It’s the ‘Spring Stripes Collection’ mission to Bandhavgarh in mid-March. With young cubs and big males in attendance, how many stripes can Skipper Sachin Rai earn for eager participants?
March is a fantastic time to be in Bandhavgarh. With the harsh winter having given in to the sun’s perseverance, the forest throbs with pleasantness. Visibility strikes a happy balance with greenery, even as the flowering trees decorate the park in a spectrum of vividness as though to commemorate Holi, the festival of colours, which is usually in the same month.
In this congenial atmosphere for tiger watching, when the group entered the Tala range, their pursuit of the Banbehi cubs brought them to Silvaria, where they came to know that the female’s three cubs were in the bush. They decided to wait for them awhile but nothing gave.
On the way back, they arrived at a point where a few vehicles were parked. Peering in, Sachin could see the cubs moving inside. This was what they had waited for.
When out looking to photograph tigers, it is important to think from their point of view rather than ours, and years of experience and hundreds of safaris in pursuit of tigers have given the guides and the drivers of Bandhavgarh the ability to do just that.
Thinking on their feet, all vehicles present backed off and parked a little away from where the cubs were, with the thought that if the cubs saw some free space, they’d be encouraged to come onto the road.
Barely forty seconds after they had reversed, a female cub stepped out.
Then, she sat on the road, to the collective gasp of all present.
The cub was a picture of innocent comeliness married happily with remarkable audacity. A rapturous torrent of shutter releases ensued as elated participants achieved some lovable portraits of the youngster.
After posing generously, she turned the other way to give some air time for the vehicles positioned on the opposite side.
All too soon, it was time to leave, and the group turned back and headed out, with the vehicle on the opposite side required to take a detour since the cub was still seated causing a roadblock.
And while the group was on cloud nine on landing their dream images with such unimaginable ease, the show was far from over.
A short way down the road back, the mother of the drinking cubs, the Banbehi female, suddenly showed up by the track, just about to enter the bush. And even before the group could digest this little bonus, they had none less than the Bamera male – then in his absolute prime – coming their way!
His walk in the bush against the light gave the group goose pimples as also, equally, excellent photo opportunities, which participants eagerly lapped up, making some powerful and artistic portraits that showcased the ineffable handsomeness of the top cat.
It was a day on which nature showered her generous bounty on the sincere seeker and etched itself in the the memories of its fortunate beneficiaries.
The next morning witnessed a venture into the Magadhi zone in pursuit of the Sukhi Pateeha female, who promptly obliged by showing up right next to the road and the group got a good look just as she got in. Then, she emerged from the rear and crossed the road, making the day’s work most efficacious.
Meanwhile, the participants in the other vehicle had a fabulous time with the blue-eyed male, when they found him more than a little interested in the orphaned Bamera cubs behind the fenced enclosure. He showed considerable aggression as he scraped the ground, spray-marked many trees and showed flehmen behaviour, affording great pictures.
On 19 March, having analyzed the cubs’ movements in the morning, Sachin decided to try the group’s fortune at the Kinarwah waterhole in the evening. Winding down the route, they reached the waterhole in half an hour, and saw what they wanted.
Two cubs were drinking from the pool, affording the most fantastic shots to everybody in the group.
After drinking their fill, the cubs rose and crossed the road.
In the evening the group returned to Magadhi, and although they didn’t see a tiger within the zone, a most extraordinary encounter took place on the way back.
Bokha, the 13-year-old erstwhile king, was sitting by the side of the highway that cuts right through Bandhavgarh, panting heavily.
Having ruled a big chunk of Tala and much of Magadhi previously, Bokha had lost much ground to other younger and fitter males recently and hadn’t been seen for a while, so this sighting was really very special. Worryingly, despite being an extremely shy tiger, he remained there despite the passage of dozens of vehicles, appearing to be immobilised by illness or injury. The group could only wish him well.
On the last morning, Kankati, the vast-hearted female raising three cubs on one eye, was seen lying on her back inside the bush.
In its true spirit, Bandhavgarh had provided dramatic openings and fitting farewells, with meaty experiences in between. It had shown once again that to the seeker of stripes, this land of the tiger was a compelling place for all seasons.