Having been on many exciting and stunning safaris in various African countries, my first thought upon embarking for Kanha was, ‘Well, I can’t expect too much, this is probably going to be really tame compared to Africa’.
How wrong I was. In fact, those four days in Kanha were overwhelming and filled with more adrenaline than four weeks in Africa. What I hadn’t bargained for, you see, was the thrill of chasing big cats in the middle of a dense teeming jungle - of the kind that only Kipling described in its full splendour. Open savannah is all very well, but lush greenery, mist-bathed meadows and oceans of towering bamboo clumps make an unparalleled backdrop for wildlife worship.
The real thrill of an Indian safari is that pure primal hunger for chasing animals through an unyielding habitat, listening to alarm-calls in frozen heart-thumping silence, spotting and following elusive pug-marks, peering through dense shrubbery just to catch a glimpse of fleeting stripes. That is the magic. That is the experience. Those minutes when you are alone on a long meandering path, when the jungle comes to life around you and screams, ‘There! There is the tiger!! Be on your guard!’, and you become alert, more totally aware of your surroundings than you can ever feel in the urban jungle, more focused on your target than you ever are at work. That is the feeling you will never forget.
Then of course, there is the jaw-dropping beauty of the big cats themselves. The tigers and leopards. They are the addiction, the perpetual goal, the elusive and fleeting gifts that nature gives. Spotting a receding tiger from faraway, alongside fifty other people is one thing, having a one-on-one encounter with an unflinching and brazen beast on a deserted mountain path is another entirely. Their beauty is of the majestic kind, though their faces and lumbering gait have a playfulness that is unique. Best of all is their utter indifference to human beings. So unlike leopards, who are painfully shy and utterly evasive. One might say an intimate encounter with one of these is an ever greater prize simply for its rarity. One such encounter I had during those four days is an experience I prize above all others as far as safaris go. A quiet serpentine path, a bare tree and a highly agitated leopard trapped on the tree due to a nearby tiger - an incredible scene ensued where the leopard, disgusted to be in human company for so long yet debilitated by the fear of a greater predator, moved (so sinuously!) from branch to branch, up and down, growling, mewing and expressing every emotion from bewilderment to rage; now peering child-like, now baring it’s teeth like a demon, giving us a performance of a lifetime. Oh, it was like a dream.
It was an experience I will never forget. The shrieking of the monkeys, the languorous cooing of the brain-fever bird, the soft stillness of the meadows at dawn, fragments that linger in your memory forever. Sadly it is the immediacy of encounters with your favourite animals that is so fleeting, a delicious taste that you can never quite recapture with your memories alone. Something that needs to be experienced again and again, a hunger that will drive you back to Kipling’s jungle after even the briefest taste.
There is nothing more I can say except, go and see for yourself!!