Pench Tiger Reserve is a beautiful forest that straddles the two states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and possibly the only such reserve in India to be located along the borders of two states. Pench though always synonymous with the Tiger Reserve, is a name derived from the Pench River that flows from North to South dividing the park into almost equal western and eastern halves.
My association with Pench is as recent as the summer of 2017; when sightings of the famed Collarwali were regularly posted on social media. Most of the sightings were at the forest watering hole. Not mere chance with temperatures rising beyond 45 deg C – the watering hole is a welcome respite for wild animals who drink and bathe in its cool waters, literally cooling their heels.
I wanted to see her for myself and did not waste any time scheduling a trip. Fortune favours the opportune after all. I arrived at Pench to a scorching summer day and set out the next morning well before the dawn hour in search of Collarwali and her kin.
Taking a long circuitous route with no mammal in sight, we wondered if we would sight any animal, let alone la femme Tigre. Two hours had passed, and the sun was now beginning to work on us with all seriousness. We decided to park ourselves on the road where we had a vantage view of the watering hole.
A trip to the wild is always a great lesson in patience, and we waited for well over an hour in an open jeep. Not many of my friends would believe this, but hunger pangs have always taken a backseat to the excitement of spotting a BIG cat in the wild. Waiting in absolute silence and looking around at the slightest rustle of the leaves hoping against hope that a predator will make an appearance. Just as we had had enough of a roasting, Collarwali sashayed in from the bushes across the road, crossed the road in front of us and calmly strode towards the watering hole. She quenched her thirst, sat herself down in the water and only when she had cooled down went back into the bushes. We may as well have not existed.
When you sight a tiger, you’re often caught between the desire to watch them, mesmerised and awestruck and more than a little terrified or capture them for eternity through your lens. For me, it is always a tough call.