When my family were in India, we drove to the nearby Pench National Reserve (Nagpur) hoping we would be lucky enough to spot some wild tigers. We jumped into an open jeep, provided with (really cool) hats and drove into the jungle…
Tigers are one of the most iconic and beautiful creatures on Earth, but also one of the animals most at risk of extinction. India has more than half of the world’s tiger population but because of poaching, that figure is less than fifteen hundred. In the last century, the population of wild tigers has dropped by 97%.
Pench jungle inspired Rudyard Kipling’s famous series of children’s books, the Jungle Book. Pench is still home to all the characters from the stories; sloth bears (Baloo), panthers (Bagheera), pythons (Kaa), monkeys, wolves, vultures and of course, Royal Bengal tigers (Shere Khan). Walt Disney’s adaptation of the book was one of my favourite movies when I was a child, and to think I now live next to the scene of the Jungle Book, it is surreal.
It was a hot day, the beautiful jungle buzzed with the sounds of birds, monkeys and unknown animals, it was an adventure.
To our surprise, there were so many villages in the jungle (known as ‘man village’ in the Jungle Book), as we were looking for tigers, people were walking around, living their lives, whilst wearing brightly coloured sarees.
The sun started to dip down behind the trees, we would soon be making our way back. We enjoyed our safari but were all a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see any tigers and started to plan our next trip, next time my family came to India we would see some tigers.
After hours of driving around, seeing some of the most beautiful wildlife, dusk fell and the air became electric. A storm started to brew, as we watched two male peacocks fighting over a disinterested female, large drops of rain started to fall (remember, we were in an open jeep). Purple lightning shot across the grey sky, smashing it into pieces. Our jeep creeped into a different type of jungle, leaving the silhouettes of tall thin trees behind and entering a forest of bamboo.
A few minutes later, our guide became excited, a small flash of orange appeared, nestled into the thick bamboo. A Royal Bengal tiger, it was difficult to see him but there he was, sitting there, looking out of the window of his bamboo house. As the warm rain started to fall harder, something magical happened.
The tiger rose up and took three big strides out of the bamboo thicket and into the open, he then stood and basked in the rain with his eyes closed and face held up to the open heavens. He stayed there for a couple of moments, enjoying the relief after the scorching day. So majestic and so beautiful. He then looked around and plotted back into the bamboo. It was a precious couple of moments that we were lucky to experience.
The beautiful tiger, unfortunately the camera decided to focus on the rain drops instead of the beautiful tiger
The next day, on the cover of the Times of India there was an article about a villager who had been eaten by a rogue Royal Bengal tiger, not far from where we had been. That same day we were out in the middle of the jungle, meters away from one of these majestic but dangerous animals in an open top jeep. It made a shiver go down my spine.