Quest for the holy growl... Tigers?!

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Saturday, December 11, 2004

Abstract: We caught a train from Varanasi to Umaria, Uttar Pradesh, arriving at midnight. Luckily as usual a 'helpful' cycle rickshaw was on hand to direct us to a hotel, at an inflated fee and commision of course, but we were too tired to care... In the morning we left for Tala and Bandhavgarh National Park. Two days of glorious Tiger hunting followed... unfortunately despite several others seeing them from their jeeps we had only a quick distant glimpse... still better than nothing. However the park was beautiful and we saw 3 different deer, golden jackal, Wild Boar, Wild Ass, Langur, Peacocks, an Owl and many birds...

Nitty Gritty : The 12 hour train journey to Umaria was very enjoyable due to the people we met on the train. Firstly we shared our compartment with a family, the father of which spoke english and engaged G in cricket chit chat whist R wrote her diary. We then shared with a family with 3 small children who were delightful and at dinner time, after we'd tucked into our cheese and bread, they fed us huge quantities of the delicious home made food they'd brought with them, saying we are guests in their country. At each stop the train would come alive with various different vendors including chai wallahs, selling sweet indian tea in unglazed terracotta cups so that when you chuck them out of the window (all Indians throw rubbish out of the window), the first rains cause them to disintegrate. The west could learn a lot......

The train passengers had taken to their bunks by the time we reached Umaria and we were grateful for the conductor coming to tell us that Umaria would be our next stop. It was a tiny place and the station was dark and it was close to midnight, but we needn't have worried as a cycle rickshaw driver intercepted us and took us to a pretty good hotel, charged too much and added to our bill his commission, but we were too tired to care about that.

Having slept well we were surprised to hear a knock at our door at 8am - a jeep driver announcing our transport to the park was waiting - we hadn't arranged it and dismissed the driver as we certainly weren't going to pay 500rupies for his services.

Went for an early morning wander through the village and were frustrated when all the shared jeeps we asked wanted to charge us 500rp for the 30km journey to Tala and the national park. Nearly back at the hotel, we were approached by a really kind looking jeep driver who offered us front seats in his shared jeep for 50rp each so we grabbed our bags. He was a lovely english speaking chap who drove really steadily and recommended a place to stay without being pushy. As it was a little chaeper than the place we had in mind, we had a look, but it was only available for one night so we decided to try our first choice. As we were walking towards it, a jeep came to a stop and the driver told us to jump in as it was the lodges jeep and he was their driver. The unfortunate thing about travelling is that it teaches you not to trust anyone and we were cautious incase we were to be charged for the trip. This wasn't the case and the driver turned out to be Saleem, proud of his mention in the Lonely Planet. There was an accomodation shortage here too due to a medical conference starting tomorrow and all accomodation in the small village had been block booked. After discussions, we agreed to stay and would move back to Umaria tomorrow if necessary. There was a small restaurant on site serving lovely freshly cooked veg food so we polished off lunch before preparing for an afternoon trip into the park with Saleem.

At 2.45pm Saleem arrived and took us for a cup of chai before heading to the park gates. The park was really well organised, with all the open backed jeeps lining up in a row, to await the gates opening at 3pm. Two visits are permitted each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and at other times the park is closed. We had to have a park guide and set off in search of tigers. We sped off to a part where tigers had obviously been seen before (a female and 4 cubs had been seen this morning), cut the engine and listened for monkey alarm calls. We heard these almost straight away and took off at a rate of knots and sat and waited - no luck, the tiger or leopard didn't come our way. Unfortunately no tigers were sessn by any of the jeeps and after 3 hours, we gave up. We had however seen Samba and spotted deer and gorgeous langurs with black faces and yellow fur. We were covered in dust but exhilarated.

Day 2 we were collected at 5.45am by Saleem and after a hot cup of chai, took our place in the queue of jeeps. In the mornings, the jeeps are allocated (in order of arrival), one of 5 routes to follow (A-E) before a rendez vouz at a central point for chai and to check whether any of the elephant trackers have found any tigers. Unfortunately we ended up with route A which followed the park boundary and was pretty dull. Saleem was an excellent driver and after 7 years of driving in the park was very knowlegable about the routes and could drive very fast but very accurately. At the rendez vous point no tigers had been spotted and at this point all jeeps are allowed to take any route through the park until 11am, so we set off....the quest for the holy growl continued.......

At one point Saleem noticed tracks in the sandy road and some fresh droppings and screeched the jeep into reverse and set off down another track only to find a jeep jam - a tiger had been spotted chasing some deer and we had arrived 30 seconds to late - darn !

The tigers remaimed elusive, but we saw wild boar, wild ass, an owl asleep in a tree stump, grey hornbills, peacocks and many beautiful langur and deer.

Our quest continued in the afternoon, with Saleem trying his best to find us a tiger, but it wasn't mean't to be.....we arrived at the site of another sighting, again 30 seconds too late and although G saw some stripes about 30m away, R didn't see anything.......

Decided to do one last trip into the park the following morning and Saleem and we were filled with optimism when he collected us at 5.45am. Our insides warmed by hot chai, we set off for the park gates and were delighted to receive route E - the route where the last 2 tigers were spotted and the route that runs right the way through the park. This time we employed a different tactic......before you start your route, you can drive to the rendez vous point and put your names down for an elephant ride - i.e. if the elephants spot a tiger, you can jump abord in order and view it. We were nos 6 in line and set off on our route, returning to the rendez vous point having seen no tiger, nor had anyoe else including the elephant riders. At 10.30am we gave up, disappointed, but delighted that 2 tigers and a leopard had been spotted by others on 2 of our 4 visits so the animals are thriving.
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