Wild Wild Mess: The Suffering Named Safari


Wild Wild Mess: The Suffering Named Safari

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Safaris are the eternal journey of life peppered with anxious moments and finally disappointment. When you are a safari newbie, you are an eager bunny, full of hope and lots of energy. There’s a spring in your step. You wake up before the crack of dawn, happily haul yourself on an elephant. You even turn your nose heavenward when you discover that the elephant you are riding on has a terrible case of flatulence and crack silly jokes to distract yourself. Unfortunately, your jokes are so bad, all the animals hide for cover. You then take an open jeep ride and keep all your jokes to yourself. A few hours later, you emerge dustier than Gurgaon in peak summer. And all you have spotted at the end of it is tiger poop, tiger pug marks, and indifferent deer who sigh “ugh, tourists” every time you cross their way. 

The ferocious animals have sleep patterns of millennials. They nap all day and are up all night. But going to a wildlife sanctuary and not spotting any wildlife, is so blasphemous that it becomes your walk of shame. Especially when Pinky aunty, Rakesh uncle, Bose mashi, and her entire family tree have spotted not one but two tigers, three bisons, and half a cheetah (he was hiding behind a bush) on their last jungle safari.

So it’s pretty understandable why your degree of enthusiasm goes down like our water tables with each new ride among the wild. You cry silently. It remains your shameful secret, but you post arty pics on Facebook, mostly of sunrises and sunsets, and make no mention of your failure.

For over a decade, you avoid wildlife sanctuaries like a detestable ex. You make no mention of it and walk out of the room every time someone tries to regale you with their wild adventures. Nope, you are having none of it. But a cruel twist of fate brings you to Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, where the roads are so smooth and the locals so nice.

Your hopes have been freshly renewed because everyone on TripAdvisor has claimed wonderful sightings. Shania from South Carolina was winked at by an amorous tiger. Shawn from New Hampshire had to refuse politely when one of the tigers offered to share his breakfast. Samya was the luckiest. She had a heart to heart with a feminist tigress and will soon be writing a book detailing this encounter.

Thanks to the reviews, you also know how dusty it’ll be and you’ve covered your face with a dupatta and shades, and now you look like a kidnapper from Bihar. Binoculars, check. Camera, check. Ready for an experience of a lifetime? Oh yes, yes, yes!

You sit ramrod straight on the back seat of the gypsy, trying to make your neck as long as Deepika Padukone’s. Longer the neck, better the chance of a sighting. There are 20 lucky jeeps that have been allowed inside the reserve today. As soon as you enter the reserve, your driver starts speeding like a Jat Bway. Unfortunately, the jeeps ahead of you have similar ideas about speeding. So all you can see are clouds of dust. Oh, goody! This feels like home.

Of course, tigers cannot be easily spotted because they have stripes! Damn, why do we even try?

Everything is so quiet that you can actually hear your inner voice screaming, “Run for your life, you biatch!” But you sit still. You are now rotating your neck clockwise and anti-clockwise. When you spot a bison, you almost fall off the jeep in excitement and click it from every flattering angle like it were your girlfriend. Your guide tells you we are heading toward a watering hole where a tigress was spotted with her cub this morning. But to make sure you get value for your money, your driver stops at every watering hole for you to gaze at monkeys, deer, and a wild boar doing a mud pack thingie. You click furiously.

Many watering holes and “craning your neck hopefully at the wildgrass” later, you’ve yet to spot the tigress who seems to have vanished like clean, breathable air from India’s megapolises. Every now and then your guides converge to chalk out a strategy to find the tigress that’s gone AWOL. The thing is, Bandhavgarh forest has between 60 and 90 tigers and cubs (depending on your guide and his proclivity for exaggeration). Yet, you haven’t spotted a single tiger.  So you go round and round, up and down the entire stretch at break-neck speed while you clutch the side of your seat for dear life. After so many rounds, you are not sure whether it’s evening or morning, whether you are dead or alive. And suddenly you see your soul float out of your body and sigh, ”Mera toh bad luck hee kharab hai.

But wait, there’s sweet consolation when you discover your bad luck is being equally shared by all the wildlife enthusiasts who had come with hope and really heavy camera equipment. Not a single one of them has spotted a tiger.

Your heart does an aria or a bhangra, depending on the level of your snootiness. Two hours later, your inner eight-year-old has taken over you, and you keep asking the driver in a whiny voice, “How long will it take?” You suddenly decide to stand on your seat startling others because you are bored. Your butt has developed feelings. It wants to go home and place itself on a soft cushion. You want chai. You want wine. You just want to get the hell out of there because this is not a safari but suffering.

As you are speeding out of the reserve and toward your resort, you have an epiphany. Of course, tigers cannot be easily spotted because they have stripes! Damn, why do we even try? Thrilled with your insight, you rush back to your hotel where room service and a shower with 17 settings saves your soul. Under the stream of the hot jet, you wonder guiltily if you should have at least tried to spot the other wildlife, but then you turn on the Jacuzzi and think… why else do we have Gurgaon?