(I wrote this right after I came back from my visit to Bandavgarh forest reserve and it was published in The Telegraph Dated 15 April 1995…)
For all those who love to encounter a tiger and feel nature!
The silence of Bandavgarh speaks.
We woke up earlier than ever to witness the morning hue break upon the ocean of undulating trees.
The sounds seem alien, puzzling. No human voices, no horns, no blaring ‘Breakfast Show’ on TV.
A squeaky nameless bird flew over Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department’s White Tiger Forest Lodge, located at the brim of the Bandavgarh forest reserve, to announce daybreak. Lazy winter sunrays knit graceful latticework of leafy shadows over little patches of barren land.
A wild-cock shook his tail-feathers and split the silence with a singing cock-a-doodle-doo. Yet another day began inside the dark, yet wide-awake forest.
Bandavgarh is known to just a few, to our surprise. A national park in MP, Kanha? They asked. Few knew that it was made a reserve forest as early as in 1968, when the descendants of Maharaja of Rewa handed his forest, along with his garh (fort) atop a hill inside the forest, to the MP government, on condition that it be converted into a park.
The beauty of the place is that it is untouched, serene, delicate. It’s devoid of nimble-witted guides jabbering mouthfuls and transporting you across non-poetic resorts. During peak period, you’d find at most 25 tourists, most of them in a romantic mood. 🙂
The lodge was built on reasonably high concrete stilts, with detached rooms connected to one another and to the dining hall and main gate, by long, narrow wooden bridges. You wonder why, and then it dawns upon you that there may be a reason why the rooms are built at a height!
Maybe to keep big, furry, striped animals from sipping from your leftover tea or visiting you at night!
Park rides to meet ‘His Highness’ began at dawn. Open jeeps with a drive and guide take you inside.
You are not to smoke inside the park, not to litter or get off the vehicle, not to tease any animal you see. But foremost, you are not to talk.
“Not to talk?” a tourist asked.
“That sounds ridiculous!”
“Can we whisper?” laughed another lay tourist.
The seasoned ones grinned.
Once the last human voice was left behind and all that was heard was the rustle of the leaves, an occasional cry of the Crested Serpent Eagle or the ‘hoop-hoop’ of the langurs, the message becomes important. Even the crunching of the tires on dry leaves becomes a sound unbearable!
Whisper? You can barely breathe!
Every pulse of silence seem to caution you that there’s something moving … Is it behind the bush? Up there among the tall grasses? Was that a flash of yellow-and-black stripes we saw?
The alert eyes and ears of the guide and driver signal there’s something to be wary of. Even if they keep assuring you that the tigers that roam this forest are not man eaters!
“They’d even attack in mock rage, but never hurt a human,” the guide desperately tries to sound convincing.
If this indication of the tiger’s good habits makes your excitement vanish, you’ve got a thing coming. For at every bend, at every rustle of the leaves, you expect His Majesty’s appearance, and then let out a silent sigh, breaking it up lest it disturbs him.
“Huh!” the guide mumbled a muffle and the driver stopped! While your clothes create a disturbing rustle as you turn sharply to greet your yellow-and-black host, you burst into a smile of relief.
It’s a pack of prancing cheetals. Innocent and glowing with the sunshine on their golden-spotted shoulders.
Yonder you spot a couple of sambars reaching out for the leaves of a tree, stopping disturbed to stare at you and then, resuming their breakfast.
His Majesty is nowhere around.
The hours tick by without you noticing and perhaps with the rumbling sound from inside your stomach indicates it was past lunch-time. And then, it’s suddenly time to go back.
The lucky ones who get a glimpse of His Majesty somewhere among the leaves, quietly camouflaged beside the waterhole, snoozing or lolling bang in the middle of their track, find themselves transfixed.
The engine of their cars are shut off, the silence thickens around them. Clicking rolls and rolls of films begin, trying to catch the best mood of this fantastic model.
And the tiger knows his best angles. He yawns, click goes the camera. He gets up and walks, the photographers go berserk! He sits beneath a tree shade and stretches his limbs like a sleeping infant; Click! Click!
And finally, he bares his teeth in mock anger, for that final blow-up! Click! Click! Click! Click!
And all this while you hold your breath, not in fear of it attacking you, because it never does, but because you find yourself slowly, very slowly, falling in love with this fiery bundle of muscles!
The excitement of the forest begins with the tiger, but doesn’t end here.
The evening creeps in among the leaves leisurely. You can almost stare at the blue sky and watch it turn navy blue.
The Sal trees rustle at the slightest breeze, creating a sound of waves lashing upon the shore. The moonlight slips through the window-wall of your room and rests lazily on the bed. The sly gets littered with an unusual number of stars.
Dewdrops that had fallen on the Sal leaves during the evening now slip and crash onto the ground. An insect calls incessantly while you can hardly decipher the lyrics of a vernacular song wafting in from a transistor.
And then the sounds cease. The transistor is switched off. The air gets still and the noisy insect becomes quiet. Only the dewdrops drip onto the sleepy ground.