(Above is a quick video of clips I shot today while on game drives.)
We were supposed to fly into an airport that is close to Kings Lodge. However the airport was closed because on a flight the day before, the pilot swerved to miss a wild boar that was on the runway. The plane careened off the path and they had to bring in trucks from far away to pull it away from the runway. No one was injured but that meant that our group had to fly into a different airport and then drive five hours to the lodge.
Most of the time we were traveling on dirt roads through little towns where village life was alive. In the “country” there are more cows than anyone could ever count. (Although you will also see them on the roads in the cities.) The cattle stand in the middle of the road sometimes and the drivers have to be so careful or they’ll run right into them (or people walking on the road, or bicyclists, or other cars, motorcycles…). The drivers continue their constant honking and goats and dogs are also road hazards.
Some of the cows have a shepherd that will walk with them holding a large stick to tap on the ground to keep them moving. Closer to tiger territory, the shepherds are extra careful to not let the cattle into certain areas near reserves, etc. If a tiger kills a cow on the inside of a national park or reserve then the farmer is not compensated for the cow. If a tiger kills the cow on the farmer’s land or in a “public” space then the government pays the farmer. Even losing one cow is a huge deal because a farmer may only have 10 or 12. In some areas there is severe poverty and that is why owning even one cow or a couple of goats is important and sometimes essential for survival.
Kings Lodge is very comfortable. The grounds are lovely with a beautiful pool and well-appointed rooms. We have heat and air conditioning, a king size bed, and a full indoor bathroom with a hot water and even a bathtub! Yesterday we had Wifi near the lodge office but this afternoon it doesn’t seem to be working. That’s fine because it give me a moment to sit and write about our experiences. (Below is our "room.")
We had such high hopes of seeing a tiger – that was one of our major motivators to travel to this beautiful country. Therefore, we weren’t too upset when our Natural Habitat guide gave us a 5:00 a.m. wakeup call and told everyone to be in the lobby for tea and coffee at 5:30. One of the ladies in our group noticed a Keel-back snake We were there with bells on and we loaded into three jeeps to travel to the park gate. The parks open at sunrise, and in this season that is at 6:30. India is a highly regulated country so on our way there (a 30 minute drive) we had to stop once to fill out paperwork and once for a passport check. All patrons must ride in the same jeeps the entire stay and the naturalists rotate. Each jeep must also travel with a park guide so we had five people riding in our vehicle including James and I (one driver, one naturalist from Kings Lodge, and one park guide). I was surprised at the amount of red tape but you do what you have to do.
The morning drive started out with seeing an amazingly huge buffalo type creature called a “Gaul.” (I need to check the spelling when I have Internet access.) They can apparently grow to weight up to one ton. We then saw spotted deer. The males have long antlers and they will sound a warning call when leopards or tigers are close by. We also saw peacocks (India’s native bird), a crested hawk eagle, a black-shouldered kite, long-tailed shrike, and a ruby-necked parakeet.
As we continued our drive we drove up on other jeeps stopped with people pointing. We crept up and noticed others pointing at a tiger! It was slowly making its way through the undergrowth and it was hard to see but we could see the vibrant orange fur with black stripes that grew from thin lines to thick bars toward the back of the cat. What a magnificent creature! We watched it for a while and a second tiger came to join it. This one was more difficult to see and we were slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to get any solid photos. Around 8:30 we stopped for a “bush breakfast” with hard-boiled eggs, cheese sandwiches, and crispy potatoes. Our guide also served coffee, tea, and pineapple juice. After about 30 minutes it was time to get back to the game drive. As we were driving along we spotted another tiger – this time it was just strolling down the road in front of us. The driver said, “Tiger! Tiger!” and we looked up to see the Queen of the Jungle (it was female) moving toward us with the most elegant gait. She even laid her head down for just a bit to watch us watching her.