April 2015, my first interaction up close with tigers. My first trip to Pench as troop leader of 11. It was something that happened here that I now long forever.My troop consisted of 10 friends of my better half and both of us. I had blocked 4 safaris and 2 gypsy for 12 us. Since it was more fun excursion I really didn’t care much about discomfort with 6 people in one vehicle. Anyways when we reached the resort it was noon, we had a quick lunch and we’re all set to go for Safari 1. 1st ever wildlife safari for all except me.

Our energies were at highest and we headed to Sillari gate. If you are aware, Sillari gate of Pench Maharashtra is not known for tigers. I was discouraged by many, not go there for no chance of sighting tiger. Who cared, it was fun trip after all. We started our safari at 2:30pm. Since all of them were first timers we all enjoyed beauty of jungle. We saw hundreds of deer and sambar, numerous peacocks along huge tracks of teak and bamboo. Everyone was shell-shocked to experience the serenity jungle offers. One thing was common on everyones mind, to see a tiger. I knew the chances are slim and was certain we would not be sighting a tiger.

It was in last 30 mins our lady luck smiled on first timers. From road that leads into bamboo van from Ambakhori there is ridge parallel to road. Ambakhori is small water fall along rivlet of Pench river with a temple along it. Back in 1990’s when red macques were menance in Nagpur city, they were caught and released here. Coming back, we were heading towards Bamboo van when we came across solitary Gaur grazing along road. Gaur are largest Bovine in world and he has nothing to fear as he is a tonner. On other side of ridge is a nullah few feet deep covered with dense under growth. From top of the ridge a lone Sambar deer was calling alert. Sambar deer are favourite meal of a tiger. Sambar deer will cry out alerts when they see tiger to warn other animals. Tiger was around, I knew instinctively.

After hearing the calls, my hope were alive. The troop of 11 who were on edge of losing faith in the presence of the tiger became active. Camera, binoculars, eyes, ears and all other senses everything was in use. We waited on spot , scanned the forest where we heard calls. But nothing happened, no movement, no sighting. Time was running out. So we moved to checkout Bamboo van.

Bamboo van was project of FDCM and under this project bamboo was planted for commercial purpose. Now completely grown, it was part of critical tiger habitat and lied abandoned. Soon we saw que of cars, I hushed. I knew what had happened. We were at end of que. To our dismay, we were informed a tigress was spotted in grass for second and went missing. We missed it, I thought. We all were disheartened by our luck.

Experience of my guide came in handy. He asked driver to reverse. He knew it was Munni. He claimed if it was her she will cross road behind us and head towards Ambakhori via Nullah. The same nullah where we waited sometime back. I pondered if Sambar was calling alert for her. While our drivers backed the 4 wheel drive vehicles, guide with excitement in his voice said, “Sir..Munni is walking in grass and she will cross behind us.”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The grass was on fire. She had bluffed all vehicles ahead of us. As she walked along dry grass the stripe patterns created a fire effect. She seemed to be in hurry. Is she very shy or is she scared of something?I was asking myself. I accepted the first thought. Finally she did cross the road cautiously but quickly and graced herself towards nullah. Whatta sight! Some of us had tear in our eyes. Tiger lck in most unexpected circumstances. The first wild thunder had struck. The sambar deer started calling again.

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Munni crossing road behind us. She had tricked everyone ahead of us. She couldn’t trick our guide. Ignore poor quality of image. Low light and photographed as beginner.

Soon we were at ridge point again. All vehicles had left. We parked our cars parallel to each other on tar road and waited for Munni. The sambar seemed to be in freenzy. I didn’t realize, we were soon going to be subject to second thunder strike, thought of which still gives me goose bumps.

Just along the road in nullah was Veerapan. A young male tiger in prime who had defeated Bobda. Bobda was reigning male tiger till Veerapna came in. Bobda had lost canine tooth and had to pull out of territory. Veerapan was impatient male tiger and new mate of Munni. He was hiding and we had blocked his way and his sight of sambar. Sambar knew he was too close to us and had been warning us all the time. The warning we had been ignoring since past 10 to 12 minutes. The cry after all was for Veerapan and not Munni as I had assumed. 

The guide in gypsy along nullah was first to spot Veerapan. Soon we all were in frenzy bending over to see master piece of nature. Our excitement and commotion got him upset. Veerapan’s cover was broken, he roared and headed back into bamboo van. It was futile to track him in dense undergrowth in fading light. So we focused on Munni. Guide was expecting Munni on road. Sambar calls were still on and in matter of minute she came on tar road headed straight towards Ambakhori. She was now relaxed and walked elegantly till the Gaur along the road we saw earlier chased her down. We couldn’t chase her because it was winding up time for us.

Enjoy the Samar deer calling from ridge on right and nullah on left. The road leads to Ambakhori. This was just after Veerapan disappeared and Munni came on road! Listen carefully, you can feel the energy as well. Video courtesy with owner, my friend and troop member.

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At end of safari, we all were left with memories that still keep the group alive. Many of them cried just out of the thrill that happened in last 30mins. Double thunder. First, Female setting grass on fire only to be chased by Gaur and then young male roars from few feets. The frantic sambar calls trying to help us, everything was surreal. Nature talks.

For me, that’s what I live for. That is what I miss every day. After all, for our spirit which is wild and free, the real essence of tears of joy is in surreal experience and talks in the mystery of thing we call earth life.

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