Our eyes had sufficiently feasted on exotic species of fauna on overseas safaris. It seemed downright daft, not to mention unpatriotic, not to take in the indigenous wildlife wealth of India. The difference lies not in the diversity available, but the quantum. A significant sighting of an important endangered animal here is indeed something of an achievement
In February this year, we found ourselves at the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. This wasn’t the ideal period for tiger tourism, and we were warned that at the best of times sighting this endangered beast could be elusive. There are tourists who spend days on the prowl and go back disappointed.
We were hardly five minutes into our safari when there was excitement in the convoy of jeeps on our particular route. A tigress had been spotted taking her afternoon nap. We stopped the jeep, craned our necks and strained our eyes to see hints of a striped slumbering form amidst the foliage of surrounding bushes. Her sleep was deep, and we surmised wake-up time could take a while.
In the meanwhile, we circled the rest of the sanctuary, hoping that this auspicious beginning would promise more drama. Grazing deer and simians were aplenty; the plumage of peacocks fanned out in a blaze of colour. But the star of the safari didn’t oblige in close encounter.
We returned to the queen, still lost in a world of deep dreams. Returning jeeps had gathered again, each jockeying for a vantage position. The waiting crowd was expectant with a hope of the momentous. An awed gasp reverberated when there were perceived signs of Sleeping Beauty awakening. Cameras were positioned for crucial moments.
Fortunately, Her Majesty was languid in her stirrings, giving the waiting voyeurs sufficient time to capture ephemeral grace. Each time, the majestic monarch stretched or yawned the onlookers responded with wonderment. Those drowsy moments fled too soon as the queen moved resolutely back to the demands of living, oblivious of her admiring fan club. She rose from her grassy bower to mount the abutting hill. The crowd feasted on her receding form with the devoutness reserved for deities, a sigh escaping when this tantalizing wild tryst ended.
Charged up by the experience, we shivered the next day in the biting chill of an early morning safari covering other routes of the park. There were pug marks on the routes, suggesting a tigress and her cubs had walked that way the night before. We came across other vivid family scenes – a large herd of wild boar and antelopes. Despite our deepest yearnings, family visuals of these fabulous felines eluded us in the limited time we spent at Bandhavgarh.
But what we witnessed was still a special something when I come across travel articles that rhapsodize the mere fact of being in the proximity of a tiger’s pug marks. We were indeed gifted some indelible impressions with the Sleeping Beauty of Bandhavgarh.