Tiger Safari in Palpur-Kuno, India
The day began predawn at 5:00 AM. With the travel alarm going off, a rush of adrenalin hit as I found myself bolt upright in bed. A much anticipated moment had arrived. It was time to see if we could spot an elusive wild tiger in India.
The previous day we had arrived at the game preserve having traveled from Jaipur. With a “chance” of seeing a tiger, we entered the park with our driver. A ruined Muslim fortress was our destination. En route we were entertained by rutting male deer tussling intertwined antlers. No tigers however.
The fortress was very large and spread over many acres. The remaining buildings, walls and gates were in various states or repair, or disrepair depending on one’s perspective. The one constant was the black and white lemurs who were clearly the new inhabitants. Tamed by the continuous flow of people to the site, it was possibly to approach these animals to within a couple of metres which made for some excellent photo opportunities.
Our evening was spent in a well-groomed compound where an open green space was surrounded by small duplex cabins for the guests.
After a vegetarian supper (as no meat was available) we found ourselves invited to a gathering in the central courtyard. It was an anniversary party for a pair of local people who had made this trip with the same intensions as us – to see a tiger. A bon fire was the central focal point of the celebration and the alcohol was flowing. There was live music played by local musicians while musicians’ children performed traditional dances in traditional garb. From time to time, the children would invite the spectators to dance and our turn was inevitable. It was at that point that a friend’s advice for Indian dancing proved invaluable. He said, “Remember, raise one hand above your head and screw in a lightbulb while your other hand is opening a door knob. Bounce around for a little bit, then reverse hand positions. Keep reversing and repeat until the song ends.” It was all great fun. We had made new friends in an instant!
It was still dark when we walked to the front of the compound to meet our ride for the safari. It was a cool, clear morning. The vehicle was an open jeep. The driver and guide sat in the front while we were slightly elevated in the two back seats. Our hotel hosts thrust two blankets upon us for the journey which was greatly appreciated.
It was a fifteen minute drive to the park entrance. As dawn slowly broke, it became possible to see the shops, homes, farms and Hindu Temples lining the highway. Beyond the park entrance, there was only a web of dirt roads and shorter, brush type trees.
Within minutes, our guide spotted tiger footprints on the road. We were the first vehicle that day and the fresh tracks were indeed easy to spot. The next two hours was spent following tracks only to have them go cold. Though the tigers were evading us, the area was teaming with a variety of interesting ungulates, wild boar and feral peacocks.
Just when we were about to give up the chase and hope for better luck in the planned evening safari, we were winding through the bush around this corner and that when Tracy exclaimed “There!” And there it was, our tiger, in an opening in the bush maybe 15 metres away. The jeep slammed to a stop. It was unbelievable. What a magnificent animal. Even our guide was taking photos. We had about 3 minutes to enjoy our prize before she got up and disappeared back into the brush.
We could not believe our fortune. Our guide later confided that the odds of even seeing a tiger were low, let alone having one in your presence for three minutes at such close range. Our most likely outcome was tracks, followed by hearing other animals calling out warning signals of a nearby threat, followed by a roar. Most actual sightings were fleeting glimpses at best.
When we returned to our hotel it was still morning so we settled into breakfast then crashed hard back to sleep.
Late afternoon we returned to another part of the park for the evening safari. This part of the park was very different as there were large changes in elevation and lots of rock outcroppings. Soon into the evening, we found ourselves in a pack of other jeeps searching for a tiger that was said to be in the area but nothing was spotted. Our evening experience made us that much more grateful of our morning encounter. As dusk approached, we abandon the unfruitful hunt and headed back to the hotel.
Later, we would reflect on this experience as one of our best in India. We knew with certainty that we accomplish everything in our itinerary but there were no guarantees we’d even spot a tiger…