It is 7:45 in the morning. Sun is starting to come up above the horizon and moonlight is slowly fading away. We are queued up at the Khatia entrance of Kanha National Park, ready for our last safari of the trip. We have taken two more safaris but haven’t spotted any Tigers yet. Fingers crossed we hope it’s our lucky day today. It has been a long time since the three of us, Me, and my two sisters have gone together for a trip together since we’ve all gotten busy with our jobs.
The gate finally opens as the clock strikes 8:00 and we’re off. The Jeep moves in slowly as our guide Krishna briefs us about the safety precautions during the safari. Kanha National Park is believed to have inspired Rudyard Kipling to write ‘The Jungle Book’ but we haven’t found our Sher Khan yet. We are on the edge of our seats – eyes peeled, ears twitching, waiting for our first sighting of the day when suddenly a herd of Chital (Spotted Deer) crosses our path, leaping from one side of the track to the other as if the track was sacred ground, never to be touched. A true sight to behold! My sisters take out her camera and quickly captures the beautiful moment. We move on ahead and spot a Monitor Lizard, a herd of Sambar, troops of Langurs and a number of bird species including Malabar Pied Hornbill, Scarlet Minivet, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater and Black-hooded Oriole.
Tigers though have been a completely different story. There is a series of alarm calls every now and then but they are all red herrings it seems. I decide to forget about the Tigers and enjoy other sightings.
After driving for nearly two hours we finally spot a Barasingha, which is one of the most endangered members of the Deer family. As we scan the Jungles of Corbett looking for our first Tiger sighting, Krishna notices something, the Jeep stops. “Fresh pugmarks”, he stage-whispers, “there’s a Tiger nearby”. A little later the silence of the jungle is suddenly broken by loud calls from a panicking Langur, a telltale sign that the big cat is on the move. The tension in the atmosphere is palpable. After playing hide and seek for a little while, he chooses to reveal himself. The king comes out from the undergrowth and walks towards us, graceful and poised; a “catwalk” worthy of an audience. I savor the moment with my naked eyes, forever etching the memory in my mind. Seeing a Jeep coming from the other side, the seemingly lazy cat leaps at lightning speed, vanishing into the undergrowth. I take a deep breath. We look at each other’s faces, all lit with ecstasy. As I’m lost in thoughts, the driver turns the Jeep around, it’s time to leave.