With the chances of seeing a tiger on any excursion bordering on zero, I was fully aware that this half day excursion from Khajuraho was a bust from the get go. Choosing an afternoon departure to enhance the scant chances, I was counting/hoping on the dusk time to bring out the elusive critter.
Tigers have large territories 20-25 square kilometres are deemed quite small, the Panna tiger reserve is over 500 square kilometres and boasts a dozen or so tigers. In our gypsy 4 wheel drive we would cover a very small section of just one tigers territory, I could think of no better way to spend an afternoon than being driven along rough tracks, chasing tigers around a nature reserve.
Getting to the tiger reserve was cool, driving through small villages past small holdings with the soil just sprouting the winter crop, the brown-red earth still in sods in many places, interwoven with raises edges and irrigation channels. Many cows, stray dogs and water buffalo strayed into the gypsy’s path as we headed towards Panna. Luckily the plentiful cyclists, sari clad women and children stayed to the sides of the road, more often lurking around their small pastel coloured homes complete with chickens squawking and jumping around the roughly finished red brick walls that made up a farm yard.
With our newly acquainted guide in tow we were soon bumping around the semi wilderness on the access roads that make up the visit-able part of the tiger reserve. Small spotted deer, larger antelope and deer made an appearance early on giving me some reassurances that the tiger had food.
It is fun bumping along these rough tracks, driving up through the wooded areas onto the grasslands and back down past various watering holes, all the while hoping for an elusive sighting that will likely never come.
The acacia and teak trees housed a number of birds and some rather excitable monkeys, their black faces and spindly bodies adept at loping through the grasses and effortlessly leaping into the trees searching for whatever edible morsel may be there. The pea hens alarm call had us revisiting a water hole a few times, but ultimately as the sky began to turn the only new animal we spied leaving the park was a wild pig rooting through the ground.
Not dejected, having had a fun new experience the semi darkness accompanied us back to Khajuraho, the narrow lanes and small villages lightly lit, the small cooking fires visible like orange eyes dotted around the landscape as the gypsy bumped on.