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It was the beginning of May, 2012.
It had been really long since I went out for a vacation.
The weather wasn't encouraging in the least.
An idea popped in my mind which I made public.
Ranthambhore National Park.
My wifey's reaction : Are you crazy? Rajasthan in May?
My dad/mom said : Rajasthan in May would be 45 degrees.
I scratched my head in desperation. I knew tigers would be easy to spot in summer.
But an Indian summer came with its own maladies.
Finally, after a lot of postponements, we managed the Kanha trip.
It was supposed to be in April, then May, but June clicked and we were on our way.
We reached Nagpur in the morning on 17th June and then proceeded to Kanha by road. The journey was about 260 kms, but the road was quite good and our driver quick.
The sky was overcast and it has rained quite a bit in the last 24 hours.
I was cursing myself for choosing June because of the probable rains. They could spoil the whole wildlife sojourn.
Praying, we started from Nagpur, but the prayers were going unanswered. It started raining hard. The speed of our vehicle went drastically down, this kept happening on and off till we were in Maharashtra.
On the way, we stopped at MPTDC resort at Rookhad, pretty ordinary stuff. If you have had nothing for breakfast/lunch, then probably you can halt there, but don’t expect something extraordinary.
When we cleared the Maharashtra border, the skies started clearing, by the time we reached the Khatia gate of Kanha national park, the sun was shining on us, though very softly.
Finished the formalities of signing the registers, asked the man at the gate if the evening safari was available, he said it was.
He also said that it had been closed for the last 2 and half days due to heavy rains. I thanked heavens and stepped back into my car.
Then we checked into Baghira log huts, the resort maintained by MPTDC.
The best thing is that there are AC rooms available.
The good thing is that the view isn’t bad (though the view is strictly not comparable to the Old FRH at Corbett)
The things I was unhappy about include quite a few.. the resort is just technically inside the jungle, so you don’t get the real wild feeling, there is a petrol pump bang opposite the resort.
Nevertheless, it has lots of Sal trees around.
The food is decent, not much in terms of variety, but decent in terms of quality, don’t expect exotic dishes, its daily Indian fare.
If you are a wildlife enthusiast, you would anyway be hardly bothered about food.
Day 1 – Evening Safari :
We managed to catch the safari on Day 1 at 330 pm, despite the rains on the way from Nagpur.
The jeeps (maruti gypsies) line up outside the gate before entry to the park.
One thing that sucked : because of the heavy rains in the prior days, the gypsies took a single route inside the park, so for a long time, you will find gypsies travelling in a line and this in a word is ‘D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R’ for tiger sighting.
And as expected, we did not see any tigers that day.
But I was pretty happy, that I managed to capture a lot of other fauna on my camera. That, as much as tigers is important to me.
Lots of times, most people do not give an animal its worth.
For example, the deer, which is the main meal for a tiger, is just not noticed by people.
Just try and get close to one of them, they will give you some of the best poses to click. Their jerky movement, the big, expressive eyes, make them a sight to behold.
The Barasingha (unique only to Kanha) is now on the endangered list with just 350 of them remaining.
The park officials have made a separate enclosure for breeding them.
We spotted the Gaur (Indian bison), lots of peacocks, spotted deer, barking deer and the Barasingha.
The peacocks were kind enough to give some royal poses.
Day2 – Morning Safari :
One thing which I mentioned earlier as irritating, continued. The single route which all gypsies followed.
Most animals stay in a particular area for a few days at least, so but obviously we were constantly being deprived of the chance to watch the other diverse life of the park.
Most of the times, it was the same places we saw the same animals.
Me, my wife and my sister-in-law were having more fun today though. The mood was relaxed, we were passing through the same routes and we were chit-chatting.
All this ended suddenly, the other jeep with our friends in it, came hurtling towards us at break neck speed.
He indicated, we turned back and sped. We knew it was the tiger.
No other animal in the country commands such attention, our driver drove at amazing speeds, his old gypsy, though a little creaky, revved up pretty well.
Ina few seconds we were at the spot, I couldn’t see anything.
Me : “Where is it?”
My Wife : “I am able to see it, woooooww!! Give me the camera.”
SIL : “Where is it ?”
Perplexed, me and my SIL looked at each other, making faces.
Then the driver, pointed, “look carefully behind the grass, can you see now??”
Then I noticed, the amazing sight of nature’s wonder.
A small, about an year old tiger, maybe 3-4 feet in length was sitting calmly.
The colour of his skin was magnificent, it hadn’t turned yellow yet, it was kind of deep yellow tending to orange with black stripes.
I was so lost and engrossed, my wifey said : Click man… what’s wrong with you?
Then I realized and brought my camera.
But the damn auto focus mode, it was focussing on the grass rather than the camouflaged tiger.
In the meanwhile, the word spread, about 20 gypsies zeroed in on the spot where we were standing.
The din was too much for the barely mature tiger.
He just quietly stood up, turned back, gave us a good view and disappeared into the bushes.
A few minutes later, we could hear the growls of the kid, they sounded a little weird, but the guide told us that he was calling out for his mother.
There was still a bit of disappointment that none of us could capture it on cam because of the bushes, the camouflage and the failing light, but the glint in our eyes made up for the lost light.
We had just meandered a little ahead when our guide signalled the driver to stop.
The langoors were calling, he said that there is a cat around, but we did not know which one.
He said it could be the tigress mother. The hearts started pounding again in anticipation.
Looking at our gypsy, many others too stopped.
We got our binoculars out, and I got my telephoto lens out. This time, I did not want to miss it.
Then the guide pointed to a tree, we saw 2 leopards perched comfortably there.
One went into hiding in the thick foliage.
But the second one, like God, gave us a very good darshan, it moved around on the tree, showed us its back ( :P ), then looked through the eyes, then gave the side view, scratched itself on the bark of the tree. All this was a good 100 feet away from us, but since it was on a tree, we had a feast!
I clicked to my heart’s content.
The smile on my wife’s and sil’s face was something which I cherish even now!
I am a wildlife enthusiast, but for their sake, I wanted them to sight something in reality. They got really fascinated.
We stopped at a small eatery in the Kanha range, there was a museum as well.
It was a safari well spent!
The ‘tiger-on-cam’ disappointment was lingering, but the other events made sure we had a happy lunch!
Day – 2 : Afternoon safari :
After spotting the first tiger, we were anticipating a little too much.
But this was a real stress buster safari!
This time we were relaxed a little more, more observant to the sounds of the jungle.
The breeze cooled as the clouds drew in again. We feared another shower, but it remained just good.
The fauna in the jungle was also relaxed, this was a ‘feel-good’ safari.
It ended like that.
Had a nice dinner and then a game of cards and dumb charades at the room.
We were waiting for the last safari the next morning.
Day – 3 : Morning Safari :
We were up at 4 am, the driver was punctual, he landed at our door at 430 AM.
We were at the Kisli gate by 445 AM, ours were the first 2 jeeps.
This day, we told the driver, take the route not frequented by anyone. We just wanted to enjoy the nature in our last trip.
We had barely travelled 10 minutes when a familiar din surrounded us.
Our guide said, it can only be a tiger, there cannot be such a crowd for anything else.
Excited, we drew closer.
It was a full blooded full grown adult male tiger sleeping.
We were a little perplexed, it looked dead because of the posture.
The legs were folded, facing the sky, lying on the back, face to the sky.
Then we saw its belly furiously breathing away.. and we heaved a sigh of relief!
The guide told us that there this tiger wont wake up because its immensely tired and only then do they sleep like this.
This is when they are least bothered. We were too close for comfort, at the maximum about 5 feet away. We were clicking incessantly.
But here, I was hugely disappointed because people were using flashes. I really don’t understand why they do this.
Probably they don’t know how to turn it off
Anyways I had my fill of close up shots! About 50 pics and a few HD videos.
Then he turned, looked at us .. I froze, and then he dozed off again.
All this on HD video!! I was thrilled!
Then the rest of the safari, everything looked beautiful, the gaurs, deer, jackals and peacocks all had their magic!
We had a final lunch in Baghira log huts, and bid farewell to this wonderful place with a lot of fond memories and a treasure of pics and videos!
This trip did not disappoint us at all.
Some pics below :
Yeah some of the things i love!
done with the holiday planning for this year.. somehow it just reminds me of the holiday last year..
It just feels like yesterday.
Though the holiday consisted of Corbett, Nainital and Agra.. for the sake of my love for wildlife, i would call it the Corbett trip.
Lots of planning had gone into it. Right from the bookings for the trains and flights to the stay in the forest.. everything had to be taken care of.
Thankfully for me, Tina my wife, also has an eye for detail and that makes the planning part a lot easier. Had even one of us been the causal, 'chalta hai' traveller who is content with 'flight-nahi-toh-train-and-train-nahi-toh-bus' attitude like the current XBox generation, our holiday life wouldn't have existed.
We readied the plan for March in December itself. Took half a day off from office to go to the KMVN office at Hyd to book the forest lodge. Got the air tickets to Delhi done and we were done to go!
Day 1 : Flight from Hyd to Delhi -
4 people, me, Tina, Vijay(my college pal) and Vyanks(the Finacle wonderboy) were onboard. Night flight, what else could you expect? Dozed off till we reached Delhi.
There, my overzealous cousin picked us up from the airport and took us home for the nightstay and we were served yummy home food.
Day 2 : The trip begins -
Early morning, a decent looking car picked us up from our house and we started the trip to Corbett. The journey was dusty as expected on Indian roads.. but the highway was pretty good except for places where we encountered villages and overcrowded towns. We stopped somewhere in UP hinterland at a dhaba for breakfast which was amazingly cheap and good in terms of food. Paranthas aren't the prescribed food for road journeys but with a Punjabi foodie on board.. paranthas were the way to go!
The journey lasted for about 5 hours and we kept ourselves busy by talking ... mostly about college :)
Once we reached KMVN in Ramnagar, we were taken to a decent looking but old guesthouse where we were asked to wait for getting the permits. It pretty much functions the old sarkaari way, but then they cannot let every tom dick and harry into the tiger territory :). I just couldnt wait to get in, the wait was killing me.
Half an hour flat, our over friendly driver, Sunil got us inside the gates of Dhikala which is one of the four zones that the park has. Do not confuse Dhikala to be a small area... it could be of the size of a small city like Mysore or Pune.
The entry was symbolic. Something like this :
Once inside, the feeling was surreal.. our driver was over enthusiastic but had a very good eye which amazed us. He kept spotting fauna which were camouflaged. We then had to use Binoculars or the video cam to zoom in and see...
He also tended to exaggerate a lot.. he said that the last time he came here, he saw a tiger on the road which we all just laughed off :)
Dhikala FRH(Forest Rest House) is about 40 kms inside the jungle from the gate.. the road is anything but motorable, so dont take your car :) .. but if you are in a taxi.. then there are very few things that you will ever compare to the nature beauty on platter.
We reached FRH by 3 pm. It was a nice decent block with a few buildings. The mistake people make is that they book resorts.
I just wanna say, are you in tigerland to do the sauna? You need to be close to nature and feel the pressure of living in the dark. Thats what makes the experience worthwhile.
Anyways, had very nice tea with some snacks and the person at the front desk was kind enough to us.. he was ever smiling.. the pahadi people always do. Thats why i love them!
He got us an elephant safari arranged for the next morning.
We wandered outside the cafeteria when we saw some commotion in the grasslands in front of us.. people said.. "Tiger, Tiger..."
I got my binoculars out and saw a tiger chasing a herd of deers and scaring away a few kid elephants far away...so far so good..
It was dusk and darkness was approaching.
The beauty was surreal...
We had dinner and were walking to the rooms.
Then the fun began. Suddenly we realized that we couldn't see the path. The darkness in Corbett is to be seen to be believed.
To add to that, there were all kinds of sounds and calls of animals. Tina was afraid if there was a snake on the way to the room or worse still if there could be a tiger looking at us with his night vision eyes.
But then it was just about 10-20 metres which was dark. We heaved a sigh when we saw our rooms :)
Me and Tina went into our room when Vijay called out from the other.. "Akshay, do u need odomos??"
Boom.. not again.. i stepped out of my room in total darkness.. and before taking the next step jumped back in again.. "Vijay, you get it in my room please" I shouted back..
Vijay : "No ways"
Then i just took Tina to the door and showed her the darkness. It's hard to believe but i haven't seen anything as dark as that night ever.
Somehow i managed to go to their room and get the damn thing.
Day 3: Corbett -
Next morning, elephant safari was wonderful.. we got onto an elephant whose name was 'Chanchal'. I wish i had a better camera.. there were so many birds and other species that my point and shoot couldn't click.
Just before the end of it, we saw couple of other elephants which had stopped in the middle of the path.. just waiting and doing nothing.
The mahout told us that there is a tiger around. We could see the deers in alert state ready to sprint. The sound of the air was twitching their ears. The hunt was on the cards and the silence deafening.
But nothing happened. The king was around but chose not to show up in front of so many people.
All great beings on earth are solitary. I am solitary too :)
We went back dejected, but the feel of the jungle had gripped us by then.. our hearts were pounding sometime back but now we were having the yummy breakfast in the middle of the jungle.
Evening 3 pm :
We were ready for our jeep safari... we roamed the grasslands, the riverside and the reservoir.. clicked some amazing snaps.
Few of them :
We were more than happy with the sighting of the herd of wild elephants and hyenas and deer.
Just then our tour guide got a call on his walkie talkie..
watering hole 24.. he asked the driver to rush.. watering hole 24.. 24.. quick...
our jeep zipped through with amazing speed.. it was a 4*4 drive.
We were asked to hold ourselves firm.. the ride was bumpy but we were there in about 3 mins... We saw an elephant charging towards the bushes.
We were told that whenever a tiger is sighted all the resort elephants charge and create a huddle so that the tiger doesnt get violent.
Everyone waited with gasping breath. Minutes passed.. one .. two .. three... there was a countdown.. so silent. Nowhere do a group of Indians sit in such silence.
and then, an overwhelmingly idiotic moron from Delhi who had lost his senses in his Alto just before us got down from his car. People yelled at him.. "Kya kar raha hai be?? Mar jayega(What are you doing man? Wanna get killed?)"
And as lightening strikes, yellow stripes leapt 10 feet maybe couple of metres away from the lost Delhiite.
It had leapt 10 feet from one side of the path into the deep jungle the other side.
It was a tigress.
Our day was made. People were spellbound.
But that guy from Delhi, i am sure would now never get down from his car even in Delhi. His pants were wet.
But we were happy. We just saw the king of the jungle in his territory in full glory.
By now, we got used to the rules of the jungle. We thought like animals. The feeling had sunk in and we were happy that our holiday was so successful.
We had our dinner and slept peacefully.
Day 4 : Corbett -
We got up to another jeep safari.. This time we went to the other part of the jungle.
Had a long drive of about 3 hours.
By now, we were so mesmerized by the aura of the king, that we anticipated it everywhere.
But then, if the sightings were so easy, the fun would be lost. It was like an Indo-Pak match of the 90s, which happened once a year and the tension was palpable.
The joy of seeing the king in its territory is something which cannot be explained in words.
Catching him in his habitat is so different from watching it in a zoo.
We saw a lot of pug marks which indicated that he roamed the territory not so long back.
We did not get to see the king today, but our holiday was so enriching that we had forgotten the mundane city life by now.
We just did not want to leave the place.
But as they say, parting is the most difficult part.. and we had to part.
We recorded our sighting on the tiger sighting board too :)
With heavy hearts and very refreshed minds, we took leave of the king's territory.
We asked the king for permission to leave.. and he gave us a 'Roar of Approval'
We proceeded to Nainital and Agra thereafter which were beautiful too, but were holiday destinations that people generally do. So you would get a lot of matter on that elsewhere too.
What's new with me?
I feel i have grown up.. because these days i look down on the younger generation :)
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