For my entry I’ve chosen to travel back to January 2009 and write about a dicey moment that made me a more mindful traveler today. I hope you enjoy reading about the two days in which I experienced terror and beauty in equal measure. India, I am hooked.
‘Oh he’s not my husband’ I had laughed as I grabbed Mark’s hand and allowed the clerk to lead us towards our villa. With hindsight, I should have noticed how the clerk’s expression changed ever so slightly. Fully aware of local customs, I was both naïve and more than a little obstinate at this time. I was not married, but I was in a committed relationship. Being at the mature age of 24 I felt this nuance was quite clear, even in a remote village in central India. What a good-looking 18 year-old clerk with very different life experiences to my own might think I was implying did not even cross my mind.
The ‘villa’ was round, thatched, fully plumbed and private, a treat to ourselves after three months of hosteling. We had been ripped off by the driver, who had realized he had the upper hand about an hour into our six-hour drive from Khajuraho. Chalking it up to experience we persuaded the lodge manager to allow us to check-in on the proviso that we would travel to a bank after our morning jeep safari to get the cash for our stay.
I agreed a time for the clerk to pick me up the following afternoon and hastened him out of the room – Mark and I were going to make the most of our private room for the night.
At 05:30 an official Bandhavgarh park guide piled us into a waiting Maruti Gypsy. The sun was just rising and it was still bitterly cold. We were one of nine vehicles being kitted out and the other guests were a mixture of day-trippers, tourists and even a private film crew.
Moving in convoy, we set off through the gates and I couldn’t help imaging that iconic Jurassic Park theme song echoing somewhere off in the distance.
Once in, each car sped off in a different direction guided by a dispatcher screeching instructions down a walkie-talkie. The hunt for a tiger was on.
We strained our necks through the windows hoping to be the first to spot a flash of orange in the dust brown expanse. As we tear through the landscape I’m reminded of a NASCAR Rally, but content myself in the knowledge that safari money keeps this park protected.
A gaggle of peahens mosey right out in front of us. Unperturbed as our breaks screech to a halt, their waddling bodies bustle around like a group of gossiping old ladies.
As the other cars converged on our location we watched the peahens pecking away at an invisible quarry, making their leisurely way across the dirt road and into the thicket on the right to join their vocal mate. He was close, but out of sight. Again we strained hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal blue plumage.
Then like a foghorn, that big beautiful bird screamed one ear shattering HELP!
HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYOOOLP bounced around the car and time seemed to stand still while that blood curdling sound echoed around our eardrums. The noise abruptly cut off as the cat clamped its jaws down, choking the air out of the unlucky bird. Shortly followed by a crack, pop, pop of snapping twigs (bones?) as the tiger leaped away through the undergrowth and a deep rumble followed it into the dark green foliage. The peahens scattered into the bushes honking and screeching in terror at the loss of their mate.
… And just like that, three weeks of train travel and over a year of planning culminated in that one sudden glimpse of a real tiger in the wild:
Back at the lodge everyone was elated. I left Mark sharing stories of the hunt with a doctor from Mumbai, grabbed my bankcard and jumped on the back of the clerk’s scooter. We sped off down the dirt track bouncing over exposed roots and swerving to avoid marauding macaques. The clerk pulled my arms close around him
– In England, you have enjoyed many boyfriends?
Unbeknownst to me I would not be back for another eight hours.
It was a misunderstanding and the details of those hours don’t need to be shared. I now wear the fake ring, My good husband is very well, and thank you I beam. Be mindful of where you are and don’t push your take on life where it is not needed. The tourist board is right India is incredible. Absorb her and you will enjoy her.