I think I read about it in Lonely Planet first. Those books were like lifelines to us. All truly cool travelers abstained, but not us. When deciding to choose a new destination you would find us fugitively flipping through our copies. When we moved on we'd trade them up at little bookstands that were thrilled to get their own country in stock.
India was overwhelming at first. After months in countries that could be largly transversed in a day having two months in a country this size was almost too much. Being India, culture shock was almost unavoidable. Even though we considered ourselves seasoned by now.
I read about Kanha. All I really noticed is that it was the place to see a tiger in the wild, and I knew I wanted to go. I've had a fascination with these beautiful cats for many years. The opportunity seemed too good to pass up.
We took a sleeper bus to Jabalpur. Old double bunks stacked on top of each other. We stayed in one of the cheapest hotels of our stay, and it showed. Mosquitos came through the cracks and bell boys knocked on our door muttering in Hindi. The next day's bus was one of the least comfortable of our trip. The two of us crammed on a stair step, and tried to be courteous the the constant flow of Indians falling onto us. The ride lasted for many jarring hours.
We arrived in the heat of the Indian jungle. At the end of the line we checked in with our first hotel. We could scarcily believe the prices they were quoting us. When I say thirty dollars each a night it may seem low. In India, with packs on backs it sounded ridiculous, even if it did include a morning safari and free meals. Several hours of hiking around we returned, as the receptionist had promised we would.
Now we found out the drivers were on strike. A little Indian guide took pains to describe to us that the tiger count in the park had been falling drastically. A tiger retails to China for $3000 U.S. A fortune if you're an Indian villager. Or a park manager. But for the drivers these animals are directly linked to their income. In a country so desperately overcrowded the animals are of less concern then maintaining your family's ability to survive.
Two guys moved into the room next to ours. Josh and Henric. Well waiting for the strike to end we took long hikes in Rudyard Kipling's jungle. This particular park is one of two that lays claim to Jungle Book. Climbing the rickety tower we would watch the sun set and pose for pictures with rich Indians on vacation.
Our last of two mornings there we did get to go on Safari. The four of us in an open top jeep with a driver and a useless guide. His main concern was that we take pictures of every animal we came across.
Chances were 1 in 3 that we see a tiger. Had we known that this entire trek out into Kanha would've probably been nixed.
We were lucky. Twenty minutes into our drive we saw a cluster of three other jeeps. Driving up we could see the 500 pounds of muscle lounging by the road. An adult male. I can't say that observing this animal was all I'd expected, but I can't deny it's beauty. It stretched, strolled down the road and across. I was stunned by this enormous cat. It's vivid stripes blending in with the terrain.
It laid down, again, between our road and another.
Other jeeps streamed in from no where. By time we left Meg and I counted over thirty. I'll always be glad we were among the first.