I plonked out of my bed at 5:00 am in the morning and tea was served to me by 5:30 am. We were in our safari open jeeps used by most resorts in the Bandhavgarh wildlife sanctuary and, mind you, there are 40 odd lodges and resorts in this area. I wasted no time in loading my mega zoom 200×400 lens in my camera. After all, I had to catch all the animals and birds up close and that is exactly what happened.
The sun came up as we entered the forest reserve area. We took the dusty road into the dense forest full off bamboo trees and green shrubs. At the onset, I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the white spotted deer, the sambar, the jackal and the 12 horned deer called the Barasingha. We followed the pugmarks of a tiger on the dusty tracks and trailed the beast. However, we could not get a glimpse of the animal, as it would disappear deep into the woods. We tried many times. We even tried to hear the morning calls of the animals, especially the monkeys and the deer to give us a clue if the tiger was nearby strolling in the vicinity. The forest was very quiet today and it was chilly with a nip in the air. I had forgotten to carry my jacket, which is a must for morning safari.
“You know, Charger was the most famous tiger of Bandhavgarh. He was ferocious and ruled the jungle for a decade. He was big, strong and ferocious. He was the pride of the jungle as everyone wanted to see ‘Charger the tiger’ when they came to the forest for safari. He would walk fearlessly on the road and dirt tracks. At times, he would stand in front of the tourist jeeps from where he would charge and attack the jeeps. That is why he was called Charger. It was his way of showing off his dominance as if to say that the road and the forest belonged to him. He lived till the age of twelve and then died.” Gagan explained to me in great detail on the history of Charger the famous tiger of the forest. “So where did he die?” I asked. “Oh, just behind there.” Gagan pointed toward a grassy patch. As if on cue, our jeep driver drove us to the very point where Charger died. There was a huge signboard in his memory. “Looks like he did wonders for the tourism in this area.” I saluted the beast and his legacy.
It was getting hot now and we decided to stop for breakfast. In the forest, there is a resting point where you can sit on your jeep and have breakfast. The local villagers serve tea and snacks. Families can be seen having a picnic. It is a kind of halfway safari point. The morning safari is from 5:30 am to 11:00 am. So, we decided to dedicate our last hour looking for the tiger. This time, we tried the ponds and the watering holes of the forest and tried to follow pugmarks. However, the beast remained elusive and shy and did not show up in spite of our efforts.
It was back to the resort by 11:00 am. I was happy to get some great snaps of birds and some other animals including the langurs. Nevertheless, it was the story of Charger, the pride of Bandhavgarh that stayed with me. Indeed, Ek Tha Tiger, grrrrhh grrhh grrhhh…