Posts Tagged ‘tigers’

Indians make lousy tourists, even in their own country. They make a spectacle of themselves when they go abroad, but I guess in their own country, it’s like their ‘baap ka raj’. Take those at the tiger sanctuary in Pench. A majority were ‘aapli mansa’. They were loud, boisterous and thought they were at a mall or multiplex. One idiot even asked the guide to shake the tiger out of its reverie – ‘usko zara hila do’! The guide told him very sarcastically “usko agar hila diya to woh aap sab ko hila dega”. The sarcasm was lost on the idiot.

The minute the guide signalled them to stay quiet they would break into excited whispers that would have woken up the dead. They made so much noise when a tiger was spotted that the scared animal fled. They were screaming to each other that they had spotted the ears, nose and tail of a tiger — which had already left the area! It was embarrassing to say the least., watching the manoos make a fool of themselves. And they also came with infants who screamed their lungs out. Like I said, just like in a mall or multiplex. On the other hand were the foreigners who admired the magnificent beast and clicked away…in silence.

And this was the state of affairs at each place. At Nagzira there was this particular watering hole being frequented by a tiger. Thrice it landed up there to drink water only to be disturbed by a horde of screaming tourists who raced towards the spot. We were told by one of the guides that one adventurous young lady thought she could distract the animal so used her flash. This enraged the tiger so much that it charged at the jeep. It was the shouts of other equally frightened tourists that scared the animal away. I guess it is the Indian upbringing – If I’m paying for it it’s ‘baap ka maal’ – that makes us what we are. What we don’t realise is that in wildlife sanctuaries we are the intruders and should give the animals their space. I guess some Indians will only learn the hard way some day.

Visiting Pench National Park was easily the best part of the trip. We spotted tigers twice and I loved the drive through the jungle. Mukesh Ambani was right, it is the best managed sanctuary. Our driver Shivshankar Baghel was pretty amazing too. He ensured that the three days we spent did not go waste. He drove around Pench like a man possessed to ensure we spotted a tiger up close. “Itni door se aap aaye hain, to aise kaise jaane dein?”

He then drove us to Rukhad forest. This was a real jungle, yet unexplored and so really scary. MP Tourism had just started promoting it so it had no visitors. Even here we spotted fresh pug marks of a rather large tiger. We followed the marks for quite a while but two guards who roared past on a bike must have scared it away. Baghel was so apologetic about it the whole way back that he even gifted my son a lathi!

We stayed at Kipling’s Court which was a very swanky star resort with a swimming pool, bar, a fee snakes on the premises, but little else. They made up for that with their professionalism and the enthusiasm. Thankfully the guides we had were also good. I guess when you’re cheek by jowl to the Taj group resort you really are up against it. The most interesting thing about the Taj crowd was this dark, pretty and extremely sexy woman dressed in camouflage outfit, with studs in her nose and ears, driving one of their canters! She also spoke perfect English to her guests. Both, my wife and I, gave her an appreciative look! Wonder when I can afford a driver like that!!

Kipling's Court in Pench

Kipling’s Court in Pench


The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a cruel joke perpetrated on the visitors in the name of environmental and wildlife preservation. We went there last Saturday, and were shocked by the complete apathy of the authorities towards showcasing whatever wildlife is in there. Apart from the fact that we managed to spot one white tiger in the open, a lion sleeping behind a bush, and a few deer, we didn’t spot anything else and nor were the officials there too interested in showing us.

They have one enclosure for the white tiger and another for a lion, which visitors are taken past in a riot-control bus. The bus stops for a few minutes, during which time, visitors are told to take pictures through grills. You can well imagine what kind of pictures one can take through a grill in two minutes! Then we are abruptly driven out of there. End of safari in a priceless 20 minutes. The point is, if the humans are kept away from the animals by a fence, and if there is more wildlife to admire, why not have open 4WD or Canters to take visitors around for a longer time, and charge more? What stops the authorities from making the whole experience more enjoyable?

This was like a trip to the neighbourhood grocer to buy provisions! To me it looks more like a 9-to-5 job, where the workers seem more intent in getting the job done than showing any really enthusiasm for it. In a place like this, only those workers who love animals should be sent – not those who consider this an endurance test. The people at SGNP should learn from their counterparts at Ranthambore and Gir on how to arrange a safari.

At both these places one travelled in open jeeps or Canters, and got the opportunity, not just to view the animals at close range but also photograph and videograph them. In Gir, we were so close to the lionesses and their cubs, that we could almost touch them. By now we all know that animals attack only in self-defence, and that was obvious at both these wildlife sanctuaries because we were up, close and personal with the magnificent beasts and they looked at with a kind of disdain, that humans reserve for their fellow beings. We paid Rs 500 per head at both places for a three-hour safari, but were warned that there was absolutely no guarantee that we would be able to see either tigers or lions. The point is, real nature lovers, who love to see animals in their natural habitat would not have a problem paying more. And if they didn’t spot any, they wouldn’t mind, because they understood that there was no guarantee of that.

The guards spent hours tracking pugmarks and droppings to track the animals so we could get a glimpse of the elusive tigers and lions. Spotting deer and peacocks were quite common but to spot the ‘dadas’ of the jungle lolling around was the icing on the cake. They gave us the real jungle experience. At one point as we waited for lionesses to show up from somewhere, they were sitting right behind our Gypsy in some thick foliage. They emerged with their cubs only when they realised that we meant no harm.

At Ranthambore, I remember a tourist, sitting in the Canter with us, saying that it was the first time in 13 attempts that he had spotted a tiger – and that too just 15 metres away. The next day he made another trip to see the magnificent animal with us, because he thought we were lucky for him! He spotted one again, although from quite a distance! The guy thought he had been blessed and thanked us repeatedly! There are countless others like him who love the environment and the wild, and would have no regrets if after two hours in the SGNP they spotted a few deer and maybe an odd lion – or none at all. For them it’s the experience that matters and not the cost.

All credit to the government for not succumbing to the powerful builders lobby and maintaining such a wonderful ‘natural’ habitat in the midst of a concrete jungle called Mumbai. Whether the SGNP has more than the odd lion and tiger and if so, would the government be interested in popularising, is something for them to decide. While our safaris may not be comparable to the ones in Africa, can the authorities at SGNP at least ensure we don’t leave the place feeling cheated?

The man who drove us around in Udaipur told us a few interesting things about the royals in Udaipur and about the place in general – and none of it was complimentary. While speaking about the present royals, he snapped, “All blood suckers, especially the old man. If it was left to him, he would charge everyone money for just standing outside his palace!” he said a lot more, which I can’t repeat here.

So, as we walked around the City Palace, those words kept ringing in my ears! Incidentally, we paid 130 bucks to get in; another 50 bucks for the car park and was told I would have to pay another 200 just to take the camera in. I drew the line at that and was helped along by the friendly driver who said, there was nothing worth photographing inside, because all the antiques had been moved to the hotel, which had been carved out of a part of the palace. And he was right. The place was like any government museum and not worth the visit.

In complete contrast was the memorial of Maharana Pratap and his horse Chetak. The driver told us another story as we drove to Haldi Ghati, the scene of one of the most famous battles in Indian history between Maharana Pratap and Man Singh, a Rajput who sold his soul to Akbar. While successive governments over the last decade played politics over Maharana Pratap, a school teacher begged banks for a loan to fulfil his dream. One village bank finally gave him Rs 50 lakhs and this teacher launched the project – a memorial to the Maharana.

If you go to Udaipur, drive down to Haldi Ghati and see the memorial – a handiwork of love and devotion – constructed in three years and still coming up. My reason for mentioning this memorial is because not even 30 metres away is a wall that lies incomplete in spite of having been started a decade ago – a symbol of the dirty politics being played out between two successive State governments. And we were taught this lesson in school that Maharana Pratap belonged to India.

Frankly, considering its rich heritage and history, Udaipur is wasting away. The place is supposed to be a Lake City and yet the natural lakes are going dry and don’t even supply water to the city. Strangely enough the lake that supplies water to the city is manmade! And while the people cry out for water, the politicians engage in one-upmanship.

It’s a bit like the roads that we drove around on since we started our holiday. We all know that the roads underwent a dramatic change when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. Sadly at a lot of places we found patchwork and incomplete highways. It is almost as if the Congress Government’s playing cussed and would rather not do anything because it would end up in someone other than the Gandhi -Nehru clan getting credit. The Congress government should know that whether they complete the highway projects or not, it will always be known as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream project. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it!

There had been governments before Vajpayee’s but no one bothered to bring India closer to its people. Look at how long it took them to make the Pune-Mumbai expressway one of the finest stretches in the country. Last week, as we drove to Chittorgarh, I couldn’t help marvelling at the expressway between Vadodara and Ahmedabad. In the last three years, I have driven around the good, bad and the terrible roads in this country, so this stretch was, I thought till then, the best road I had driven on in India.

So should I be thanking Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the state of Indian roads? Let’s be honest, if it had not been for him I don’t think a lot of (not too adventurous) middle class Indians like me would ever have ventured out to see the country by road.

Then there was Ajmer and Pushkar, which are a conman’s dream location. When we left for the Ajmer dargah we were told to leave everything, but the clothes we had on, behind in our room. By everything we were told it meant wallet, handbags, watches, rings, mobiles, necklace just anything. so that’s how we went.

At Pushkar, of course, it was a different story. From the toll gate to the temple every attempt was made to fleece us by extremely polite guides who were hand-in-glove with the so called Brahmin priests. They tried to wheedle us out of Rs 11,000 till they ran into another Brahmin – my wife – who knows a thing or two about saving and making money! They tried really hard, but gave up!

Before we left Pune on May 2, I hoped we would encounter some decently constructed roads that we could drive on without having to feel we were on an obstacle course. Except for the stretch between Sawai Madhopur and Ajmer, it’s been a pleasure driving in Gujarat and Rajasthan. We reached Udaipur driving on a four-lane highway in quick time. Let’s hope it stays that way. We leave for the Gir Lion Sanctuary tomorrow. After watching a tiger from just ten feet away at Ranthambhore, I am hoping the lions too will give us something more to remember this holiday.