Trails by Varun & Tales by Tanya – I


One fine day during the Summer of 2017, I was completing my usual
work at office when I got a call from a couple of my friends from Pench
Tiger Reserve. My heart pounced at their invitation to join them but I
was bogged down with work so initially I refused. After a lot of thought
into going to Pench I could not pursue my self control for long and
started for Pench on the 26 th May. I reached Turia in about an hour and a
half and checked into my resort. Settled down and took a deep breath!
Finally there I was, in the jungle which welcomed me with the occasional
chirrups of the a flock of golden orioles, a few pairs of grey hornbills
right above on the trees nearby, the echo of the cricket and the aroma of
the jungle which filled my lungs just as the hope of seeing the big cats.
The next few days were dull as our 5 safaris were ‘Khali’. Usually Khali
safaris or no sightings don’t impact me at all as I don’t expect when I am
at the jungle. While I was indifferent to the present state of affairs, it
took a toll on my friends as they began losing hope.  My friends were in
an utter state of dismay as they had come from far off to photograph the
beloved tigress of Pench‘ Collarwali’. Even I had been planning to go
back to Nagpur primarily due to work and secondarily due to no show!
On the evening of 29 th May, while we were about to leave for Nagpur and
were packing our things with a heavy heart, at about 5:15 PM it started to
rain. In a while the skies became murky, the wind started bowing
violently taking away the leaves in a whirlwind and it very soon it started
raining torrentially.
While myself and my friends sat sipping the tea on the porch of our
room, dismayed by this unexpected turn of weather, I told my friends
that maybe this could be an indication that it’s too soon to leave and
maybe we should take another chance the next morning. They were
easily convinced that maybe something good is about to unfold and it
was worth taking a chance for. By this time the news of a female leopard
and her cubs eating a kill near the road had reached us. Since the female
leopard and cubs were on the kill, there were good chances of sighting
them in the morning. Juggling between my experience in the past and
the behavior of the leopards, I was sure that the leopards might come out
and sit on the rocks or trees as they dislike the water and the rains. I
made up my mind to stay!
Next morning our gypsy entered the park at sharp 05:30 AM. I was
welcomed with a clear sky, cool breeze and an unusual mystery in the

jungle. It seemed as though the Jungle was sleeping and a distant call of
the common hawk cuckoo was trying to wake it up. We were moving
ahead towards the ‘piwarthadi’ area crossing leafless trees and a carpet
of shed leaves over the landscape. The jungle was drenched in water and
seemingly refreshed after the rains but quite. Apart from the occasional
herds of chital and wild dogs, the jungle seemed still. The unusual calm
bothered me and made me a little anxious as to what was in store for me
that day. We decided to first check on the female leopard and her cubs.
As the gypsy moved ahead, my eyes were scanning the rocks and the
leafless trees for any sign of the elusive cat. We reached the S mode (read
Hindi) in the Piwarthadi area at around 05:50 AM, the area of the female
leopard and her cubs who had made the kill. After thorough scanning of
the area, I signalled my driver to stop the vehicle as I saw something
moving on the tree. It was a sub adult male leopard who was hanging on
the tree. My eyes were witnessing what I can safely call one of the rare
sightings of Pench Tiger Reserve. This image of mine in wide angle frame
won many prizes across the country, most importantly at the Nature In
Focus Awards, 2017.
I was rejoicing a good habitat shot of the sub adult leopard totally
unaware of the drama which was going to unfold in front of me. Just
then I saw another sub adult leopard peeing from behind the rocks quite
close to the tree where its brother was sitting. While I was busy
photographing this leopard on the tree, I sensed some discomfort or
anxiousness in the behaviour of the sub adult as though he was stuck
between the dilemma of getting down from the tree or sticking around. It
was about little past 06:00 AM that the cause of this leopard’s
uneasiness showed up. A pack of 20 wild dogs (Dhole) who perhaps
attracted by the smell of the kill, were coming towards this area. The sub
adult leopard on the tree could see them inspecting the area while the
wild dogs were clueless of the presence of the leopard on the tree.
Meanwhile the sub adult near the rocks had disappeared near the big
crevices in the rock series. After the unsuccessful raid of the whole area,
the wild dogs went off as they had appeared only to restore the calm for a
few moments. It is pertinent to mention here that such moments where
we witness the interaction of different species and their common
interests; such close encounters give us a unique insight into the
dynamics of the jungle.
Before I could concentrate again on the movements of the sub adult
leopards one on the tree and the other one near the rocks, I heard the
growl of a tiger from a little farther. The growl attracted all the vehicles
towards itself and we were left alone with this sub adult sibling duo. This

growl made the sub adult more uneasy and he decided to get down from
the tree only to disappear in the crevices of the rocks where his sibling
had. We bid goodbye to this duo and decided to move ahead and test our
luck with the growling tiger!

The time was 6:58 AM we were moving on the road in search of this
growling tiger while all other vehicles had moved further ahead of us.
There were distant alarm calls of the chitals and the monkeys inside the
canopy, away from the road. In anticipation of the growling tiger, I
jokingly asked my friends ‘Agar yaha se tiger chalke aaye head on toh?’ (
What if the tiger comes straight towards us head on). We were already
behind the caravan of gypsies which went before us in search of the
growling tiger, so my imagination in the form of the question seemed
pretty unforeseen. As the gypsy moved ahead towards the Kala Pahad
fire line, the alarm calls became more prominent. We stopped our gypsy
only to see the tigress Langdi appear from the lantana and walk towards
us ‘road hi road’. That was the moment I realized that it was my day!
After giving us some great shots, she decided to part ways and again
entered the lantana. We moved further ahead towards ‘Kala Pahad’ fire
line.
As incredible day as it could have been, a male leopard greeted us
walking on the road while we were moving from ‘Bija Matta’ towards the
‘Kala Pahad’ fire line. What a specimen he was! And we were the only
gypsy! A leopard on the road! It was an ecstatic sighting. Now it was
confirmed that it was indeed my day in the Mogli Land. Next on our list
was to try our luck tracking the famous tigress of Pench, ‘Collar wali’.
Tigress T-15 lovingly known as ‘Collarwali’ due to her radio collar, also
known as a ‘super mom’ who has littered 8 times and produced about 30
cubs in her span of 15 years! She is known to be an astute mother who
lets out her cubs for hunting very early, has a rapport with cubs from her
previous litters due to which her cubs from different litters are often
sighted together which is a rarity. At that time she was raising her 3 tiny
cubs, about 4 months old.
Before moving ahead in the area of our supermom Collarwali, we
decided to deal with our hunger pangs. At about 08:00 AM, we halted at
‘Alikatta’ for breakfast. Well, who could miss the infamous aloo bondas
of alikatta which might either trouble you or bless you with a sighting!
We utilized our time at Alikatta to enquire about any movement in other
parts of the park from the fellow mates, and make further strategy for
the rest of the safari.

Post breakfast we moved towards the water hole on the main road,
Alikatta Tiraha and waited for the super mom Collarwali to emerge. With
our eyes glued on the bunds of the water hole, our hearts poucnced each
time the wind tickled the lantana or the occasional rustling of leaves. We
were eagerly waiting for signs of the arrival with alertness. There were
alarm calls at a distance. Those distant alarm calls which came closer
and closer towards the water hole marked the arrival of the tiger mom
and her 3 tiny cubs. At about 08:44 AM the queen mother emerged from
amid the lantana and sat in the water for about half an hour only to
escort her cubs again inside the jungle. Blame it on the heat of the
summer that the cubs were rather dull than energetic and lively.

This sighting filled our hearts and we were overjoyed in ticking our list of
big cats of the Mowgli land. The Sun was out in all its glory and the
temperature was souring high. Therefore, we decided to head back to our
resort. While still being in a state of reverie I asked my friends if they
wanted to see more tigers. They scoffed off my pun unaware of my
intuition that the jungle had yet another surprize waiting to offer. In a
very casual manner I told my gypsy wala to take us to the park gate via
Bijamatta Piwarthadi Junewani. Bijjamatta lake was in prime territory of
the fierce female tigress Langdi and was frequented by Langdi’s sub
adult cubs. We could reach Bijamatta lake at about 09:27 AM and true to
their routine, the 2 sub adult male cubs of Langdi were cooling off in the
lake. We did not spend much time with them and let them have their
time at the waters. Finally we bid a good bye to the park and wrapped up
our jungle-book trip with a totally tally of 7 tigers, 3 leopards in just 4
hours!
Whenever I reminisce about this trip, I can only think of the mystery of
jungle which teaches us to never stop searching, never lose hope, master
the animal behaviour, understand one’s surrounding as also to never
expect. On the contrary it is also true that no one can master the secrets
of the jungle, we can merely pick up a few signs and keep exploring. The
jungle never fails to fascinate me every time I go, no matter how many
years it has been! ‘’Never expect and never stop exploring’