Finally, at 4 o'clock, the guide says goodbye and leaves, leaving me again with the driver. I want to do some shopping, and he takes me to a market, where I entertain myself for a while. At the time agreed with the driver, he picks me up and we leave for the Ranthambore National Park. The journey that should be done in 3 hours, actually takes more than 5 hours, and I arrive at the jungle resort at 11 at night. I have had some cheese sandwiches in the car. I'm exhausted and the room is worse than I expected.
Day 1 - Ranthambore National Park
Today is sunny. I get up at dawn to go to breakfast with toast, fruit, omelette and coffee or tea. Just in case, I prepare some sandwiches with the remains of breakfast in case I cannot go to buy later. I get ready to do my first jeep safari in search of the tigers! One can choose between doing the private jeep safari or in a kind of open truck with capacity for about 18 people. As things are not very buoyant, I prefer the cheap option, the truck. I take a seat in the back and wait for it to be completed.
We leave without the truck full, as we stop at other resorts and hotels to complete it on the way to the entrance of the National Park, located no more than half an hour from my resort. I am very nervous to see tigers, and being the last of the convoy's various trucks, the waiting becomes more difficult.
At the entrance to the park, we fill out some forms for insurance issues and such. While all passengers fill them a horde of street vendors assault the truck trying to do business with caps, figures, and memory cards for cameras. The Ranthambore NP is divided into 5 zones, and at the entrance, each truck is assigned one to avoid agglomerations.
When it have been assigned one, one cannot enter another, although there is radio alert for tiger sightings, one must stay in the assigned area. In our assigned zone, they assure us that the previous afternoon they were very lucky in the sighting. Let's see if it continues. After a few hundred meters of road in common, the trucks are divided according to the assigned area.
We went through some ruins of what had been hunting grounds of the Maharaja. The safari is a complete fiasco. We see many birds, some wild pig, a turtle, but no tiger. After an hour, we climb a steep hill to access another part of our area, but as the road is completely muddy, the truck is caught halfway up. They make us all go down and tell us to push.
I pass. In the end, the truck gives up and drops down the hill. We turn around and go to the entrance to another area. They give us to see if it improves. No way. Another beating of potholes for nothing. I go back to the resort to eat very frustrated, and go for a walk around the town, with the streets flooded, dirty, full of animals (more than in the park).
I enter a store to buy some food and return to the resort for the afternoon safari, to see if things change. We are assigned another zone in the afternoon, but the result is the same. For 3 endless hours we listen to birds and see a crocodile. Back at the hotel, I ask if tomorrow I have more safaris assigned and they tell me that I do not have them included, but I can pay them separately. No way! I have dinner and go to bed, hoping for the next National Park. Tomorrow I leave early for Agra.
Day 2 - Jabalpur
The train to Jabalpur leaves at 7 in the morning. Early at dawn, I try to find somewhere to eat. At the agreed time, I meet the driver, who patiently waits in the car. He drives to the station, help me unload the bags and say goodbye cordially without even waiting to see if I give him a tip.
The station is chaotic. It is bursting with people, sitting on the floor, sleeping on the platform, smoking, and eating. I sit down to wait. The train arrives more than two and a half hours late, and for me it seems an eternity. I do not know what to do. Finally, almost at 10, I can enter the assigned coach and look for my seat.
If you think that traveling by train in India can be an enriching experience in some sense, forget it. I did it with the intention of saving time and money (flights and hotels), and the truth is that I would not repeat it.
Day 3 - Kanha National Park
The train arrives 3 hours late (usual in India) at the Jabalpur station, to find that no one is waiting, at least on the platform and main hall of the station. I leave loaded with all the luggage to give a return by the surroundings, without moving away too much, to see if I find someone who can be the guide. I need a shower urgently. In the surroundings of the station, many taxi drivers offer their services to take me anywhere, but I do not lose hope of finding what I am looking for.
I think about giving a call to the agency to see what happens, but obviously there is no coverage, so I wait. After a while, an old man appears with a toothless smile who introduces himself as the new driver and tries to help with the luggage. After putting the bags in the car we started the road trip to the Kanha National Park, where Rudyard Kipling was inspired to write the Jungle Book. It is located 200 km from Jabalpur. Before leaving the city, I ask the driver to stop at a store to buy supplies just in case.
The roads continue to be a succession of potholes, but at least the landscape is more pleasant than in the part of Delhi and Agra. It is more natural, with a lot of vegetation . The average speed barely exceeds 40 kph, and overtaking is little more than mission impossible. It takes more than 4 hours to travel 200 kms.
We got to the outskirts of Kanha NP. I'm tired, and ask people if they know the location of the hotel. Finally I find the lodge, and at first glance it looks very good. It is composed of a central building that contains dining room, kitchen and recreation room, and gardens in which the bungalows that serve as accommodation for guests are distributed. There is even a pool. I am absolutely the only client today, and incomprehensibly they give me one of the bungalows further away from the dining room.
When I registered and they explained how everything goes, I tell the manager that before I eat I want to take a hot shower. He says that I cannot, because the water must be heated manually, since there is no running hot water, so even after the meal I will not be able to shower.
So I go to eat with a mixture of typically Indian dishes like soup, rice, lentils, vegetables, bread interspersed with western dishes of fried potatoes and fried chicken. It is not a delight, but I am so hungry that I ask for several servings. After the lunch, I go for a relaxing shower and a nap, because today I have nothing scheduled in the afternoon, as I did not know what time I would arrive.
From the roof of the bungalow the nested monkeys do not stop making noise and spoil my nap, but I at least rest. At about 7 o'clock, there is a knock on the door and the safari guide of tomorrow appears with the permits and papers that I have to fill out. After the paperwork, I go for dinner. I continue to be the only guest at the resort, and the dinner seems like a repeat of the meal, but since it's delicious, it does not matter.
I go to bed. I think I'll sleep like a log today.
Day 4 - Kanha National Park
I have slept well all night. At 5 o'clock, the park guide comes to look for the safari. He was almost dressed when he knocked on the door. It is still dark and the temperature is quite cool, so I wrap with several layers of clothes and waterproof jacket. We have breakfast, packed to eat en route.
The doors of Kanha NP open at 6, and at the ticket office there is a long line of jeeps waiting. This time, the safari will be in a small open vehicle, not a truck. Let's see if I have more luck. The guide says that during the safari, I can have the opportunity (paid separately), to chase the tiger through the thicket mounted on an elephant, as in the hunts of the ancient maharajas. When I hear the price, I decline the offer.
In the car, apart from the driver and the guide, I am accompanied by a wildlife photographer, who explain about the fauna and flora that I can observe. I did not pay much attention either, but that's what it is. Once inside the park, there is not much wildlife to comment. We see owls, spiders, and some deer.
Besides, the environment does not look like the one I see in the the Jungle Book movie. I'm a little disappointed by all this. At least I see a spectacular sunrise in the most absolute silence. After several kms in the car, we stop in a kind of camp with a dining room and some services. Here we will come later for breakfast.
At the moment it is a technical stop. We resume the march, hoping to see some tiger when at a bend in the road I see jeeps standing and looking at a point in the thicket. In the distance I see a leopard resting on the top of a tree, and we stayed a while looking at it, but it is very far away.
When we get back on track, a few hundred meters from our position, we see an elephant with a driver leaving the thicket. I hear perfectly the roars of two tigers, either fighting or courting. We stop the car in the middle of the road, because the roars are approaching. I'm expectant (and the other 2 jeeps that are on the road too). I hope. And I hope more.
The roars stop. The elephant goes back into the depths of the forest. I wait a good time. The roars have stopped long ago and they are not heard again. I'm bored of waiting. The guide perceives it and comments if I want to go for breakfast.
I accept, because the camp is not far away. I eat the sandwiches quickly, and return to the jeep to return to the point where we left the tigers. During my absence, obviously, the tigers have crossed the road ahead of the point where we were detained before breakfast and have gone into the jungle on the other side.
We can still hear them, but we can not see them. I wait patiently for a while longer, but it does not seem that they have intentions to show themselves again. At noon, the park closes its doors, so we have to start returning to the entrance. When crossing the point where we saw the leopard, I see with joy as it comes down from the tree and comes towards us. We stop, but I lose sight of it among the undergrowth. I did not see him again.
I go to the resort to eat, in the afternoon. I will return for another safari, but I ask the driver to take me to the resort instead of taking me to the resort. So I buy some drinks and goodies to go biting. I go on foot, as it's not far. Today I'm not alone in the dining room, as more guests have arrived. The food continues to be good, but the variety is not much with soup, potato fry, butter chicken, rice, and lentils.
At 2:30 they pick me up for the afternoon safari. We circle in search of the damned tiger, to see only a few fingerprints and claw marks on a tree, apart from a jackal. I decided that if on the afternoon safari I saw a tiger, tomorrow morning I would do another (paying separately), otherwise I would leave early for Bandhavgarh. I return to the lodge frustrated, wishing to take a shower, dinner and go to sleep.
Day 5 - Bandhavgarh National Park
I say goodbye to the lodge with a good taste for the treatment received, the food, and the room but very angry for not having seen the tigers. As usual, the driver arrives late. After less than five minutes of getting into the car, when we have not yet left the Kanha town, we have to stop to have a punctured tire repaired.
Luckily, these people have a great practice and skill for these things that must be very usual, and in less than 10 minutes we are on route. We have a long and boring journey ahead, with a monotonous landscape and a conduction not suitable for cardiac. Finally, after a stop on the road to see some trees from which hundreds of bats hang, we arrived at noon at the new lodge near Bandhavgarh National Park. Nothing to do with the previous one, this one is dirty, dusty, old and neglected.
I say goodbye to the driver. Given that the arrival time is adequate, I try to talk to the agency to organize a safari for this afternoon. They are so obtuse that there is nothing to do, until tomorrow. So, I go to eat. There are not much customers in the lodge (no wonder), and I have to eat under the watchful eye of the owner. The food (the usual) is not terribly bad, but I have eaten better at the earlier one. At least they give me a bottle of water for the meal and I do not have to ask.
After lunch, I go for a walk to the town, to see if there is something interesting to see. I see a couple of stores, an internet cafe, many animals on the street and several hungry dogs rummaging through the piles of garbage. It is very hot, so I do not prolong the walk too much and I go back to the hotel to take a nap.
I read books all afternoon. When it's time for dinner, I go to the dining room. Before they serve me, I ask the owner to pack the breakfast tomorrow on a hot box, to take it to the safari and eat in the park. The food served for dinner suspiciously resembles what is left over at noon, duly tuned and camouflaged but yes, they give me another bottle of water.
I can see that they are going to charge me. At the lodge there are a lot of employees, but I am the only guest and it does not seem like it will change. Nor is anyone seen doing anything. Only the owner and the kid who serves the meals work. Tomorrow I have a safari at 5:30 in the morning. So I put the alarm clock at 4:30 and I retire soon to sleep.
Day 6 - Bandhavgarh National Park
It's 4:30 in the morning and it's cool. It is still dark, and I am afraid that the hot water for the shower does not work very well. There is a knock at the door, but when I open it there is nobody. They have left some buns and cups with coffee and infusions to warm me up. Something is something. I go out to wait for the guide of the safari well sheltered. I request some blankets to take in the car, that I suppose will be a convertible jeep like in Kanha.
With breakfast, they give me a bottle of water. With the usual delay, the jeep arrives and I sit, keeping breakfast at my feet to go biting. The park is not far, although the road to get to the entrance has endless bumps, and at the time of opening doors (6:15), we are already waiting. It consists of 6 different zones, and we are assigned one. The park's fauna is one of the poorest I've seen here.
At 8 o'clock, we stop for breakfast and continue going around without meaning on the roads of the park. The doors close at 10 o'clock in the morning incomprehensibly, and even after lunch we cannot resume the safari. Of course, they offer the possibility (paying extra), for a safari and trekking combo from 11 to 5.
I return to the lodge quite pissed off as usual, and after visiting the services, as it is too early to eat, I go to the village for a walk. In the backpack I carry some leftovers of food that I give to the dogs that roam the street and they begin to follow me wherever I go.
At noon I return to the lodge, to take a shower and to eat. I take a nap. For the afternoon safari, they give me another bottle. I have a collection of full bottles of water, because I have hardly finished the first two. This afternoon we are assigned another zone. The doors open at 2:30. During the safari in the afternoon, we see some monkeys and some deer, and a splendid sunset.
I am beginning to be sure that the tigers in India is only a myth. They have been extinct for some time, but silly tourists like me continue to believe in them. I go back to the lodge for dinner. I ask for breakfast tomorrow in picnic format again, and some fruit for dessert. After dinner, the owner passes me a note with what I have to pay. I give him back all the water bottles I had in the room and I do not pay him anything for them.