Our driver (Gajendra) and guide (Chittar) drove quickly. The only stop we made was for a series of monkey and sambhar calls en route to Bakhola. Unfortunately, the calls kept getting more and more distant and eventually stopped. We concluded that it was a leopard that had gone up the slopes away from us. We ventured on, spotting a crested serpent eagle and a paradise flycatcher (male) on the way.
|Crested Serpent Eagle near Bakhola|
Eventually, we took a steep uphill followed by an uncomfortable and somewhat dangerous rock-ride that would put the pink Jeep tours in Sedona to shame. From here, we could see the deep crevasse beneath us. We craned our necks to look for any movement or tiger-orange, but none was found. As we were leaving, I saw a rather large orangish bird and had the driver back up. It was this that triggered my niece (Sanjana) to look down and exclaim, “Hey, there she is!”
|Laila eating a chital kill at Bakhola|
Laila had made a kill of what looked like a small chital and was quickly devouring it. Pretty soon, there were 4 Jeeps swarming ours to get a good glimpse. People were acrobatically climbing our Jeep with their huge telephoto lenses; and pretty soon, we had more than 15 people on our Jeep! The tigress took about 20 minutes to finish her meal. Immediately afterwards, she walked deeper into the crevasse and disappeared. We searched for her for another twenty minutes without any luck!
On our way out, we got a radio message that Romeo has been spotted in one of the caves adjacent to Lakkaddha Choky. Our driver (Gajandra aka Mario Andretti) sped our Jeep to the cave and sure enough, there he was! He was sleeping on his side with his face away from us. He had probably eaten and was relaxing. At one point, he got up and walked deeper into the cave. Both pictures on this blog (Laila eating and Romeo standing) were taken by Nimay (my nephew). We didn’t have much time left after we saw Romeo and had to exit the jungle.
|Romeo hanging out in a cave|
The afternoon ride was hotter than hell. We left around 3:30PM and planned to explore the jungle sorta on our own. A good portion of the fun of being in the jungle is just being there! The journey of seeking out a big cat is ninety percent of the fun; and if you see a tiger or leopard, it is icing on the cake. It is especially fun if you track the tiger on your own instead of just showing up to the party when a bunch of Jeeps have already stopped!
After exploring the jungle for a couple of hours, we learned that Noor and Sultan (the same tigers we saw on the first day) had taken down a sambhar. When we got there, a forest guard had blocked the detour to go see the tigers, but after a bit of conversation he opened it up for us. It was quite incredible to see the dead sambhar next to Noor as she lay on her back exposing her belly. Sultan (her cub) was in the water cooling off. We stayed there for about 10 minutes absolutely exhilarated before making our way back outside the park.
|Noor with Sambhar kill|
|Sultan relaxes in the pool|
As we neared Jogi Mahal, we heard langurs and peacocks calls. The calls continued for a good 30 minutes promoting us to go back and forth looking for a possible leopard. Nothing. As the light faded in the evening, we exited the park only to find Ustad strolling lazily ahead of us. His gait was slow and purposeful but with an air of authority. At one point, we got a little too close prompting him to turn around, lower his head and show his canines. Mind you, this is the same tiger that is confirmed to have killed a forest guard and possibly killed two more villagers (although this is under some dispute).
As we made our way back to the hotel, the energy level was high in spite of the heat. The jungle has an effect on you that is indescribable; you just have to experience it!