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Is A Tiger Worth It?

Rewa Travel Blog

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First Tiger Sighting....

After a short visit to Agra (are there any other type) to see the magnificent Taj Mahal, which completely exceeded even my highest expectations, my new travel partner Mia, and I hopped aboard a 16 hour overnight train towards the metropolis (note the sarcasm and the railway station photo) of Umaria.

Nature abound in Bandavhgar...
  This place was so obscure that absolutely no Indians we had spoken with prior had any knowledge of its existence.  That being said, I had a pretty good feeling about our chances of seeing a Big Cat in the wild  : )

Overnight trains and buses in Asia are usually no picnic.  In India its oftentimes an experience somewhat equivalent to seeing the Dentist.  You know its something you need to do, but its painful and feels like forever before its finished.  Mind you most Indian trains are completely overcrowded  because you have, in essence, a billion people vying for a few trains.  The Indian Railway, while being the largest employer in the world, oftentimes feels like the most bureaucratic.  Many people simply hop aboard the train and jump off before a conductor notices.

Elephant Back is the best way to get up close and personal with the big cat...
  This can create quite a log-jam in the sleeper cars where there are 6 berths per section.   Normally when you get to your sleeper, there are 3 to 4 locals dead asleep in your bed.  Add to all this chaos the fact that we happened to travel during the beginning of the national elections, whereby many of each city’s buses are ‘borrowed’ and used for, what I assume, is mobilizing both voters and political party members.  Luckily we had a reservation for this wildly overcrowded train.  If it weren’t 100 degrees, we may have gotten a few hours sleep.  However, 14 sweaty and cramped hours and a few bed-bug bites later, we arrived in Umaria at 5am in decent shape.  After waiting an hour and a half for the bus to take us to the tiny spec-of-a-town called Tala, the bus finally decided to leave.  Only 35 km of travel took almost 2 hours.  Needless to say, once we arrived and found a guesthouse, it was time to rest.
my ride...

The town of Tala has nothing more than a few shops to buy water/snacks, a few food stalls (restaurants), a handful of humble accommodation, really nothing that resembles tourist infrastructure.  Upon arrival and noticing this, I could barely contain myself.  I felt our chances of seeing the Big Cat were even better.  Add to this temperatures of more than 110 degrees and you certainly do NOT have a Disney-like atmosphere.  I arranged our gypsy (jeep) for sunrise the next morning and we were all set.  I was worse than a kid trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve….

We entered the park at around 5:45 AM and drove for an hour or so towards to jungle plains, and finally, upon a rocky outcrop, I was finally about to get my first glimpse of the Big Cat.

i know you're not supposed to call the baby ugly, but.....
  It was a female who was perched high atop a hill, giving here a great vantage point of her cubs, who were out and about.  Although we were able to get a first view of the Tiger, we were a good 60 feet away, so we could see the cat, just not with great detail.  About 20 minutes later, we saw a male tiger basking in the early morning sun.  This was at a distance of about 100 feet, so we could still see him, but from afar.  At this point, I was happy to have seen a tiger, but I naturally yearned for more. 

Well, about an hour later, and with great abruptness, we came upon a local man on an Elephant.  He had just spotted a female tiger cooling down in the shade.  So with no time to waste, we quickly climbed atop the elephant and started across a boggy marsh.

life on an indian train...
  Only an elephant could award one with such an opportunity because they are able to cross otherwise impassable terrain.  More importantly, once within close proximity to the cat, the elephant doesn’t alarm the tiger.  Incredibly the elephant was able to walk to within approximately 15 feet of the lounging feline.  The 5 minutes we were there taking in these precious few moments felt literally like 10 seconds.  At close distance you become completely mesmerized by this animal, with its sheer beauty, elegancy and demeanor.  Then you imagine what would happen if you were to come face to face with this beast and immediately your blood runs cold.  While I hope not, this may have been one of those ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’. 

So the trip to Bandavhgar yielded 3 tiger sightings.

dust in the wind....
  Mia and I were quite pleased and after an unsuccessful sunset journey back to catch another glimpse, we decided to push out the next day.  We were headed to Varanasi, one of the most famous cities in all of India and only a mere 250 km away.  So we set out in reverse, taking the 35km, 2 hour bus back to Umaria.  It was here that the real adventure began.  The bus arrived at the local station around sunset and we soon found out that there were no taxis or rickshaws running that evening.  I suppose the drivers we busy having dinner or playing cards.  So we set out to walk a few kilometers to find civilization.  However, upon arrival, we learned that there were no tickets available anywhere, by any mode of transport.  So we decided to spend the night in the sleepy little central Indian village.
familiar sight...inside of a bus
 

The next day, realizing we had to make a move somewhere, we hopped the train towards Katni, which was on the main rail line and more of a transit hub.  Surely we would find a way to Varanasi from there.  To our disappointment, we again learned that there were no available trains or buses.  So we decided to do another 2 hours journey in the direction towards Varanasi, so we hopped another train towards Satna.  Mind you, in these trains, one is barely able to make it aboard, let alone have room to stand.  And with a full 50 lb large backpack and a smaller 20 pounder, standing next to the wash rooms isn’t exactly comfortable or desirable.  But such is travel in India. 

We arrived in Satna in the early evening and were hopeful we could catch a bus directly to Varanasi.

tigress in her glory...
  We were told repeatedly that Satna was ‘the’ place in the region to hop hourly buses to Varanasi.  We went to the bus station only to learn that there were no buses that day due to ‘elections’.  So we were forced yet again to find a local hotel and wait till morning.  We were told that night that it was a certainty that the bus would be leaving at 8:00am. 

When 8:00am rolled around, there was no bus to be found.  We were stranded at the bus station, standing in the morning sun like a couple of eggs on a frying pan wondering how the hell to get out of that place.  All of a sudden, like an angel from heaven, a bus came rolling thru the dusty field they call a bus station, and a local said, ‘that bus will take you to Rewa’.  Perfect!  So without time for discussion, Mia jumped (fought) her way aboard and grabbed 2 spaces and I climbed on the roof to secure the luggage.

tiger gypsy...
  We were on our way to Rewa and surely there, as we were guaranteed multiple times, there were again hourly buses to Varanasi.

We arrived around 10am and asked at the bus station about the time for the Varanasi bus.  We learned it was leaving at 12:30.  Happy days!  We sat down nearby and had a thali for lunch and passed the time by people-watching, which is one of the main reasons to go to India in the first place.  At 12:00, I walked over to the bus terminal to verify the bus time and was informed that due to ‘elections’, there would be no bus today.  So again, Mia and I looked at each other and all we could do is laugh.  It really felt as though we weren’t going to arrive in Varanasi for weeks.  We were told the only option was to go back to the train station, take the train back to where we started to day, then to hop aboard a train and bribe the conductor in order to get a seat or sleeping berth.  This was seemingly our only option.  So we took the rickshaw 15 minutes to the train station.  Upon arrival, and to our shock, there was a line which would have taken hours in which to stand.  So we again considered train-hopping.  However, the train wasn’t leaving for 2 hours and judging by the sheer number of people waiting in the station, surely the 2 hour journey to simply get back where we started the day was going to be more of a living than that in which we were already engrossed.  So back to the rickshaw and back into town to see if we could bribe some local with a car to drive us to Varanasi.  After all, it was day 3 of this journey, which, in almost any other country, would take less than 5 hours. 

Upon arrival back at the bus station, we learned that no one wanted to make the drive.  Now we were really in the middle of nowhere, with only one dingy hotel and nothing at all resembling a point of interest.  So we looked at each other and this smile seemed a bit more desperate.  Just as we gave up hope of getting out of dodge, all of a sudden a bus came barreling into the garbage and dirty-laden space they call a bus station.  A man hanging outside the door yelled, ‘Allahabad’, which is not any closer to Varanasi, but it is a city of over 1 million and along the main line in the north.  Surely we would have better chances from there.  So again, without hesitation, Mia fought her way aboard and I climbed onto the roof with the backpacks.  We were on our way to an actual city with actual infrastructure.  We had new hope that we were going to make it to Varanasi after all.

We were told the bus would be just a few hours.  After more than 6 grueling, dusty and uncomfortable hours, we arrived in Allahabad, tattered and torn, but spirits not broken.  It was now dark and to our surprise, this ‘city’ didn’t have any auto-rickshaws, only the old fashioned ones where you are essentially in a tiny carriage, attached to a bicycle.  It would have taken hours by that mode to just cut across traffic.  We knew if we didn’t get to a bus station quickly, we were going to have to burn another night in a place that wasn’t named Varanasi.  After walking down the street, we found a small taxi and had the driver make a bee-line for the local bus station.  I got out and found a bus that was literally pulling out of the station for Varanasi.  I had the bus stop on the way out and allow us to board.  Last bus of the night.  So without hesitation we jumped aboard.  With no seats, we sat in the front with the driver.  I was sitting on top of the gear-box and had to maneuver when the driver would shift gears.  BUT….. We were on our way to Varanasi.  Around 11:30pm, after 3 days of local buses, trains, rickshaws, walking and countless ingrained memories, we arrived in Varanasi. 


You are probably wondering whether or not it was worth all that effort, discomfort, frustration and chaos just to see a few tigers for a few minutes.  The answer is a resounding ‘YES’!!!  Life is a blink of an eyelash on the face of time.  Within life, there are certain moments that are truly ‘once in a lifetime’.  When confronted with these choices, always opt to endure some discomfort as a trade-off for a unique chance.  As time passes, the wounds will heal, the body will mend, and you’ll become a stronger person for it.  But you will never be able to replicate experience and memories.  Like they say, NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

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First Tiger Sighting....
First Tiger Sighting....
Nature abound in Bandavhgar...
Nature abound in Bandavhgar...
Elephant Back is the best way to g…
Elephant Back is the best way to …
my ride...
my ride...
i know youre not supposed to call…
i know you're not supposed to cal…
life on an indian train...
life on an indian train...
dust in the wind....
dust in the wind....
familiar sight...inside of a bus
familiar sight...inside of a bus
tigress in her glory...
tigress in her glory...
tiger gypsy...
tiger gypsy...
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photo by: vidalibre