It's dry here, very dry, and a cool wind parches the land further, causing gossip among the brittle leaves on the concrete airport forecourt. My rickshaw wallah struggles to ignite his temperamental vehicle but, once in motion, wiggles confidently through the city traffic at a stately twenty miles an hour. Confidence is all.
A sagging buffalo grazes the verge of a busy road under cheery yellow Tecoma bushes from South America and a brazen scarlet Erythrina tree at home in India. The Butia monosperma trees, which will line my next ten days of journeys through central India, look tired and wizened, the ground beneath them littered with spent salmon blossom. The earth cries for rain and there is no promise of it for four months yet. Selfishly this suits my purpose as tigers are easiest to see when it's hot and it's dry.
My hotel is bright, brisk and of a modern India. It sits in a neat, self-consciously middle class neighbourhood, of a kind springing up everywhere as this ancient swarm of creeds, castes and colours takes on the twenty-first century world. On the roof a laughing dove burbles contentedly, but out of sight so he'll not yet make my list. I can think of worse places to bide my time until Harish arrives and we gather our group and lead them to Tadoba.
Tadoba: it's been four years since I visited this lovely park and stayed in the friendly, home-like lodge owned by son and father, Aditya and Amrut Dhanwatay. Where the grey junglefowl crows, where the Indian python slips purposefully through the fallen leaves, where each bush is stroked by the over-sized tail of a sirkeer malkoha, and the tiny hooves of the shy chowsingha clip through the withered grass; how good it will be to visit again.
After dinner which was quite good, a large rat appeared in the bar.
“Waiter!” said a strong-minded Englishwoman. “There’s a rat under my seat.” (By now everyone else was standing on chairs.)
“Yes, it lives there,” he said, and went on his way.
Slowly Down the Ganges