A reflection

After a leisurely morning and farewell lunch, the car picked me up. I was sad to leave. (I think I said a few emotional words). For miles we drove around the borders of Kanha, it’s so huge! I could write a book about this journey but, other than the Nagpur rush hour, the two images which will never leave me are the man cycling along with tiers of trays of eggs strapped to his chest and the man cycling along with a full rail of garments right around his body.

I have so many wonderful memories from this holiday: all the animals, the tigers, the wild dogs, barasingha and other deer and the langurs of course! But my holiday was made even more special by the kindness of ALL the team at Shergarh.

Being woken with a tray of tea or coffee at whatever time you get up is a winner anyway but I never left my tent without someone appearing, as if by magic, to take my hand and guide me along. So, for once, a holiday when I stayed upright the entire time.

I was taken for (short) walks, fantastic drives around local villages and the owner spent a morning helping me to photograph flowers and butterflies. Shergarh team, you are AMAZING!

Grand finale

We were not far into Mukki Zone this morning, when Raj shouted “Tiger!”. Those of us who were still barely awake and a bit cold (it being just after 6am), perked up and looked where he was pointing. MB3 had just emerged from the trees and started to wander slowly down the path away from us. We followed her and, from time to time, she turned and looked at us, then just kept on walking. She kept scent-marking the trees, which Raj said was to emphasise that this is her territory. He explained that her mother gave up some of her own territory to her daughter but that MB3 does have competition in the form of another female.

We followed her for about 25 minutes. She was very relaxed and seemed totally unbothered by our presence. She eventually disappeared into the trees and, although we searched for her later in the morning, she never re-appeared.

So that was my final game drive. I’ve had my final, delicious dinner and, for the final time, I’m climbing into bed by 9pm.

Tigers and dogs; dogs and tigers

The little feet above my head settled down when I did so the only further excitement was a bright green grasshopper, who beat me into my tent by seconds and had to be chased and caught by the poor boy who escorted me back in the dark. (I am not allowed to move an inch after dark without someone taking my hand, which is lovely).

I was devastated to learn that the people who went for a drive yesterday afternoon were able to follow and observe a tiger for half an hour!! Even worse, this morning’s party saw a pack of wild dogs. This afternoon’s drive had a lot to live up to!

We hadn’t been in the park long when we came across the wild dogs who, luckily, had not moved far from this morning’s location. We were able to watch the pack of 12 (parents, nine pups and another female) playing together. The pups pestered their mum, while dad stayed well out of the way looking important. They chattered to each other in high-pitched squeaks and ran and tumbled in the grass. Mum is wearing a radio collar because they are so rare. They set off down the road and then stopped to play again but, eventually, set off again, more purposefully this time. We left them going on their way (possibly preparing to hunt).

As the sun started to go down it began to feel chilly. I was feeling relieved that the drive would soon be over. Then, out of the bushes came a female tiger! She is known as MB3. This identifies her as the third cub of a mother whose name begins with M. Although she is around 3 years old, she doesn’t have a name yet. We drove along beside her for some time before she disappeared into the bushes.

Happily back for a delicious dinner by candlelight and moonlight.

Evening drive

Towards the end of a very quiet day, Raj took me on a drive around some of the local villages. People were out in the fields harvesting their rice crops and laying the cut plants on top of the stubble in neat squares to dry before milling. The next step will be spreading it out on clean ground and harnessing their cattle to walk over it and crush it so the grains are released. We saw plenty of children, some doing chores and others just playing. Many of them returned my waves shouting “Bye!”. One even shouted “Ta-ta” (I’ve not heard that in a long time). We passed nursery schools and primary schools, then a newly built secondary school with a small building attached where the girls can board.

The evening had a lovely warm glow about it as we arrived back in camp. But this was quickly replaced by cloud, followed by lightning and claps of thunder. We ate dinner in the house in a downpour.

I wonder how the drying rice fared?

Tigers of Kanha

This is a story of two halves. It was cold when we set off at 05:30 and, with the wind chill when the jeep got going, it was woolly hat cold. Nevertheless the meadows looked beautiful as the sun started to rise and the mists lay just above the grass. We saw a jackal far off, almost lost in the mist and, of course, herds of various species of deer. Among these were the barasingha (swamp deer), who looked surprisingly content to be up to their bellies in cold water chewing away. These are very rare and only to be seen in Kanha.

This time we were to visit the Kanha Zone and we explored every inch (or so it seemed). By the time we stopped for breakfast it was time to get rid of the layers and the hat (if only I’d brought a comb). The talk among the naturalists and spotters was that there had been no tiger sightings. As we made our way back, the feeling was that we would definitely see a tiger back in Mukki Zone this afternoon.

Over lunchtime, the camp had a visit from tribal artists and I bought two bright and beautiful paintings.

And so, we set of again. This time the wind was a welcome relief from the afternoon heat as we drove along. Perhaps the herds of deer were looking too relaxed and we drove around again without anything major happening.

Then, Raj and our spotter heard alarm calls of deer and langurs within the forest. We followed the sounds to a firebreak in the forest and we waited and waited ….. and waited. For quite a long time but still no tiger!!! It’s impossible to know if there wasn’t a tiger there at all, or if one was only a few feet away, watching us through the vegetation.

Still, today I have seen … a jackal, a mongoose, wild boar, a black buck, barasingha and spotted deer; birds, including owls, herons, wagtails and hawks, so I can’t complain.

And, to ease my disappointment, I bought a book called “The Tigers of Kanha”, which has a photograph of each single one of the damn things!

Market day

Yesterday, I asked if I could visit the Friday market  so today after lunch I set off with Raj (naturalist) and Angashka (intern) for market 22km away.

We passed through small villages where people were harvesting their rice crops and then from roads onto rough tracks alongside the Buffer Zone of the park. We crossed two streams on the way, with cows grazing in one of them. Then through a larger village with a Post Office (and a rusty post box on the wall), which had a shrine decked out for the feast of Dussehra, which was today.

Sarekha was full of people, cars, bikes – and buses, although Raj said that it was quieter than usual. Stalls were beautifully laid out with vegetables and fruit, spices, limestone to whiten your house, shoes clothes, jewellery and much more. I bought a small amount of turmeric root for 20p and nothing else. I’m always tempted to buy spices but I already have most of them in my cupboard.

On the way home, Raj saw a Flap Shell Turtle on the roadside and picked it up to put it in the river. It looked very angry, when it stuck its head way out of its shell. He said they can give a nasty bite and its claws scratched Angashka when she held it. A feisty little thing at only about 6ins along its shell. It swam off like a flash when Raj popped it back in the middle of the stream.

I loved it that the children all waved and shouted to us and I want to ask questions about their education. Each village had a school but they looked very run down. What aspirations do these children have?

Tea and biscuits at 04:45

Hello! Can I bring your tea inside? So here begins my first drive. It was cold, but not so cold as to need my woolly hat, carefully stowed with my camera and bins.

We were first in the queue when Mukki Gate was opened at 6am. We saw samba deer, we saw the very rare swamp deer, we saw spotted deer, variety of birds and more langurs than you could shake a stick at. But NO TIGERS! Not a single one, not a sound and neither did anyone else in th Mukki Zone this morning.

But, do you know what? It was still fantastic just being among the trees and hearing jungle sounds!

In the absence of any tiger photos, here is a photo of my morning tea. Definitely a step up from the one I usually make myself!

Monkey-ing around

There is so much more written about Shergarh on its website, with beautiful photos. So look at shergarh.com for the real story. There, you see I’m already becoming lazy! I’m also finding it difficult to access the Wi-Fi.

This afternoon I have mostly been sitting on my veranda drinking ginger tea with honey and watching the langurs making their way through camp.