Bandhavgarh Pachpedi Buffer, July 2015
Hope you read till the very end.
As we left the lodge at 3:45 am on the 3rd morning of my 4 day trip I was hopeful that the hard work, patience and lack of sleep in the last few days would pay off today at Pachpedi Buffer about an hour or so long drive from Tala Village. We had spent about 5 hours the first day searching and reading signs of the Jungle and about 15 and a half on the second day, we missed the Tigers many times by a few minutes and listened to alarm calls of the deer, very strong ones from just 10-20 meters in the thick bushes, for hours and even heard a Tigress continuously call for her cubs last evening for about 20 minutes. We got many signs, fresh pug marks, scat, sprays, scratch, roars, alarm calls and even movement in the thick bushes but could not get a sighting. There are 6 Tigers (Dhamdhama Male, and Dhamdhama female with her 3 subadults and an unknown male) in the vicinity, within a very small area yet they can escape us so easily.
On the second day we found very fresh pug marks of two tigers just 500 meters from the gate, possibly from the night and so rushed in pursuit, my senses were alert and both the guide and I were standing and frantically searching…… all three of us started feeling that today will be the day and that too a day with immense possibilities….. but this is wildlife….. and it is very uncertain. The pug marks went in and out of the Tracks, occasionally we saw some marks of the Tigers sitting on the road and even playing. We kept on following and much to my surprise and even that of my naturalist and guide we continued even after 10 kms…… and on the 12th kilometer mark we reached the end of Buffer zone adjoining the core zone Khitouli…… The tigers were gone….. no more a chance of sighting these two once they crossed over to the restricted core area unless they plan to return today itself which is highly unlikely. We were shocked and flustered, it is very unusual for the Tigers to travel so much within such a short time. Why did they walk so much? and why could they not just sit there for a little while and laze around like Tigers do? The sheer mysteriousness, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, made us very irritated, how is it that the Tiger can be so mysterious, just disappear from within our grasps? All three of us were a little disappointed. But more than that we felt weak, helpless and tiny in front of this being……. We searched all day for a full 15 and a half hours, in the bone chilling cold of the morning and blistering heat and humidity of the afternoon, and pouring heavens of late evening, all with no luck.
But my patience was still intact, hanging by a thread, solely because of the immense beauty of the Buffer during the monsoon with its streams and ponds filled up to the brim and trees lush green and clean as if they just took a nice bath, the rich insect life, the sweet smell of earth and the ever present and melodious “Piu Phew” calling of the Indian Pitta, a small bird that migrates from Sri Lanka during the onset of summer and stays throughout the monsoons. Additionally because of my Naturalist Gudda from Kings Lodge, Pugdundee Safaris and Guide Dharmend. So on the way to the buffer on the 3rd morning, I was still optimistic, we had been in pursuit for a very long time and I felt like we deserved a glimpse at least. While the optimism gave me happiness and comfort, my heavy head and bad 7 week long cold and cough allergy apparently from the mold and pollen of the US summer gave me much pain. All this travel within a short span of 20 days US-Goa-Kabini-Bandhavgarh, lack of sleep, drastic weather changes and changes in food/water had sent my health for a toss. I could hardly keep eyes open on the way to the Buffer, but my cough and congestion did not let me sleep either. Throughout the day we did what we had been doing…… searching and stopping to study the forest and to take some photographs of the common subjects.
At around 2 pm, we halted at a watch tower for an hour or so to study the forest once again, maybe hear some calls. Gudda and I were just refreshing old memories from Bandhavgarh when it struck me…… it is a common custom in Bandhavgarh to break a coconut at a very old Sidh Baba temple inside Tala gate, it is believed that it fulfills your wishes, when handwork and luck do not combine to give you what you are looking for, it is believed that Sidh Baba will, so I told Gudda that “Arey year nariyal nah phoda isi liye Baagh nahi dikh raha hai” and he replied saying “Arey haaan, lekin ab toh phod bhi hi nahi saktey, Tala toh band hai.” At that moment our guide told us that there is another Sidh Baba Temple nearby. So without thinking twice we got inside the car, went to a nearby village and bought a coconut, drove to the temple frantically and completed the ritual. As we got into the Buffer again around 3:15 the optimism seemed to be flaring real high and soon enough we heard a sambhar alarm call around 4pm. Hence just like we had done before, we rushed to the area, parked our car and waited. Minutes felt like hours and we started feeling that this too would turn out to be one of the many false signs of hope…..
I fell asleep while waiting, and around 5:30 my guide said “Sir Baagh.” As if a the world was about to end and all heaven and hell about to burst, I sprang up from my sleep caught hold of my camera, which for some reason felt like the heaviest thing in the world and said “Kahaaan”? And Gudda pointed at her…… sitting like a spectacle from my dreams. My world started spinning partly due to the immediate break of my deep slumber and partly due to the immense beauty of the feline posing in front of me…. and I struggled to get the beanbag onto the jeep. I took a few shots and checked for all my settings.
Within a minute all my troubles seemed to disappear, I felt as if I could run a hundred miles…. faster than a tiger, all that waiting seemed like a few minutes and all that hard work seemed like childs play. There was a big 50 watt smile on all three of our faces. The shutter did not stop…… “Bagheshwar” (Tiger-God) was in front of me and it was pure bliss.
We spent a full 40 minutes with her, got some great shots as she got up and moved around marking her territory. Everything paid off and not only was this one of the best Tiger sightings of my life and would go as one of the best travel experiences in my book but also got one of my best tiger images ever. She was the most beautiful Tiger I have ever seen, even surpassed the blue eyed tigress (Spotty) that I saw in December. This Tigress named Chandini is the subadult of a famous Khitoli female called Dhamdhama.
It had always been a dream to see a Tiger in the greens, and what better place for it to happen than Bandhavgarh….. where it all began. I don’t know what it was….. luck, Sidh Baba, patience, hard work, blessing….. a mix of all? I don’t know. All I knew was the feeling of sheer joy and compassion.
Thanking my naturalist Gudda and guide Dharmend. This photograph is dedicated to you two. Also thanking the Kings Lodge Pugdundee Safaris Team especially Manav Khanduja who helped me plan this trip. It was a successful not only cause of the sighting but because I was able to learn so much and able to do a little research.
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