Peo­ple spend years try­ing to spot one and here I was won­der­ing what the big deal was af­ter spot­ting my first ever Ben­gal tiger within the first hour of en­ter­ing Pench


Four jun­gle sa­faris and tiger spot­ting

WHAT’S COM­MON TO a blue moon, Hal­ley’s Comet and an in­tern driv­ing a Ferrari? I’ll be darned if you have spot­ted one in the re­cent past. And from the sto­ries my peers told me be­fore I left for my first ever me­dia drive, the chance of spot­ting a gen­uine Ben­gal Tiger in the wild was as rare as any of those.

But if you hap­pen to have this in­tern’s luck then things could be very dif­fer­ent in­deed. Could I please have the keys to that Ferrari now?

It’s ac­tu­ally an in­de­scrib­able ex­pe­ri­ence. If you’re still look­ing for the ad­jec­tives that elude me, I sug­gest you read any of Jim Cor­bett’s sto­ries. He de­scribes the sen­sa­tion of spot­ting a full set of gen­uine yel­low and black stripes in its nat­u­ral habitat as a prick­ling at the back of the neck and a slight short­en­ing of the breath. I can only think of one word that fits that de­scrip­tion – fear. And Cor­bett was a crack shot usu­ally armed with his sport­ing ri­fle. So he ne­glected to tell you that you also feel slightly cold, as if you’ve been struck with mild fever. Now I have given you the whole gamut of sen­sa­tions that you will feel if you

ever get up and close with the King of the Jun­gle (in this case a Queen), and that is the ex­act range of sen­sa­tions that all of us who were there at the Pench na­tional park that day were shar­ing. It isn’t a day that I will for­get in a hurry, if at all.

The story though started far from Pench’s Turia Gate in dis­tant Pune when I was told that I would be rep­re­sent­ing evo In­dia at Honda’s 7th edi­tion of Drive to Dis­cover, their an­nual drive just to cel­e­brate mo­tor­ing and ex­plore new places. This year we were to visit two na­tional parks – Pench (which is shared by Mad­hya Pradesh and Ma­ha­rash­tra) and Band­hav­garh, over the course of four days. En route we would also pass through Kanha and Panna, two more na­tional parks. On hind­sight, if I hadn’t spot­ted a tiger on this trip I sup­pose na­ture’s joke would be on me. But with the sto­ries of my far more ex­pe­ri­enced (ahem… they can’t say that any­more) peers I was ex­pect­ing to see a lot of lan­gurs, nil­gai and chi­tal and hoped to catch a leop­ard or a bi­son. Tiger? Nah!

The morn­ing of our tiger spot­ting, Honda flagged the drive off from Nag­pur, which is also the near­est rail­head and has an air­port. Nine Hon­das, me in a CR-V, lined up at the start. The aim was to re­duce the 110km that sep­a­rate Nag­pur and Pench to zero. Easy peasy lemon squeezy? Not quite. Beyond Ma­ha­rash­tra the high­way makes fleet­ing ap­pear­ances be­tween con­struc­tion zones and end­less di­ver­sions. Thank­fully, the CR-V’s high ground clear­ance means peace of mind for me.

Honda had planned an af­ter­noon jun­gle sa­fari for us, which we thank­fully made it to in spite of the roads (or lack thereof). Board­ing the mod­i­fied sa­fari ve­hi­cle (mostly an open top Gypsy or cut job Sumo) the guide told us that a tiger had been spot­ted the day be­fore but if my peers were to be be­lieved, peo­ple mostly hear of oth­ers spot­ting the big cat. So when I did see C1 (yep, that’s what she’s called. One even goes by the name of BMW), it came as a huge sur­prise.

Pench ticked off the list, it was time for des­ti­na­tion Band­hav­garh. This time, I had the nippy lit­tle Brio to cover the 450km. Twelve hours, a won­der­ful lunch at the gor­geous In­fin­ity Wilder­ness re­sort (Kanha) and a 30km un­planned de­tour later, we ar­rived at the Mogli Jun­gle Re­sort where we would stay. I have to say I was pleas­antly sur­prised with how well the

The chance of spot­ting a gen­uine Ben­gal tiger in the wild is rare

Brio (a city bred car) could take the un­paved roads, if they can be called that, in its stride.

Band­hav­garh lays claim to the high­est tiger den­sity in In­dia and I should have spot­ted C1 (or one of her cousins) here but such is na­ture’s sense of irony that I saw her at Pench where spot­ting is rarer and saw none here. Al­though, the time wasn’t all wasted for we saw ele­phants (which we dis­cov­ered were do­mes­ti­cated once we got over the ex­cite­ment), kakar (bark­ing deer), which are also rare be­cause they are shy, and a wild cat.

For the drive to our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion on the trip, Kha­ju­raho, I got to drive the BR-V. An­other irony I sup­pose that I should get to drive a car whose tagline says ‘Let the hunt be­gin’ af­ter the jun­gles! But the large SUV is a nice and spa­cious (there’s acres of room re­ally) ve­hi­cle to have on long drives.

If the jun­gles be­fore had in­spired fear and awe, then Kha­ju­raho’s tem­ples in­stilled noth­ing but won­der and amaze­ment. For this was beauty made by the hand of man. That sym­me­try of form, the exquisite­ness of the carv­ings on the walls of the tem­ple can

The large Honda SUVs are spa­cious and nice to have on long drives

have you com­pletely over­look the fact that vir­tu­ally each sculp­ture could head­line any X-rated web­site any­where in the world. If you’re plan­ning a trip here, leave the kids with grandma.

Kha­ju­raho marked the end of the drive and as I sat back and rec­ol­lected what I had re­ally dis­cov­ered on this drive I was sur­prised at how the list was shap­ing up. Of course, there was C1 (clearly the high­light), the beauty of flora and fauna in Band­hav­garh, the mag­nif­i­cence of Kha­ju­raho and a bunch of Hon­das that were re­ally nice to drive and never felt out of place.

Now, it’s time to spot that elu­sive Pranc­ing Horse with that in­tern in it. Let the hunt be­gin! L

Be­low: Com­pact it may not be but by god we’ll use it as a recre­ational ve­hi­cle. Right: C1 (not Cor­ner 1) made my day! Bot­tom right: You’d be for­given for get­ting ex­cited about that pachy­derm. We also thought

it was a wild one

Fac­ing page bot­tom: The breath­tak­ing tem­ples of Kha­ju­raho can ri­val Mother Na­ture’s beauty

Be­low right: Spot­ted, but no big deal. Dwin­dling preda­tors equals plen­ti­ful chi­tal.

Be­low: With their keen eye­sight, lan­gurs are the first to spot black stripes on yel­low.

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