I have never been lucky enough to see the Tigers in their natural habitat during the wildlife safaris in India. And honestly, I was quite scared of being face-to-face with them. So in my heart, I never really wished them to come close enough to me. My mind though kept looking for them out of sheer curiosity. Kanha National Park broke this ritual. I found myself face to face with their famous Rock Star Tiger, affectionately called Munna.
Rock Star Tiger – Munna at Kanha National Park
We met Munna on our second tiger safari tour in Kanha one fine afternoon in the heat of June. By the time I sat in the jeep for this wildlife safari, I had lost all hope of sighting a tiger. After all, I did not see them in 3 safaris in Bandhavgarh and in the morning safari in Kanha. I must mention that I was thoroughly enjoying the jungle and its diversity. And had no complaints about not meeting the tiger. Though it did remain at the back of my mind that – this time also you are going to miss the tiger.
When our jeep moved on the pre-allotted path in Kanha National Park, the friendly forest guide said – Today, you would see the Tiger. And all of us gave him a cynical smile. By now we were used to guides raising our hopes by giving us stories of just-sighted tigers. Even if we told them, we are not tiger crazy, they insist that if you have come to this jungle, you have to see the tiger. He guided the driver to take the route where he had information about the tiger being sighted in the morning.
In my mind, I thought after 4-5 hours, how do you expect the animal to be in the same place? When he can move around anywhere in the jungle. At the same time, I remembered the mantra that you should always respect local knowledge.
Munna was named after a forest guard by the same name. Almost all tigers have names assigned and usually have an interesting story behind how they were named
First Sighting of Munna
Suddenly we see a sea of jeeps parked in one place. Now we all knew ‘Kabar Pakki hai’ – these guys know for sure that the tiger is around. Jeeps were taking turns in going to a particular spot and moving on. And the cameras on this jeep took their positions and clicked frantically. So, the tiger is somewhere inside the jungle and can be seen from a particular spot. In time our turn came and yes Munna was sitting there yawning. Looking bored or maybe it has just woken up from sleep. It was just about 10-15 meters from the road, hidden from the view. Even after everyone was done with the ‘darshan’ of the famous tiger, jeeps were still standing there – waiting for something.
Our guide and driver then informed us that the rock star tiger has just woken up from sleep. And now he will go for a long walk across the forest. My logical mind said, how could you be so sure, but then it argued that these people see him every day, and must be aware of his habits. Maybe, it is the daily routine of the tiger here.
Goes for a Stroll
In a few minutes, the whole place went into a frenzy – The tiger had gotten up, scratched some trees around it, and started moving at a sleepy, lazy pace. Jeeps moved to make way for him. He came out of the bushes and looked at all the olive-green jeeps. And the human beings lined up to get a glimpse of him. He started walking – going around the trees, coming on the road, marking his territory. In between stopping and looking at all those who were trying to shoot him frantically.
I wondered if he has learned to pose after facing tourists day after day. Or he treats us like we treat birds on our balcony, who come to sit for some time and go away. And we let them be there as long as they do not create any nuisance.
At some point, when the noise levels went up too high or the jeeps got too close for their comfort, the irritation was clearly visible on his face. It was like the irritation of adults when too many kids are making noise around. You want them to shut up, but you hardly do anything to shut them up. At one point it was within a couple of meters of our jeep. And Munna looked straight at me, right into my eyes. I moved back, almost pushing my fellow traveler out of the jeep. I was very sure it saw its next meal in me and was just planning how to eat. Thankfully, our jeep moved and I was out of its sight and it is then that I could sit and look at it with ease.
He took a long walk, sat down for a while, and then started walking towards the other side of the road where jeeps are not allowed. It moved like the King of the jungle. Making it very clear that it is his area and He rules here. Everyone else must make way for him. For a good 45 minutes, it captivated the attention of every human being around on the tiger safari tour. They had eyes for no one else.
Video Of Munna – Rock Star Tiger
Watch this video of the famous tiger, I managed to capture during the Tiger safari.
Munna’s unique Id is a bright & clear CAT written on its forehead and a PM written below that
Tourist Attraction of Kanha National Park
I was later told that it is only with the Munna, that forest guards allow visitors to go close enough as they know his behavior too well. He is too old and too carefree to be bothered about people around him. They know him as a friend and know his habits & his likes and dislikes. Why not, after all, it is his sighting that keeps bringing in the tourists. That is a source of bread and butter for all those living in the tourism economy here.
It is tigers like Munna who make an appearance and bring a smile to all the faces on a wildlife holiday. Even if some get frozen at the sight. It is difficult to imagine how many safari holiday memories are created just at the sight of a tiger in national parks.
My biggest learning from being so close to the tiger and watching it react to humans around it was that you can read the expressions of tigers just like humans. This is what would remain with me after all the euphoria of meeting a tiger dies down. Do notice it next time to get to see them close enough.
Munna, you are a Rock Star Tiger.
Recommend you to read the following blog posts on the National Parks of India on my Travel Blog.