searching for tigers isn’t exactly as glamorous or action packed as it might at first seem to be. you spend a lot of time rushing around in jeeps and looking at trees. then you look at shrubs. then you stare at your watch for a while. eventually you have to struggle to keep from falling asleep since you had to wake up so early to get there… but still there’s always the chance, however slight, that you might actually get to see a tiger.. and that keeps you going.
we arrived in Bavnagargh national park after a long exhausting overnight train ride. the park is actually one of india’s smallest national parks, as it only encompasses 36 square miles of forest not far from the area described in Kipling’s “the jungle book”, but in that tiny area, there are allegedly around 22 tigers. even though we were completely drained from the train, we knew that we had very little time, so we arranged to go on a safari that afternoon, and then arranged a second safari for the following morning… just in case we weren’t able to see a tiger on the first one.
actually, the chances of seeing a tiger, despite the park’s tiny size, is actually very slim. lots of people go home dissapointed. there’s actually a sign in front of the park that tells you that you should try to enjoy your time in the park, whether you see a tiger or not. but the thing is, the only thing to do in the park is to search for tigers. that’s the whole point of going!! so of course you’ll be totally bummed if you dont see one. no doubt about it.
for our first safari, caryn and i sat in the back of a jeep with a driver and guide in the front. we rushed around from place to place, checked at a watering hole, etc but there were no tigers to be found. the other strategy that the driver tried was to just drive to random spots in the park, and shut of the jeep, hoping that a tiger might somehow walk up. hours rolled by. we did get to see a bunch of random deer, some cool birds, etc… but in the end, after 3 hours passed, we still hadnt seen the tiger. out of the 25 or so other jeeps in the park, it didnt seem like anyone else had spotted a tiger either.
we eventually went back to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby restaurant, all dissapointed by the lack of tigers. of course, it was to be expected that we might not see one, but it was still really lame. we ran into a french guy who was also frustrated. he apparently had already been on 2 safaris, and had finally seen one tiger that morning.. but had only barely seen some paws through the shrubs before the tiger ran off. we started getting kind of worried that we might leave the following day without any luck.
the next day we woke up at 5:30 am, and got a jeep to the park. by the time we got there, there was already a huge line of jeeps waiting for the park to open. morning time is a bit more structured in the park. whereas on the afternoon safaris, it’s kind of a freeforall, the jeeps on the morning safari are divided into 5 different groups, and each group can only search one section of the park. as soon as the gates opened, everyone raced in. for the first couple of hours we did pretty much the same as before… race around the park, or sit in the car doing nothing.
one tactic that they use to try to find the tigers is they listen and try to hear if the deer give a warning call… a sure sign that a tiger is present. if they hear this, the park guides will send in some rangers on elephants to try to find the tigers. the jeeps are limited to driving on the park trails and also scare the tigers somewhat, but the elephants can plow through the woods and go anywhere they please, and also are less disruptive to the tigers.
so, a few hours in, when we were starting to worry again that we might end up going home w/out seeing a tiger, we heard that the rangers thought they knew where one of them was and they were sending in the elephants. all the jeeps in our little group rushed off to the area and turned off their engines, silently waiting on the side of the road. eventually, we saw elephants crashing through the trees, ripping out huge patches of bamboo w/ their trunks for a midmorning snack. everyone in the jeeps waited in silence as the elephants went deeper into the forest. every now and then, we would hear the elephant riders yell to the jeeps saying that they saw the tiger or that the tiger was walking in a certian direction.
all of a sudden, our guide started pointing frantically into the nearby shrubs. “tiger!! tiger!!” i strained my eyes, but couldnt make out anything. the damn thing is too camoflauged! then caryn saw it. both her and the guide tried to point to me where the tiger was walking, and finally, through all the bushes and grass, i saw it…. a wild tiger. i cant even begin to describe how utterly excited i was. A TIGER!!! i couldnt believe what i was seeing. it was difficult to make out as it walked through the foliage, but it was definitely a tiger. less than a minute later, it was too deep in the forest to see.
we waited around for a while, and then tried another stretch of road. eventually we saw the same tiger one more time in the dense greenery, and then finally… for just 30 seconds or so… the tiger came out into full view. we could see the tiger completely unobstructed. it was so damn cool. according to the guide it was a female, about 3 years old. and then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. at this point, some people are allowed to pay a crapload of money and then they get to ride an elephant into the shrubbery in hopes of seeing the tiger even closer. unfortunately, the park was about to close for the afternoon, so there was no chance for us to do so, but who cares.. we saw a tiger!!!
driving back to the hotel, we chatted excitedly about what we had seen. we felt so lucky to have actually seen a tiger. some people in our group had not gotten to see it, and other jeeps from other groups hadn’t seen tigers either. it so easily could have been us who had not seen one. we had no more time for safaris, and if it hadn’t been for that morning, we would have left the park all depressed. lucky us!!!