talked about her valour. Hers is an eventful story. She has supposedly separated from her mother, the great Raj Bahera. More importantly Spotty has taken cudgels to get into altercation with the 8 year Mirchaheni who reigns in this region.
“Spotty aims at overpowering her… Hence she confidently walked along the road with an impressive gait…” Hearing of tigresses reigning was bewildering, since the jungles are a patriarchal domain! More so such a young one engaging in squabbles with her senior was highly commendable.
Tigers are very territory conscious. Hence they create their territories and preserve them.
Returning to our hotel singing her praise to the envy of our other friends who missed her, we had a highly spirited evening following great dinner.
Viewing two other tigers later in Kanha forest was a greater treat for me. While we were trying to track a tiger, Red Eye, a majestic eight-year-old strolled in our midst unannounced. We were taken aback at his magnificence. He walked amidst us for close to 20 minutes and then turned around to the forest.
Red Eye had probably come to have a word with Munna a 10 year old veteran tiger, we had seen earlier during the day at Kisli sleeping in the Lantana bushes since morning. Red Eye, named because of a red mark near his eye, probably had a dual with his senior , hence he slept from morning.
Our efforts at meeting Munna post lunch turned futile as he had moved to another zone of the forest by evening.
Animals and humans relationship in the forest is not exactly symbiotic but… could be healthy and dicey as well. Several villages in the core tiger zones have been moved out ‘to free the jungles’ from human interference, which has hindered their relations and communications and has upset some inhabitants. Some villagers like Achhelal, earlier Panchayat member of Ranchha village, just outside Bandhavgarh, don’t seem to mind it. “Life inside the forest was very difficult, our animals were always under threat. Even the poaching of tigers and animals has now been curtailed to a great extent.” This village is on the fringe of forest.
Stories of valorous tigers abound the forests are amazing and humans interested in them is wonderful. We were reminded of the famous “Jungle Book” by the famed Rudyard Kipling which was written in the Kanha region.
Charger a ferocious 10 year old tiger reigned the forest for years and killed many animals. But due to his age he finally fell in a battle in 2000. His plaque shines in the forest.
Lapsi Taraha, a Baiga tribal who lived in Mukki village in Kanha forest in 1930s, was a valorous man and a great hunter. He is said to have tied his wife to a tree to invite a tiger for a fight. Unfortunately his wife fell to the tiger and neither could he sustain himself fighting with his bow and arrow for over half an hour. He is still remembered with lots of legends around him and people have also placed a plaque to honour him.
However, the predators have their own ways of handling their lives. Leopards are shy of humans, but feared by the animals as they are very swift at catching their prey, for which they could climb trees and can run for two hours. Unlike them, the robust ‘tigers ,are considered lazy’, as they do not run much. The 250 kg sambhar is favoured by the ‘regals’ for their bulk and as they can’t run as swiftly as the slender spotted deer. Our experience in the forest was not very different.
A sudden cacophony struck us for a very long while…. with langurs barking, deer bleating and other weird noises. Our guide cheered us up informing us of a leopard in our vicinity. Leopards, the predators are feared by the langurs, deer as they climb up the trees to attack them.
The din went on for fairly long. We finally sighted the predator however at a long distance around dusk. Sadly, we could not photograph him.. However it was an achievement sighting the predator in the forest.
Returning to our hotel we parked ourselves on the windy balcony to celebrate our great venture sighting a leopard… After the heavy dinner we had to retire to get up before dawn to reach the forest by 4.30 am to get our choicest view.
Later on we were lucky enough to encounter another leopard. A similar cacophony, excited us this time. However, we were unlucky as the predator ditched us.
Leopards are shy of humans and do not like to venture near them unlike the Regal tigers. We had heard a tiger growling. Despite our efforts, we could not see him. He walked away.
We could not miss the herds of spotted deer, sambhar and also barasingha or swamp deer in the meadows and ravines and along.
*Senior journalist and activist