At Jungle Lodge everybody smiles. They’re right to smile as this is a beautiful place to live and to work. Here in the shady sal forest I know my clients and I will always be welcomed with the same big smiles, the same delicious food, the same attention to the tiniest detail, and the same commitment to sharing with everyone the tiger and the many other plants and animals found in its beautiful habitat.
For the habitat here is beautiful indeed. There is a grace, a subtle stateliness, to the sal forests of Kanha. The forest here is tall and cool and at each season glows a different green. In March the pallid green of the sal’s sweet-scented flowers is giving way to the hopeful sharp green of young leaves. The sal forest rings now with the rolling purrs of brown-headed barbets and the strident sci-fi medleys of greater racket-tailed drongos. In the shade of the forest barking deer pick quietly through fallen leaves and inky infant langurs hop clumsily between their mothers and aunts.
As winter dies the common hawk-cuckoos sing, their loud repetitive whistles the ceaseless soundtrack of the Indian summer. Jungle owlets are noisy now too, throatily exclaiming their dissatisfaction to any forest dweller who cares to listen. I’ve often mused that many Indian birds sound angry, disgruntled or miserable. The Indian grey hornbill whines, the roller snarls, the jungle babblers whinge and bicker, and the large cuckooshrike complains in tones of loud self-pity. As for treepies, much of the time they just sound cross.
I though am not cross at all. I love these Indian birds more each time I visit them, as I love the people here too. Kanha Jungle Lodge and its people are steeped in tigers. The lodge is run by my friends Tarun and Dimple Bhati, aided by their charming seven-year-old son Jai, and by a host of friendly, diligent staff. Tarun is the grandson of Kailash Sankhala, the founding director of Project Tiger, and he grew up immersed in the lore of the jungle. Like his excellent drivers, Vinod, Vinay, Pramod and Monu, who are working with us this week, Tarun is a brilliant tiger-tracker and has a wealth of stories to tell about the inhabitants of the jungle.
This morning I have come back from the forest very happy. Avid marshtitters will know that on our pre-tour extension to Tadoba our group had great success with tigers. However, since four new clients arrived for the main tour, we have been having trouble finding them. This morning, at last, the hathi walle found a four-year-old tigress and permission was given by the park for them to take tourists to see her on their elephants. Thus all of my clients saw a beautiful four-year-old tigress superbly this morning. That sounds so good I’m going to say it again: all of my clients saw a tigress from an elephant this morning. My 100% success rate for tiger tours is maintained.
This afternoon the cat-watching got better still. In the meadow at Bishanpura we watched a jungle cat picking purposefully through the parched grass. Jackals are similar in size and colour to jungle cats and frequent many of the same habitats but, whereas jackals amble along aimlessly, blundering into whatever mischief they can, the cats look always as though they know precisely where they are going and why. Our lovely cat this afternoon spray-marked his territory and patrolled his golden grassland with care, before crossing the road in front of us and slipping into the sal forest.
Everyone in our group saw a tiger and a jungle cat today. With an oriental scops owl clunking loudly outside, this naturalist heads to bed a happy man.