So much of my childhood knowledge of literature came filtered through the imagination of Walt Disney. So, it is not surprising that I have not read Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book but instead associate it with the Disney imagery. At the time I had no expectation of ever seeing the jungle that inspired the tales. But a trip to India when you were growing up in a small rural town in northern Canada was as likely as winning the lottery.
Because I had never imagined it, it was extra exciting to get to Pench National Park and Kanha Tiger Reserve. Pench was only a fleeting visit (one game drive and no tiger sightings) and left no real memories. Kanha provided probably our best guide and definitely most impressive tiger sightings. Clemens is a sweet guy but he has a rather strong sense of entitlement so, by this point, he was requesting specific tigers – a male tiger, a cub, perhaps we could see a tiger killing some prey… I rolled my eyes and told him that wasn’t how safaris worked but it didn’t deter him. It was his birthday and he was the safari veteran. I was just tagging along…
The pressure was on though! So the guide cleverly took us to a pool late in the afternoon where a male tiger liked to hang around cooling down. The tiger was there! And there was a female tiger up on the hill. At least Clemens got his male tiger. We heard rumours of other sightings and dashed madly around the park a few times trying to find the tiger but never with any success. But our special tiger was there lounging in the pool every day… he didn’t do that much and we waited as long as we could in an attempt to see him stand up. He was not willing to cooperate – tiger as supermodel and we didn’t have $10,000…
It began to feel like the movie Groundhog Day rather than The Jungle Book 😉 But that is the thing with
seeing animals in the wild. THEY are in charge and you have to accept that. There is a certain zen quality to just sitting in the safari vehicle seeing if the animal will DO something. And they generally do. Perhaps not exactly what you want. It is tough to get them to pose for just the perfect shot. You need to be patient, accurate and fast. I learned by trial and error with my new camera in Tanzania that it’s generally best to put it on the “sports” setting. The tigers we saw were moving a lot more slowly than David Beckham but they did move and it meant not all my tigers were blurry.
While Clemens was fixated on tigers and haranguing our guide, I was enjoying all the attractions of the park. It’s easy to see how Kanha could provide inspiration as a lush jungle setting. The landscape is gorgeous even if you don’t see animals but there are plenty of animals to check out in addition to the tigers.
We stayed at Kanha Jungle Lodge, which I would highly recommend. Kanha was the only place in India where I saw women in actual jobs! We were greeted by the wife of the owner, one of the lodge’s naturalists was female and Kanha Tiger Reserve actually had female forest guides. The lodge is also impressive because it is family owned and apparently the founder Kailash Sankhala was known as the Tiger Man of India and was the founding director of Project Tiger in 1973. It is an eco-lodge showing a lot of respect for the environment. It is also very romantic as you feel like you are living in The Jungle Book and every evening you have an apertif in the rustic lodge and then have dinner under candlelight in the moonlight on an outdoor patio.
Of course this means you are essentially eating in the dark and it’s hard to know what you are eating. But you can be guaranteed it is likely vegetables – or chicken! I like chicken and normally eat it every week… but every day for every meal except breakfast? I didn’t eat chicken for a month when I got home. But you can’t eat cows or pigs and lamb is mutton so you probably don’t want it anyway. I have a sense of entitlement with regard to eating good food. I live in one of the world’s culinary capitals so I am totally spoiled. If you like Indian food, you will have to suck it up if you go on safari. They are going to tell you they are serving you different things but mostly it is all going to taste the same – chicken and vegetables in a sauce with some Indian spices dialed down for western palates. If you LIKE Indian food, come to Vancouver and go to Vij’s 😉
The food at the Kanha Jungle Lodge is better than average. The staff are charming. The park is gorgeous. And hopefully you will see the groundhog day tigers. Their behaviour was consistent enough to almost make me think I WAS in the Disney Jungle Book 😉