Tigers… and India’s other wildlife
Leaning out from the jeep, the sight of the fresh pugmarks of a tiger made the hair on my neck stand up. The peacock continued his shrill alarm; the sambar deer was ‘belling’ and alerting the jungle that a tiger was on the move. I chanced to look behind me and there she was, a wonderful tigress crossing the track 30 feet away! The sheer beauty and the thrill of seeing this magnificent animal made me almost shiver in the cool morning air; the sun had not yet fully risen and the mist was still low over the glades and elephant grass.
Tiger at dawn
Meanwhile the jungle calls were adding to the sense of anticipation and excitement. Fortunately – perhaps the tiger god was smiling on us – an elephant appeared and the mahout quickly saw we needed his jungle transport. With great speed and adrenaline pumping, we climbed from the jeep’s roll bar onto the elephant’s howdah and she sped off into the forest in pursuit. What followed was amazing: the tigress had not left the area and we came face to face with her. And then she turned and pounced. There followed a short desperate scream and the tigress stood looking at us with the body of a chital fawn in her jaws; the little one had obviously been abandoned by his panicked mother and had hoped to save itself in the long grass. The tigress observed us steadily for a few moments then bounded away. We were spellbound and returned on the elephant to the track. I patted the elephant and noticed her lengthy eyelashes, about 5cm: what splendid animals elephants are and so courageous.
Be it in Ranthambore, or Corbett, Bandhavgarh, Kanha or any of India’s tiger reserves, there is the same thrill and anticipation of seeing the king of the jungle. In the Gir Lion Sanctuary in Gujarat, if fortunate, you might also see the Asiatic lion. I enjoy India’s great wildlife parks and always have an eye and ear open for any creature, be it a small sleepy-looking owl to a solitary leopard high on a rampart watching down on you in the dawn light. Chital stags battling for territory, kingfishers of all sizes, serpent eagles, nilgai and sambar deer, wild pigs, peacocks strutting in a jungle glade, porcupines, gaur, a sloth bear with her cubs if you are very lucky, as we were earlier this year in Satpura. India has the highest number of migratory bird species of any country: paradise flycatchers, golden orioles, bee-eaters, Indian rollers and hoopoes. The list goes on; they make my heart stop with their beauty.
Flamingos, Little Rann of Kutch
Recently we visited Pench for the first time and on our last morning had the thrill of seeing a pair of male tigers come out from the undergrowth and leisurely walk up and cross the road right in front of us. It was truly the most wonderful experience to see those two fine males answering the call of their third brother. In Ranthambore we chanced upon a sleepy tiger who finally stood up for us to see him in all his glory, and just as we were leaving we saw a slumbering tigress… glorious experiences because I have been sometimes in a park and had no tiger sightings. Although there is plenty of other wildlife to enjoy, spotting a tiger is always the icing on the cake!
The Three Bears
Each park has its own particular attractions but all have that same intrinsic beauty of a special wild place with peace and tranquillity. When the elephant grass flowers it looks like a sea of waving white and silvery plumes, perhaps with a shy herd of deer grazing; a jungle pool, a quiet glade and a tiny kingfisher fishing. Stop and be still – allow the magic of India’s wild places to enter your heart.
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Cox & Kings’ new escorted tour for 2018, Taj, Tigers & Trains includes two nights in Ranthambore national park. To find out more about holidays to India please see here.