“It feels like you are in a horror movie”, said our guide while we were waiting for the Tiger to show up.
‘Why would we pay up to get horrified.’, I thought to myself. The guide sensed my reluctance and started telling me all the things that make a night safari stand apart from all other sorts of Jungle Safaris. 10 mins. later, we agreed and paid a huge amount to book our Jeep for a night safari.
How a night safari begins:
The interesting thing about ‘night safaris’ is the night. 😀 It starts only after the sunset. That day, as it got dark, we stepped out of our room and waited at the entrance of our hotel – packed in many woolen layers when the jeep showed up to collect us.
It was a 10 mins. ride to the gate of the Tiger Reserve through a few settlements. I don’t know if they do it for effect or if it was indeed a power cut, but the road to the Tiger Reserve was pitch-dark with no street lights. The only sense of illumination came from the low-beam headlights of another Jeep coming from the opposite direction. Tall & dense forestation flanked the road on either side and we couldn’t see a thing. The only senses that worked at that time were the sense of smell, and the sixth sense (that convinced me that something sinister waited for me in the forest).
10 minutes later, we reached the entry gate (with no lights again). The guard looked at us with suspicion as if we were trespassing, threw torch light at our faces (reminding me of every Rajashree (horror) movie I had watched growing up), and we entered through the gate that said, “Welcome to Panna Tiger Reserve”.
Settling in with the dark:
Imagine this: the Jeep, YOU, the darkness & the fear of a wild animal that can either be sitting up high on the tree, or slither its way to your jeep, or pounce on you from behind.
Am I exaggerating?
No ma’am, I am not. For a moment there, when my guide turned around and smiled at me, I imagined him turning into a shapeshifter the next moment with inverted feet and long, black hair! But thank the gods, he didn’t. He remained a homo sapien with normal nails, normal hair and inflexible feet.
The same Jungle that looked inviting and welcoming in the morning looked closed and indifferent at night, sometimes angry at the fact that we were there.
The guides usually carry a torch with them in night safaris and continue to scan the surroundings with the torch. At 7:30 pm, it felt like midnight in the Jungle, with such dark surroundings that torchlight was not even a consolation.
Did I get used to it?
Not really! There is an eerie feeling in the Jungle at night, and you don’t really get used to it.
Finding the Nocturnal beings:
It’s not that hard to spot a nocturnal animal even in the dark. A set of glowing eyes will be visible from afar, and you won’t be able to miss it. Every time we would take a halt and I would hear a sound, I would fear that there’s a reptile around. When we would park our jeep under a tree (which was too common given that it was a jungle), I would imagine that a cold-blooded reptile would fall on me from the tree and I would have to save myself before it took a bite off my body. Yeah, yeah, my mind was going berserk.
After multiple failed attempts of spotting a Tiger, we ended up checking out an owl, and a pair of Palm Civets. That’s all. And wait! We couldn’t even get a decent shot, the moment we would spot the Civet, it would run away and hide itself. Cute 🥰
I can’t say if we were lucky or unlucky given the fact that we didn’t encounter anything wild or supernatural in the jungle. And when it was time, we decided to go back.
Going back ALIVE:
The moment we decided to return, my senses heightened and I began to hear sounds that weren’t audible to naked ears. Thankfully, I couldn’t see much given my shortsightedness. And before my eyes and mind could conjure images & shapes in the Jungle, I removed my glasses. Problem solved!
But it didn’t.
My eyes couldn’t see that well but my mind began racing faster than the jeep. I imagined all sorts of scenarios that I had watched in every horror/ wildlife movie since childhood. All those memories just came back rushing in. I wonder if I have had this ability all along. Had I have known, I could have scored much better in CAT examination and cracked a Tier 1 college. Ah! Talk about unresolved issues. 😀
No one in the jeep was reacting. Were they not seeing the woman? Was that woman visible only to me?! OH MY GOD! Should I wear my glasses? Before I could go bonkers, I noticed that this woman was in fact a living homo sapien, who was standing outside her house. There was a tribal village inside the jungle. Yes, that’s a thing. On one hand, the world has developed so much that we could just ask ChatGPT to write a code for us. On the other hand, there are still establishments inside a forest where the families spend their lives under the constant threat of a wild animal attack. Talk about irony, huh?!
Jungle Night Safaris are often run between 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. By 9:00 pm, you have to exit the Jungle and leave the wild be. Not all forests offer it. So you would have to enquire at the forest reserve. Night safaris are usually offered in buffer zones (and for all the right reasons).
Do I recommend it?
Absolutely. Once in a lifetime experience!