Last morning, clouds gathered to soften the sunrise, and this had a most clement effect on the forest. What I hadn’t known was that the relenting of the sun’s predilection to baking in this part of the year makes the forest seem reinvigorated even if it doesn’t actually rain!
On the tigers, however, this usually has a profoundly contrary effect. Indolence seems to afflict them in a big way, or else at least it means a relief from the daily routine of having to cool oneself diligently just to keep one’s brains from melting, a vexatious imposition particularly for an animal that favours cool climes.
And so no tiger teased us from the undergrowth, no tiger led us down a path of hide and seek, and certainly no tiger flashed its priceless face in ours like a rare gem picked from remote mines.
At Tadoba a tigress, most probably the Dhamokar female, had watered herself and crossed over to the opposite forest patch. At Mahaman Dam a langur sat helping itself to exclusive access of the waterhole. Further still, at Sehra every blade of grass was quiet, and at Salenda and Pateeha, nothing stirred.
And so we decided to pursue our beloved Pateeha female in Mardaari, and tracked her down to a forest patch behind Jamhol. The beat guards confirmed that she was in a dry nallah with her cubs. As we waited at the waterhole, the silence in that cloudy coolness was so penetrating, that it nearly lulled us to sleep. Dozens of minutes later it drizzled a bit and we were compelled to repair to breakfast, our efforts at finding Pateeha not meeting with success.
Meanwhile, we learned that one of Dotty’s cubs had been seen in Baghdalaka, and so we stationed ourselves at Pateeha to see if one or more of them would pay a visit, but all we found was a brief nap, lulled by the shade of a tree and caressed by the quietude.
And so my dear wife summarized the safari perfectly when she said, “Sher nahi mila; shaanti mili.”
Last evening it was finally time to enter what is at least for me the sanctum of the temple that Bandhavgarh is.
As the gates of Tala opened and I began rattling off introductions and stories about the places we passed through to Sourabha, who not merely listened patiently, but also seemed to resonate with everything I said, there was a sense of elation of just having the opportunity to be there once again. This is exactly what makes my palms tingle in anticipation when I think of Bandhavgarh, and it was just terrific to be able to share it with another receptive soul, or a soulful receptacle.
Passing Sidhbaba, I explained its significance, its magic and its mystique, to Sourabha, and she bowed to the energy that takes the form of deities which take the form of stories which take residence in our hearts.
By and by we reached Tamhariya to be greeted by a barking deer’s declarations of peril, which we waited to be unravelled, to no avail. Then we proceeded to Rajbehra because Solo with her cubs was asleep just behind the Rajbehra Dam, in the nallah near Climber Point. Fittingly, Vikas’s was the only other vehicle there, and together we reminisced about times past. I recounted to Sourabha how I first saw my first ever Bandhavgarh tiger on one of the rocks on the left at the dam, and how the Rajbehra female had completely swept me away with her chutzpah walking the wall.
Although it was achingly romantic to dream that Solo would arrive at the wall and give us a fairy tale, we were soon compelled to give up because of the information that she had already patrolled the other side of the dam earlier that day.
And so we sighed and left Rajbehra to try our luck instead at Sidhbaba, where one of the Chakradhara cubs had been seen in the morning. Arriving there, we found the cub still lying inside a thicket. We could see her striped form moving every so often in there, and it was now a matter of patience and optimism to hope that she’d emerge before Father Time came with the balance sheet.
This, she did. And how!
Walking out of the jamun with swift abruptness, she climbed up the rocks and started walking closer to the bridge before I could say ‘Wow!’, for this was a leaf straight out of Chorbehra’s illustrious book!
But what’s better, in a spectacular tribute to that old pretty lady, the cub sat down very nearly where I had seen Chorbehra sitting nine years before, back in the summer of 2010, in such regal elegance, that those present were stunned, and those absent were simply unfortunate, which I too would needless to say have been, had I not been able to make this trip. Moot, I know, but there is much we take for granted, and we must take the time to count our blessings, which, according to our own perceptions, takes merely a few seconds once in a while.
Anyway, she then rose from that rock and found another, right next to the Jamunia road, and looked everywhere with wide-eyed wonder. And when it was time to go and we inevitably had to move forward, she gracefully arose, stared at an unknown object beyond us, and quietly, very quietly, negotiated the stones to obscurity.
I had seen a tiger at the Sidhbaba stream after seven long years (the last being the Kankati cubs in May 2012), but somewhere in the backstreets of my heart the Chorbehra Female seemed alive and with her cheerful round face, just around the corner.