We arrived at the jungle in the heart of India in the dark, and we could hear and smell the sound of the insect and animals, grasses and vegetation all around us. We were warmly greeted at the Samode Safari Lodge by the wonderfulful Priyam and Naturalist Anshuman and taken to our room. There would be a 5AM wake up call and we needed to be on wheels at 5:30. The goal was to be in the Bandhavgahr Tiger Preserve by 6AM. The morning was not as cold as we expected even with the wind whipping at our faces in the open air jeep.
Bandhavgarh is a fairly large tiger preserve which lies in the heart of India and by all accounts, it offers the best tiger viewing in the wild in India. Tigers are native to India so I suppose that makes Bandhavgahr the finest place to view wild tigers in the world. We were informed by Anshu that there were over 60 tigers in the preserve and their population was growing, this was fantastic news. Tigers are beautiful animals and my favorite of the large cats. Last year we were very fortunate on our tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in Northern India to see a spotted deer kill by a young female named Arrowhead. This was very rare and we were honored to experience it. We shared this information with Priam and Anshu as well as some of our photographs and this set the bar fairly high, but Anshu was confident we would have a great experience on our Bandhavgarh safari.
On our first full day we spent 13 hours in the field, drove over 200km and didn’t see any cats. The activity of the cats was unusual, there were very few signs of activity from any of them. The naturalists and local guides were discussing this and speculated that there had been a large animal kill up on a ridge and the tigers had congregated there and would stay put for the entire day. We did however see Giant Wood spiders, Golden Jackals, monkeys, bison, a hunting cat and a Kingfisher. All beautiful and wonderful to see.
Our second day began similarly with a 5AM wake up call. We were up and read to go in record time. We were positive and certain this was the day we would see tigers. It was a colder morning and I had to wrap my hands in a blanket to keep them from stiffening up and getting too chilled. When we entered the Preserve, Anshu saw that there were fresh tracks so the tigers had come down off their perch and things were looking up. Knowing this information, we decided to head over to a water source that a family of tigers was known to frequent. As we drove up there were a handful of safari vehicles full of people photographing like mad.
The tigers were here! Anshu spun our jeep around and backed into the group, we were slightly to the side and uphill of the tigers and we had great light. There were four tigers, a mother named Spotty and her three female cubs. It was an incredible sighting. We watched and took photographs as the tigers jumped and splashed and played for several minutes. When they were done playing, the tigers leisurely walked by us, sprayed a tree to mark their territory and disappeared into the jungle.
We didn’t see any more tigers which was a little disappointing but it was all right because we had had such an amazing experience. The day was beautiful and just being out in nature enjoying the jungle, fresh air and sunshine was wonderful.