Where We Be
Bandhavgarh, India
Lonely Planet says, “If your sole reason for visiting
a national park in India is to see a tiger, look no
further. One day spent here, including a morning
and an afternoon safari, almost guarantees you a
tiger sighting in this relatively small park which
boasts the highest density of tigers in India.”

It was 4:30 pm and we only had an hour-and-a-half
left to go in our final afternoon safari. We had yet
to see a tiger after six hours of looking. We were in
an open-air jeep with three other passengers (plus
the guide and driver in front). We saw two jeeps
pulled over ahead of us and learned one of the
guides had heard some monkeys making an alarm
call in the woods across the meadow. This usually
indicates a tiger is on the move in the area.

We parked our jeep and spent the next fifteen
minutes waiting. Our guides got more animated
when they heard repeated alarm calls closer at
hand. Lo and behold, a tiger walked into view in
the distance. “There he is!” our guide exclaimed,
pointing. The tiger crossed through the woods
toward a dirt track running perpendicular to ours.

We all sped off around the bend in hopes of a
closer look. Our jeep pulled up last in line. We had
barely gotten parked when the tiger emerged 100
feet
behind us. We all got very excited and started
snapping pictures like crazy, thinking we would
only have a moment to capture a quick image as
the tiger crossed the road.

But to our surprise and inexpressible joy, the tiger
circled towards us and laid down smack dab in the
middle of the road. All the jeeps gunned their
engines at once in a mad attempt to get turned
around as quickly as possible. The tiger twitched at
the sudden noise but didn’t get up. The guides
sounded every bit as excited as we did, shouting
amongst themselves and jostling for position. We
found ourselves in the second row, with a good
straight-on view.

The next half an hour was a paradise of Bengal
tiger watching. Our guides identified the tiger as a
four-year-old male, quite large and in the prime of
his life.

We couldn’t get over how playful he was. He rolled
over onto his back twice, with his enormous paws
splayed in the air. His orange and black coloring
was vibrant, and his eyes were piercing and alert.
The tiger seemed to be enjoying all the attention
being paid to him -- like a house cat who places
himself in the middle of all the action, draping
himself right over the pages of the newspaper
you're trying to read, for example, and purring like
crazy. Similarly, this Bengal tiger draped himself
right over the road so our jeeps couldn’t get past
him even if they had wanted to. He seemed
genuinely curious to see what would happen next.

We noticed other jeeps pulling up from behind the
tiger. The tiger noticed it, too, peering at them
over his shoulder before laying back down. He
seemed to be pleased with how things were going.
It was a standoff of sorts, with us madly taking
pictures and him lazing in the middle of the road
and pretending not to notice, although every once
in awhile we would catch him subtly eyeing us.

The show went on for a good thirty minutes, to the
point where the guides started getting nervous
about reaching the exit gate before 6 pm when the
park closed. We were an hour's drive away. The
guides became more and more antsy, until finally
the front jeeps turned on their engines and started
pulling closer to the tiger, hoping he would move.

But he didn’t—he held his ground! Another flurry
of picture taking ensued, then the jeeps pulled
even closer, revving their engines. The tiger
definitely sat up and took notice but didn’t budge.
He genuinely seemed to be relishing the standoff.
At this point the front bumpers of the front three
jeeps couldn’t have been more than five feet from
the tiger and even the guides seemed nervous
about pushing any closer. After all, the jeeps were
open-air, and this
was a Bengal tiger.

Finally a few of the jeeps went off track, making a
wide berth around a grove of trees in order to get
around the tiger. Our guides followed suit. As a
result, we don’t know what the final outcome was
and whether the tiger ever got up and moved.
Maybe all the jeeps had to circle around. I like to
think they did.

Our guide and driver were so concerned about
reaching the exit gate in time that they drove very
fast for the next hour. We jounced and twisted our
way over dirt roads, just inches off the bumper in
front of us. As a result we ate a ton of dust. By the
time we reached the gate, we were so covered
with dust that we looked like coal miners emerging
from a mine. The situation was laughable enough
we couldn’t resist taking pictures of each other.
But it was all worth it, in our opinion, a small price
to pay for getting to see a Bengal tiger in the wild.
To our surprise and inexpressible joy, the tiger circled towards us...
We couldn't get over how playful he was..
He rolled over onto his back twice, with his enormous paws splayed in the air
We had barely gotten parked when the tiger emerged 100 feet behind us
We noticed other jeeps pulling up from the other direction, behind the tiger; the tiger also noticed this, peering at them over his shoulder before laying back down
The tiger seemed to be pleased with the “standoff,” with the jeeps edging closer and closer and him lazing in the middle of the road and pretending not to notice
At this point the front bumpers of the front three jeeps couldn’t have been more than five feet from the tiger; even the guides seemed nervous about pushing closer
This is the other way to spot tiger in the park -- by elephant
The tiger's main food source -- spotted deer -- we saw hundreds during our one-day park visit
By the time we reached the gate, we were so covered with dust we looked like coal miners emerging from the mine
The situation was so laughable, we couldn’t resist taking pictures of each other and of our jeep mates
Capturing Robin's smile at our incredible good fortune
This is the best I could manage with my small pocket camera (a Canon PowerShot SD600);
the amazing photos that follow are courtesy of our jeep-mate,
Bernhard Eder, who had a much better camera
After all, the jeeps were open-air, and this WAS a wild Bengal tiger!
(previous five photos courtesy of our jeep-mate, Bernhard Eder (
www.bernhardeder.com)
You can tell he's watching us!
...and laid down smack dab in the middle of the road