Today was our last morning jungle safari. It was a five-hour drive through the thick Bandhavgarh forest covered with green sal trees and thick bamboo. The jungle was awaiting us. The sunrise sky had a pink and purple hue. One could see glimpses of the orange fireball, the sun, trying to break free from the dark shadows of the mountains. After showing our ID at the forest department office, we queued up to get inside the forest area. Our mission was to spot the tiger. We followed a new route today.

The muddy tracks gave the first whiff of the tigress of Bandhavgarh called Spotty. She had mothered three cubs who could barely walk and survived on her milk. She has been moving about the forest making tracks on the dusty roads. Ahead was a thin water stream flowing through the rocky terrain of the jungle still covered in dense foliage and thick leaves.

Suddenly, we were greeted by four elephants who marched past us one after the other as I took my ultrazoom lens to take pictures. They were carrying people who wanted an elephant safari. It was easier for them to get into the forest as they were tall and big and could cut easily through branches, bushes and dense foliage of the jungle. We had to wait on the dusty road and hope that the lady tigress would cross over the muddy road and walk towards the eastern section of the jungle. All we could do was wait as the motorcade fell silent in anticipation of what was to come. Everyone wanted to spot the tigress first and people climbed on top of their jeeps to try to get a look.

It was pin drop silence but the beast was deep in the forest. Yes, she had made a kill. A young sambar was her food today and she was eating it while lying on the bare grass. We got the signal that the elephant men had spotted her. She was having her meal. “Well, if spotty is there, her cubs must be nearby only. Let’s try and see them.” Gagan asked the driver to drive on and we moved further in search of Spotty’s family.

More forest and more dust. Spotted many animals today – white spotted deer, black langurs, and sambars running for cover. It was the dance of nature as I spotted a few peacocks that were also dancing. It was bright and sunny by now but the jungle felt cool especially when we drove through dense green areas. Nature was at its best. There were small streams, ponds and other watering holes for the thirsty animals to quench their thirst.

We stopped over at the halfway point for our sandwich, tea and fruit. Then we started off again in the hope of finding out Spotty, the female tiger. The elephant men had a treat and managed to get an aerial view of the tigress but we could not see a damn thing. Then the elephants came back. Man, I wish I had asked for an elephant safari today. I would have even got some good shots of the tigress.

Then there was sudden pandemonium as a tourist shouted, “There she is, near the bushes, there!” As if on cue, the jeeps roared ahead in hot pursuit. The first two jeeps saw her walk past the sal trees towards somewhere near the stream. However, as we got there, she had vanished again. This kept on happening a few times without any sighting of the tigress. Yes, I did see the tall elephant’s shit dung on the road. I laughed and told Gagan, “Salla! If not Spotty, at least we saw elephant’s potty today.” That, I guess was the only consolation today for us as we laughed aloud on our bad luck.

We drove back towards the ruined fort of Bandhavgarh, which is closed for tourists now. I saw old ruined horse stables where the kings and rulers of this place would keep their horses. On a steep height was situated the sheshnag idol. After walking a steep flight of stone steps, there is a huge pond with a waterfall flowing into it. Inside the pond is the stone idol of Vishnu sleeping on the sheshnag. On the extreme left is the Shiv Linga and the Trishul. After saying a prayer, we marched on towards the exit of the park. Gagan also showed me small shelters made of tree trunks, which were used to keep the elephants during their training sessions. Some were tied in chains. These were used as labour to pick up trunks, fetch water or clear up roads. They were taught to respond to name calls, sounds and navigate jeeps and other traffic.

How five hours passed, I did not know, but I do know that we did get a lot of jungle footage and did see many animals, not to mention, elephant potty.