India was not my first safari. It was my first tiger – but I felt fairly worldly from a safari perspective. I mean, most people don’t know where Botswana is, let alone its virtues as a safari destination. But Svarsara Jungle Lodge attracted the junkies. Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is notable as Maharashtra’s oldest and largest national park. Project Tiger was started in 1973 to conserve the Indian Bengal tiger. It began by establishing 9 Tiger Reserves. There are now 47 Tiger Reserves. And there are some tigers in them! It’s a bit controversial as to how serious India is about tiger conservation – and it’s a big, complex job. There are a lot of people and not many tigers and too many people in China thinking consuming bits of tiger will make them more powerful. No! Just work on your self-esteem and learn to be more charming – leave the beautiful tigers in peace.
Whether there are actually tigers in the Tiger Reserves or not, there aren’t a lot of tigers left in the world so India has done a good job of convincing you to come to India to see one. A lot of people go to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. It’s likely the most famous (we will get there too :). It has plenty of lodges to stay in and plenty of publicity. Tadoba is more of a hidden secret. There is little accommodation and most people come on a day trip. But you can stay at Svarsara Jungle Lodge – so we did 🙂
As previously noted, I was just tagging along so was like a little kid at the table while the adults talked about serious stuff. I didn’t realize the parks were set into zones with different gates and you couldn’t necessarily move around the whole park. That it mattered what gate you started at and that you would need to line up and wait for the park to open. (I hadn’t even memorized the names of the parks we were visiting at that point… bad girl!)
Because of the storms the first evening we didn’t follow the normal dinner protocol – and didn’t interact with other guests. The weather had cleared by day two so we met for drinks (i.e. soda pop :)) before dinner and were able to mingle with other safari guests. We also attempted to watch a film about Indian wildlife. We tried to watch it at least three times – but the power would always kick out before it ended and we got tired of watching the beginning so finally abandoned the project.
Clemens normally goes on safari alone so is good at interacting with other guests. That night we met a Dutch
couple who also went on safari pretty much every year and they talked parks, gates, animals, facilities, cameras, etc. I’d already noticed that my very nice Nikon didn’t really cut it. I felt a bit like I was in Afghanistan rather than India. With all the safari vehicles lining up and then drag racing in the dust, it is a bit much so a lot of people have bandanna and scarves tied around their head and their mouth with only their eyes visible. They are dressed in camouflage colours to not scare the animals. And they are brandishing gigantic cameras with dust and rainproof covers that look like weapons. I was clearly out of my league 😉
I quickly realized Tadoba was a bit of a hidden secret so attracted the wildlife junkies who had already been everywhere else. Some had already seen tigers in other parks. They all talked the lingo and knew all the park names and shared tips on the best gates from which you wanted to enter. It was a fascinating new world. I am a snob about lots of stuff (food, wine, literature) but I’m just excited to see animals. I even like monkeys and deer! Clemens refused to stop for anything that pedestrian for at least two days…
When we got to Kanha, it was even more fascinating. I am pretty sure I overheard some people exchanging details so they could plan a trip to Ethiopia together. Ever since a taxi driver in Amsterdam educated me on how fascinating Ethiopia is, I have wanted to go. So I managed to work my way into their conversation. It ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. They invited us to have dinner with them so the six of us sat in the dark under candlelight being fed mysterious food we couldn’t see and drinking Kingfisher beer (the alcohol ban lifted in Madhya Pradesh).
Eddie sounded like he was from Michigan but his father had been one of the first people from discover the virtues of outsourcing from China so he had lived in China for a long time and ran a specialty auto parts supply company out of Shanghai and had tacked tracking tigers onto a business trip. Philippe and Sonia were from Paris with charmingly accented English. I think they were brother and sister but Eddie was the only person in India I could really understand clearly J I am normally great with accents but had to really listen in India. Whatever their relationship, Philippe was hilarious. Clemens is pretty quiet but given that he is an engineer for Daimler, he could connect with Eddie. To add another perspective to the table, we had the only female wildlife specialist I met during my travels.
It made for an evening of incredible conversation. Even though I think the Americans’ attitude toward guns and violence is bat-shit crazy, I do love them. It’s always dangerous to generalize about an entire national group but I have encountered so many Americans like Eddie during my travels – friendly, generous, gregarious. He sat at the head of the table and really led the conversation and, between the two of us, we got everyone involved. It’s not very often I feel like the most boring person at the table…
But it seemed like everyone had already seen gorillas (for sure three had, maybe four). I was the girl who hadn’t seen a gorilla in the wild. The girl who hadn’t been to Ethiopia. For god’s sake, I haven’t even been to Kruger – which is apparently far too touristy! 😉 Big deal I’d been to Paris so many times I have completely lost count.
In this crowd, I was listening and learning. I wasn’t jaded at all. I still got excited when I saw a baby monkey! It was refreshing to see there was so much more to see and experience in the world. I have already booked to see penguins in Patagonia next year but incubating a plan for Zambia. I am well on my way to becoming a wildlife junkie. Now I just need one of those big-ass cameras to properly shoot in the gallery 😉