I started my training with Taj Safaris back in 2007 at Pench National Park which was our base for the selection phase for getting recruited as a Naturalist. 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 new period of my life.
The sole purpose to switch career came from my interest in Wildlife Photography. I had recently bought my first DSLR camera and was excited to use it in the field. I also had to master the guiding techniques being taught and practiced. 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 to the jungle.
One such training day we entered Pench TR in the morning. There were six trainees 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 with two trainees finished with their assignments, Allwyn, one of the fellow trainees took over the guiding. As 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 alarm call came from and switched off the engine waiting for any predator movement.
Next moment was a big surprise for us as we saw the dominant female Tiger of Pench nicknamed as "Badi Maa" came out from the thicket on our right side very close to the safari jeep. It was least bothered of us as it crossed the jungle road and went to our left. After taking a brief pause, 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 close quarters. It was a magnificent beast and I felt really lucky to have such a personal experience with no other jeeps in the area of the sighting. The Tiger appeared and disappeared like a ghost but the whole sighting got imprinted in my memory. Even after 12+ years the sighting feels like to have happened only recently.
Our trainer who was carrying his camera took some good pictures of the sighting. However I was in a way glad to leave my camera behind as I was completely focused on the animal during the sighting. Later I borrowed a photograph from my trainer to keep it as a memento.
The first Tiger I photographed was in Bandhavgarh, six months later and I will tell you about this later.
**Blog by Durgesh Singh