HONDA DRIVE TO DISCOVER
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.