I started my Naturalist training with Taj Safaris in 2007 at Pench National Park . Baghvan was the base for the selection phase. We were put through some rigorous training schedule to learn about guiding, hospitality and of course, wildlife. For a novice like me who had left a software job, it was a really exciting and challenging phase of my life.
The sole purpose to switch career came from my interest in Travel & Wildlife Photography. I had recently bought my first DSLR camera and was excited to use that in the field. I also had to master the guiding techniques being taught. Picking up a new skill set was proving to be a big challenge for me during the initial days of training. I didn’t want to distract myself with photography and decided not to carry my camera during the training trips in to the jungle.
One such training day we entered Pench TR in the morning. There were six trainees along with the trainer in the safari vehicle. We were practicing our guiding techniques in the African safari way and were given half an hour slots to practice them. After an hour into the reserve and two trainees had finished their assignments. Allwyn, one of the fellow trainees took over the guiding. When he was doing the initial bit of explanation, we heard alarm calls of Spotted Deer ahead of the Junewani waterhole. This was a sign that a predator was on the move. We all got excited and wanted to check the source of these calls. Our trainer Sarath, asked Allwyn to drive towards the calls and as he started, a Sambar called. This made us quite sure that something big was on the move. We rushed to the spot where the Sambar distress call came from and switched off the engine. We quietly waited for any predator movement in the area.
Next moment came as a big surprise for us when we saw the dominant female Tiger of Pench nicknamed as "Badi Maa" came out from the thicket on our right hand side, very close to the safari jeep. It was least bothered as it crossed the jungle road and went to our left. After taking a brief pause on the other side to quickly scan the area, it went inside the jungle and disappeared.
I was really stunned to see the Tiger for the first time in my life and that too at such close quarters. It was a magnificent animal and I felt really lucky to have such a personal experience with no other jeeps in the area during the sighting. The Tiger appeared and disappeared like a ghost but the whole sighting got etched in my memory. Even after 13 years that sighting feels like to have happened only recently.
Sarath who was carrying his camera took some good pictures of the sighting. I was in a way glad to have left my camera behind as I was completely focused on the animal during the sighting. Later, I borrowed a photograph from Sarath to keep it as a memento. This sighting of my first Tiger made me fall in love with these big cats. An affair which is still going strong!!
The first Tiger that I photographed was in Bandhavgarh, six months later. I will tell you about this later.
**Blog by Durgesh Singh
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