Sunday, May 20, 2018

3 Incredible Days in the Heart of India-Madhya Pradesh | Day 2: White Tigers of Rewa

(Continued from where I left off in the previous post about Day 1 in Madhya Pradesh) 

It was early morning. I was fast asleep in a log hut somewhere in the middle of a vast tropical forest. My alarm was set for 7.30, though I should have known I wouldn't be needing an alarm clock. I woke up at 7, all on my own, to the lively chatter of birds and the rustle of the wind in the trees outside my hut.

I was in Bandhavgarh National Park - one of the world's foremost tiger reserves - and another exciting day of wildlife experiences lay ahead of me.

Day 2 in the Heart of India

If I wake up early on any given day, I snuggle right back into the covers and sleep for at least another half an hour (usually more) before finally forcing my still-asleep body out of the bed and into the bathroom. On this particular morning, however, I was wide awake within a minute and out of the door in 10, wide-eyed with wonder and camera in hand. The jungle was awake and buzzing with activity.

It took me a minute to tune in to the sounds of the forest. Stepping out of the shade of my hut, I looked around to figure out where all the birds were - and lo and behold, there it was! My first sighting of one of the most magnificent birds of India - and not a common sighting in Madhya Pradesh - the Asian Paradise Flycatcher (now called Indian Paradise Flycatcher), with its never-ending white tail and black head, perched atop the tree right behind my hut. It was quite sensitive to sound too, because it sensed my presence within seconds and flew away to a taller, farther tree. I managed to take a few snaps before it disappeared into the foliage, its majestic tail trailing behind it in the most beautiful flight I have ever seen any bird take.


Encouraged by the lucky sighting, I set out to find more winged ones, though in a hurry now because it was getting sunny and I was expected at breakfast soon. I ended up spotting a bunch of Coppersmith Barbets in a fig tree and a pair of Spotted Doves that looked like they were batting eyes at each other like a romantic couple (believe me).

Wildlife spotting in Bandhavgarh National Park Madhya Pradesh
The Asian (or Indian) Paradise Flycatcher. They are called so because they feed on insects that they catch mid-air (fancy that!) The males are beautiful white and long-tailed, while the females are shorter-tailed with dark wings.
Wildlife spotting in Bandhavgarh National Park Madhya Pradesh
A pair of Spotted Doves.
Wildlife spotting in Bandhavgarh National Park Madhya Pradesh
Coppersmith Barbet feeding on wild figs.

Breakfast at the jungle resort came as another pleasant surprise. Seated in an open restaurant with mud-plastered walls and greenery all around, it was a rather lavish meal (given the setting) with fresh fruit, toast, eggs, milk and cereal, juice, and an Indian addition in the form of poori sabzi (which I generally stay away from - bring on the non-greasy stuff for me!)


After a hearty meal, we took a stroll around the resort, traipsing in and out of green patches, lots of tiger grass and a bunch of small greenhouses. We also spotted an abandoned-looking tractor on the premises that I put to good use (posing on it).

Glamping in Bandhavgarh National Park Madhya Pradesh

Around 10.30, we checked out of our amazing log huts (still haven't gotten over THAT goodbye) and embarked on a 150-km drive through the dusty hot MP countryside to Rewa, where we planned to go on a safari inside the famous white tiger reserve. Due to navigational troubles and a couple of stops to take pictures of the rural scenery, it took us a few hours to reach Rewa, where the rest of our party was waiting for lunch. We ate at a restaurant opposite to the tiger reserve and hurried over for our safari around 3 PM, when the sun was at its extreme. Luckily, there was a golf cart waiting to ferry us around the reserve and zoo.


As we waited for our safari bus/minivan to take us inside the reserve where the two breeding white tigers are kept, I read up on the history of white tigers in India at the air-conditioned museum cum waiting lounge. What I discovered was nothing short of enlightening - WHITE TIGERS ARE THE SAME AS ROYAL BENGAL TIGERS. They are not albinos or a separate species but indeed the same species. The white colour occurs in some of them because of a lack of pigmentation due to a rare genetic combination. Wikipedia says, "for a white Bengal tiger to be born, both parents must carry the unusual gene for white colouring, which only happens naturally about once in 10,000 births". It means if you breed a white tiger with a yellow tiger, only a yellow tiger will be born. And if you breed two white tigers, it is still not necessary that a white cub will be born.

White tigers have most abundantly been found in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, which was a princely state until Independence. There are several hundred white tigers spread across zoos all over the world right now, and they are all progeny of the white tigers originally found in India. Geneticists observe that white tigers are whiter in hot climates and grow darker in colder climes, which means white tigers in India are always snow-white while those in, say, Bristol Zoo are darker. It is also believed that the last white tiger to be seen in the wild was shot dead in 1958, after which they have only survived in captivity. Hence, we had to opt for the safari in Rewa zoo.

Another interesting thing I found out on the internet is that there are several restrictions in place on the breeding of white tigers in zoos across the world, because in a bid to breed more and more of these 'exotic' beasts, zookeepers resort to inbreeding between related tigers, which results not only in the rare white colour but other genetic defects like arched backs, cross-eyes and clubbed feet as well. Humans will literally resort to any means to make that extra buck, ugh.

White tiger safari in Rewa Madhya Pradesh
Our minivan finally arrived and we set foot inside the reserve, which is built like a forest, the natural habitat of tigers. Safari goers can sometimes be really unlucky, because the tiger may simply be lying in the shade of a cave or dense foliage to escape the sun, and the tourists may not get a single glimpse of the beautiful beings. But we were lucky, because we heard news of both the tigers being out and about in the sun, which meant we could easily see them. And oh boy, we did!


Rewa white tiger safari Madhya Pradesh


Rewa white tiger safari Madhya Pradesh
One of them, the female, was literally sunning herself by the side of the road in the SCORCHING sun. It made no sense, since she could easily have been in a cooler place. But luck was on our side. So she sat there looking bored and even looked up at us a few times. It was one of the most exhilarating moments I have had in my entire travel life. The other white tiger, the male, was also found a few minutes later, sleeping after his afternoon meal in a cooler part of his pit but still visible from our van.

They say the thrill of encountering Bengal tigers in the wild is unparalleled, and I heartily agree. But to be so close to this rare animal that few people have seen or will ever see in their lifetimes - it was really amazing!

On our way back from sighting the white tigers, we were taken to a few other enclosures around the zoo. I saw a sleeping cheetah, another couple of white tigers, a lion, a few Black Bucks, and a yellow Bengal tiger (who seemed nothing like the regal beasts we had encountered less than 24 hours ago inside Bandhavgarh forest). The highlight of this leg of the trip was the Black Buck, an animal I had first seen in my childhood in fat encyclopaedias (I was a nerdy kid) and a Discovery show on TV. I had always fantasised about seeing a Black Buck for real. In Rewa, I finally saw one in all its glory. (Couldn't get Bhai's face out of my mind for a long while after that though 😂)

Black Buck at Rewa White Tiger reserve and zoo Madhya Pradesh
The Black Buck was so elegant, and such a poser!😍

We set out on our return journey to Jabalpur after a good two hours at the Rewa reserve spent up, close and personal with wildlife. On the way, we witnessed the most stunning sunset over the Vindhya hills. Needless to say, I stopped the car by the roadside to capture the scene. It turned out rather well, thanks to the cyclist.

Day 2 in the heart of India went by in a flash, and in hindsight, it was as exhilarating and full of new experiences as Day 1 in Bandhavgarh had been. Back in Jabalpur for the night, I was happy, relaxed, and as excited as ever for more adventure. In the end, Day 3 turned out to be less about adventure and much more about local sights and places made famous by Bollywood. But it revealed a side to Madhya Pradesh that I could scarce have imagined the existence of. More details in the next edition of my three-part MP travelogue!
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The third post in this series about how I spent Day 3 in the Heart of India is coming up super soon, I promise. Meanwhile, head over to my Instagram and show some loooouve! 😍😁
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