India: Get out of my way, I want to see the tiger

In India, don't expect hushed silence when one of these beasts comes into view. Adrian Mourby explains

There's a traffic jam in the middle of Bandhavgarh National Park this morning. One of the mahouts out on elephant patrol spotted a young tigress in undergrowth above the Gopalpur caves. Word quickly got out. Jeeps and private cars converged at speed from two sides of a narrow ridge and gridlocked facing each other. People climbed out on to the roofs of their vehicles to get a better look and shouted to each other in excitement. One person even honked his horn. It was a scene reminiscent of rush hour in Delhi. After a while the tigress had had enough. She got up and walked off towards the fort, which sits on a high rock above the park and is currently closed to tourists.

It was only when I saw her move that I realised with a jolt that this was my first tiger in the wild. She seemed to move slowly and yet she covered so much ground with each stride. Gone in a few seconds.

Now the cars had to disentangle themselves and there was more good-natured shouting. Everyone in India seems to be an expert on directing traffic. One guy in a rather dainty Hyundai with no four-wheel drive actually lurched up on to a rocky plateau at the side of the road in a crazy attempt to circumvent everyone else and pursue the tigress. Harendra, our guide, quietly put his Land Rover into reverse and wound back down the ridge.

I was annoyed. I've been on a number of wildlife safaris and I'd expected the same kind of David Attenborough-style hushed reverence you get in the Serengeti and Kruger. But I was on the wrong continent. I was in the world's largest democracy and game drives over here are much more democratic. The only Africans you see on safari in Africa are white South Africans. Here anyone who can afford 25 rupees per person (plus 150 for the car and 105 for a guide) can come in. The cost for a family of four is only 4.35.

"Harry" was ambivalent. He was trained in Africa and wishes his people would shut up too, but he's also proud that national parks over here are part of Indian culture, not just playgrounds for rich tourists. As if to make his point he diverted to show us a 36ft-long reclining Vishnu at the bottom of the road leading up to the fort. Water trickled over the statue into a tank centuries old. The fort above dates back to the first century. It was a very Indiana Jones moment.

Regaining the main road through Bandhavgarh we drew alongside another mahout on his elephant. These guys track the tigers as soon as the park is open; when they find one that looks as if he's going to stay put for a while, they start ferrying tourists out to look. Tipped off where there was a young male enjoying a post-prandial snooze, we joined a queue of cars lined up alongside a bamboo swamp. Two elephants were doing a steady trade, picking up passengers from the tops of their cars and taking them over for a private view.

You have to admire the skill of the mahouts who control their lumbering steeds by tapping the elephant's head with their feet. These creatures slip alongside you with the precision of a gondola and with an even tighter turning circle. We scrambled up top with Harry and an Indian lady who insisted on taking her handbag with her. Then we lowered the slender "safety" bar. The walk out to the tiger was very smooth, although I noticed the feet of our elephant sinking deep into the swamp which he'd churned up on previous visits.

We circumnavigated the bushes that were concealing our tiger and suddenly there he was, stretched out and quite unperturbed by the happy snappers on the second elephant. Our mahout took us in and the splendid creature sat up as if ready for his close-up. His face was magnificent; stripes like war paint he'd just applied that morning. Our elephant slowly rotated a full 360 degrees so everyone got a good view.

Then the tiger walked off into deeper cover. Just like his sister earlier in the day, he gave the impression that he was simply bored by the attention and wasn't going to get into an argument.

Our mount swung us neatly back alongside the Land Rover and Harry tipped the mahout. Two tigers in our first morning.

It was getting hot now. Bandhavgarh keeps different hours according to the season. In the last weeks before the monsoon no animals are out after 10 in the morning, so now it was time to leave. We passed a few black-faced langurs on the way but that was all. They were sitting in mango trees throwing down the last of the fruit to each other and at the white-spotted deer. According to Harry, there's a symbiotic relationship at work here. The monkeys feed the deer because they appreciate their phenomenally developed sense of smell. They sense a tiger long before anyone else.

That said, some of the tigers were learning to use the exhaust smells of our vehicles to mask their approach. This is the point. I may not like it but you can't pretend that we humans don't make a difference to the environment, even in a protected national park.

How to get there

Jet Airways (0808 101 1199; jetairways.com) offers return flights to Delhi from 468. Colours of India (020-8343 3446; colours-of-india.co.uk) offers 10-night tailor-made packages, taking in Bandhavgarh National Park and staying in Taj Hotels, from 2,924 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, international and domestic transfers, entrance fees for national parks, and b&b accommodation.

Further reading 'Man-Eaters of Kumaon' by Jim Corbett, Oxford University Press (14.95)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz