Tricky tigers: do they really exist at the Khana national park?

DSC_0669(Note from me: Sorry guys, I’ve been really slow about getting these posted.  I’d promise to do better but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep …)

We spent 4 glorious nights in one spot.  It was amazing.

You don’t realize how nice it is to have an opportunity to unpack your bag.  If if you realize that you have to re-pack in a few days.  But those days in between?  Pure bliss.

Ok, so that’s probably an exaggeration.  But it was nice to be able to live from a drawer and not a duffel bag.

Anyway, after our close brush with fame (I still maintain that the interest was for us and not the actual plane), we arrived at our next camp, Bajaar Tola in the early afternoon and spent the next four days camping just outside the Khana national park.  Or at least I think it counts as camping.  They were tents after all!

Isn’t that the definition of camping?

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So what if they were luxurious tents and solid floors and running water.

And after one glorious day off from the rigors of riding around in a jeep, we arose before the break of dawn for our first safari ride.  Where we again saw:

Deer

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Buffalo

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Birds

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Monkeys

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More monkeys

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More deer …

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Owls

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And again, no tigers.

When we took a break for lunch, we learned that a female tiger had indeed been sighted elsewhere in the park that morning and our guide thought he might know where she was headed.  We rushed to the spot and were awarded with alarm calls.  It sounded like she was headed in our direction and we were in the perfect spot.  And two hours later, we were still in the same spot.  And I’m convinced that the tiger had decided to stop for a nap less than 200 feet from where we were.  After all, it was a nice spot.

So eventually we had to leave our post.  And the tiger … if she did actually exist and all of those alarm calls weren’t a figment of our imagination.

But we were not deterred!  After all it was only our first drive of the visit.  So what if we had spent 6 hours sitting in a jeep.

That afternoon, we were scheduled to visit  a different side of the park, about an hour and a half from camp.  So we needed to leave at 2 if we were going to get there by the time the park opened at 3:30.  And leave we did.  Even though we had been out of the keep for less than 2 hours.

The ride was interesting.  We traveled through several little villages.  And all of the children waved to us as we passed.  So did some of the women.  The men just stared like they had never seem a foreigner.  Or maybe, the men in India just don’t know how to smile.  Or worse, maybe they are smiling and you can’t tell because of the creepy mustaches!

Anyway, we made eventually made it to the other, “premium” side of the park.  (BTW, premium is relative.  What they actually mean to say is that it has a semi-functional bathroom.  Not that the wildlife viewing is any more pleasant).

Where we proceeded to drive around for another few hours.  Seeing … well, you guessed it.  More deer, birds, monkeys, and even a few owls.  But no tigers.

Then it started to rain.  So we rolled out the ponchos and wrapped up the expensive camera equipment.  And started back towards the entrance of the park.

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But wait.  Remember?  We are still an hour and a half away from our lodging.  You guessed it, we drove home with rain, bugs flying in our face and cold.  It was not a pleasant drive.  There may have been a breakdown when we got back.  And it may have been me.  But you try sitting in an open-air jeep for 11.5 hours then tell me how you feel.  (Or whatever, just call me a wimp.  I totally accept that too).

We were very lucky that we got home when we did.  I can’t imagine being in an open jeep with lightening flashing around you.  Although, making our way across some of the flooded streams didn’t exactly calm the nerves.  Something about flash floods … and almost getting stuck going up the bank on the other side.

Shortly after we got back, the rain started in earnest.  And I mean big, powerful thunder storms.  Fortunately, the inside of the tents didn’t leak.  Much.

The next morning, the most amazing thing happened.  We got to sleep in!  They delayed the opening of the park to give the roads a chance to dry.  A whole extra 30 minutes. It was awesome.

But then we found out that even though the park was “technically” open, all vehicles had to stay to the main road.  And tigers are difficult enough to find when you have access to all the road.  When there is only one, you have to be extremely lucky.  Which the jeep 5 minutes in front of us was.  Lucky bastard.

So, you guessed it.  No tigers.

But we did enjoy more deer, buffalo, birds, and monkeys.  Seeing a theme yet?

On our last evening, it was arranged to send us back to the premium zone again.  This time in a closed van.  I think the staff recognized that we were in bad shape after the last trip and arranged for a private car.  And I am extremely grateful.

But I have to say, the last trip did pay off.  No, we didn’t see a tiger.  But we did spot  bears.  3 of them in fact.

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And heard a tiger in roaring in the distance.  Perhaps with a little more time, the tiger would have come out of hiding and paraded in front of us.  But alas, he knew the park was closing and didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.  But the bears were cool.

I have a theory about the tigers in Khana.  I’m not sure that they actually exist.  It might be a guy riding around with a load speaker that broadcasts tiger roars and various alarm calls.

We didn’t see any proof of tigers in the park.  Not a tiger.  Or even a tiger footprint.  And trust me.  We stopped to look at ever “tiger tracking pad” we came across (a bed of soft sand where a tiger can leave a footprint if it so desires).

It’s either that the tigers don’t exist, or our naturalist, through no fault of his own, used up all of his luck the day before we got there.  He said that he saw 3 tigers that day.

But I guess it wasn’t meant to be for us.

We had one final drive in the morning.  That was supposed to include elephant rides.  But we were bumped in favor of some VIPs who showed up.  I guess the park staff didn’t recognize that WE were the VIPs.  Clearly.  I mean, didn’t you see the earlier post about the sheer number of people who showed up to see us leave Bandhavgarh?

Although, we didn’t get the same send-off when we left Khana.  It must have been because we left by car.  And the local villagers didn’t get the memo about our expected departure.

Oh well, off to the more cultural part of our trip.

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