There is a certain level of unknown when you begin your journey to the jungles in search of the tiger. There is anticipation, excitement and a bit of uncertainty of what this excursion will bring.
Firstly, you take about 20 hours to reach the camp in the middle of Madhya Pradesh – the same amount of time you would have taken to reach Timbuktu, and probably for half the price. The routes are prone to delays, flight cancellations, roadblocks and/or car breakdowns.
Once you reach your final destination, you are told you will have to rise at an ungodly hour for the morning safari and brave the windy bone-shattering chill. You are bundled into an open safari vehicle and whisked rapidly into the jungle. Here you will notice a quiet discipline, respect for the environment and politeness like nowhere else in India. Once inside you are transported into a whole new world far away from the urban city that you live in filled with deer, jackals, monkeys and exotic birds and the gentle calmness will soothe your soul unlike any spa.
Perhaps the only place in the world proving all humans are in fact equal is in the forest. VIPs, rich industrialists, politicians, officers, goras and schoolchildren all sit in the allotted safari vehicles alike, roaming the same paths in desperate hope to catch a glimpse of this beautiful animal, the elusive tiger. In here we are all humans, respecting the basic rules of the jungle, the tiger’s home.
The success of your entire journey is based solely on the sighting of the evasive animal, particularly for newbies, but the tiger is a shy creature. In your first safari ride, you brave the chill filled with excitement and anticipation. You look around with an unfamiliar alertness that you have never experienced before at 6 AM, and try to peer through the long grassy jungles, in vain. Your guide and naturalist speak rapidly to each other and other cars for possible sightings, slowing down whenever spotting paw marks, sensing a ‘smell’, or hearing the ‘call’ of the deer, monkey or peacock. This takes hours and more than few safari excursions, particularly in the winters. You begin to wonder if all of them are in it together to take the mickey out of you. Are there even any tigers here, you ask yourself. With sheer dread you mentally count the obscene amount of money you have spent on this trip and worse, raising the hopes of your children. You turn cynical and curse yourself, promising the next time to just go to the bloody zoo and treat yourself to a soft cone while you’re at it.
And just when you give up hope, she appears out of nowhere from the bushes, majestically catwalking in front of you, without a care in the world.
She stops, and all the cars stop behind her. She glances over her shoulder to pose for a few pictures, probably chuckling at how incredibly stupid ‘these humans’ are, and continues to walk forward. ‘These humans’ restart their vehicles and follow her at distance. She is completely aware of her enthralled audience. You can’t help but stare at the sight of this beautiful creature in exhilarated awe and every cynical and hardship thought is quickly forgotten. You are left mesmerised by her beauty and she knows she’s got you hooked!
On a Kitchen Therapy note, I recommend breaking the bank for a good resort and spending a good number of days for the maximum sighting chances. I also recommend going during the summers and bearing the sweltering heat as your search for the tigers is easier thanks to the dried up grass. You will eat excellent food made fresh with local produce – the only time I really relish roti-sabji with the same amount of zest as I do pizza (much to my mother’s annoyance). A barbeque recipe is coming up next inspired from this trip!
Due to the interior location, you will experience an automatic Internet detox, which I strongly advocate every once in a while. I suggest that you go with your family to reconnect and for once your children won’t be addicted to their phones! Oh, and I promise you, you will sleep like a baby every night. You will return home tanned, relaxed, satiated, rejuvenated and mentally planning your next safari destination.