No one is fond of an early morning start, but to be woken up with a fresh cup of tea at 5am before heading out on safari is perhaps one of the most exciting ways to begin the day.
On my recent trip to central India, I spent two nights in Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. We took a short flight from Mumbai to Nagpur, before being driven to the outstanding Taj Baghvan – a luxurious lodge with charming stand-alone suites overlooking the jungle and probably the best Indian cuisine I have experienced.
India, with Mumbai alone at 20 million people, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but it is also one of the richest in terms of its diversity of wildlife. For me (and I expect for most), a safari in India is all about encountering the magnificent Bengal tiger in the immense wilderness.
We had been in our jeep for a little over three hours, spotting the most extraordinary wildlife, each corner bringing something new and exciting. Majestically perched on a branch above, a crested serpent eagle looked back at us and watched us as we passed by from his vantage point. The barasingha (wild deer) leapt from the bushes on high alert. A giant Indian flying-squirrel clung to a tree. A family of wild dog snoozed, having completed their morning hunting routine. But still no tigers, and I was convinced the vastness of the impenetrable forest would drown out my chances of finding one. Within the dry deciduous forest of tall teak trees, these famous big cats are extremely well camouflaged and prefer to sleep during the heat of the day.
However, just as we were heading back towards the lodge, there was a sudden surge of excitement from our guide – and there she was, an elderly tigress jumping over fallen logs and weaving through the thickets, before making her way back to the cover to proudly introduce her playful cub.
It was an amazing experience to see this incredible creature in the wild and so close to our vehicle. I had been waiting many years to spot a wild tiger and luck had always been against me. Keeping my hopes high, I always knew my first sighting would be incredibly special and Pench National Park ensured this.