In search of the Tiger A day on safari in India
Cox & Kings’ PR executive Katie Parsons stayed at Taj Safari’s Banjaar Tola lodge in Kanha National Park and went searching for tigers.
I am woken by the sound of my morning coffee being delivered through the butler’s hatch of the most luxurious tent I’ve ever slept in. November to January is surprisingly cold first thing in the morning so getting out of the bed, fitted with an electric blanket, is likely to be the hardest thing I’ll have to do today. We meet with our naturalist guide at the camp’s dining area for a bowl of porridge – whisky optional – around a warming fire before setting out in the jeep for the national park. Even with all the warm layers we’ve been warned to wear, the blankets and hot water bottle are a needed luxury!
As the sun starts to rise, the park opens and we head in. With 1,945 km2 of pristine wilderness, Kanha is one of India’s largest parks and as one of the first tiger reserves established with the initial launch of Project Tiger in 1973, we’re optimistic of a sighting. Mahouts are sent out at first light with their elephants to track the tigers so we drive straight to register for an elephant trek in case they’ve been able to spot any.
Animal sightings are plentiful early in the morning: we’ve already seen langur monkey, spotted deer and a variety of birdlife. After a couple of hours following tiger footprints but without success, we decide to head back to the elephant camp to see if the mahouts have had more success than us tracking this elusive animal. Excitement builds when we’re told that one has been sighted and the elephants will be able to take us about 200m into the jungle to see it. I’ve never eaten breakfast so quickly.
We climb onto the enormous elephants, which proceed to trample through the jungle, knocking down plants as they go. The mahouts point out the tigress sleeping under a bush less than five metres away from us. With the exhilaration of finally seeing a tiger, I managed to drop the video camera off the elephant. I know I couldn’t get off the elephant to retrieve it, but equally don’t want to leave a purple flip camera on the jungle floor. The mahout calmly says to the elephant ‘back’, to which the elephant steps back, and then ‘pick’ and it curls it’s trunk round the camera and passes it back up to the mahout. For a few moments we all forget that we’re supposed to be watching the tigress and are captivated by the incredible relationship between the mahout and elephant.
The park closes during the midday heat so after the morning’s excitement we head back to our lodge to relax before lunch. Banjaar Tola is one of four Taj Safari camps and is situated on the edge of the Banjaar river overlooking the national park on the opposite bank. The camp has been designed with a light footprint so that no impact is made to the surroundings. The luxury tented suites have bamboo flooring and a canvas roof and walls. From my king sized bed I can look out through the glass doors and across the large veranda to the river below.
After a quick swim in the pool and a delicious three-course lunch of soup and other locally-inspired foods, we drive back into the park for more animal spotting. As the pressure for seeing a tiger has gone, we head up on to the plateau above the forest where it is possible to see the highly endangered barasingha, the Indian bison. Driving up we pass through different types of forest and see new fauna as we climb higher. This is also prime leopard territory but unfortunately we don’t have the same luck this afternoon. From the plateau we watch the sunset over the park, signalling the end of our wonderful visit to Kanha National Park.
We’re welcomed back into the camp with hot face towels and a warm ginger and lemon drink and a bath has already been run in the tents for us. The Taj Safaris team seem to know exactly what we need before we’ve even realised it for ourselves! We’re told to be ready for the evening’s surprise in an hour and to wrap up warm…
Dinner was laid under a huge mahua tree, the tree of life, illuminated by over one hundred lanterns, each put into the tree by hand. After a sumptuous Indian BBQ, with tandoori chicken, curries, dhal and other specialities we head back to the camp, exhausted but completely delighted by all we’ve seen and done today.
Cox & Kings offers luxury safaris to India