We got up at 4:20, since we were driving a bit farther than the day before - headed to Zone 1. On the walk from our room to the main lodge, we heard "Good morning sir, good morning ma'am" about a half dozen times in 2 minutes. While Kevin and his wife weren't with us, we had a new car mate, the head chef's wife. We hoped she would be a good luck charm for us. We were about 5th or 6th in line. Also with us was Paguna (sp?) from the park service. Part of the arrangement at Bandhavgarh is that in addition to the hotel guides, there is also a national park employee - presumably as a way of job creation for the local community. A minute or two after entering, we came to a fork in the road, and Vijay stopped to listen. We were driving much slower than the day before, and not seeing anything. Zone 1 was at least better in terms of topography, scenic beauty, but that doesn't count for much when you've flown all the way around the world for the express purpose of seeing a tiger. We were sitting in the back of the truck, worrying about being 0 for 3 on sightings, and then worrying about going 0 for 7 and what we'd tell people.

Then bam, we almost drove into a female tiger when making a sharp left in the road. It came around the corner right towards us, probably only 5-10 meters in front of the truck. Vijay immediately began backing up, stopping so we could take pictures, backing up some more as she got closer, stopping again, etc. The whole encounter lasted less than four minutes, at which point she walked off into the bush. If we'd been on the road 4 minutes sooner, or 4 minutes later, wouldn't have seen her. If we'd woken up 4 minutes sooner or later, same difference, so we were glad we'd told Vijay 4:20 the night before. It was great luck to see the tiger, but also dumb luck. That sighting was more than enough to make the morning, but we did see other things as well on our drive, including some vultures sunning themselves to warm up, a black-crested oriole, a white-naped woodpecker, an emerald dove, and a barking deer. As for the flora, we saw a Bombax ceiba, Cassia fistula, a large Ficus tree, Butea monosperma, and more tiny Phoenix rupicola. We also heard Faguna's story about how many years ago he came across some poachers, got away by pretending to be a lost farmer, then tracked down the park rangers and caught the poachers and disabled the traps before any tigers were caught.

On the drive back, after chatting with the guards at each of the 3 zone entrances, we realized that we were the only ones who saw anything at any of the 3 zones all morning. We had a bit of "survivor's guilt," as it was just dumb luck we had our sighting, and we hoped that everyone else would see something in the afternoon. We got back around 10am again, and had some champagne at breakfast to celebrate seeing a tiger. After breakfast (and another shower), we killed time reading, and using the lodges dial-up internet (that is a great way to pass a lot of time, just checking email took about 15 minutes). We got lunch at 1:30 again, and it is amazing how hot it gets in the middle of the day. It was well over 110, probably somewhere between 115 and 120.

For the afternoon drive, we left at 3:15, and saw a jackal almost right away. It was a male, and Vijay indicated usually jackals would travel as a pair, but this time of year the females had just given birth and were with the pups. We went back to Zone 1, but on the opposite route (A-C rather than C-A). Zones 1 and 2 each have two routes (A-C and B-D), which effectively become four routes by sending half of the cars to start headed one direction and half the other. In Zone 3, there are no routes, you can go wherever. In Zones 1 and 2, even if there is a good sighting on the B or D routes, if you are supposed to stay on the A-C route you can't use the other trails. This was instituted a couple years ago to prevent huge crowds of vehicles around the tigers, but it seemed to us that less draconian measures could have been implemented, such as a time limit when 5 or more vehicles are present. Similarly, Vijay told us that CB radios aren't allowed either, so even if a truck comes across a tiger that is sleeping right next to the road, the guide can't call the other guides. Again, this is absurd, as we would hate to miss a sighting that we were very close to just because we couldn't be told about it.

The park was dead quiet this afternoon. The Park guide wasn't doing much (Faguna was great in the morning, but you get a different park guide each drive). Crystal was nodding off. There were no calls or activity by any of the animals. So we just had a nice leisurely stroll through the park. We went up one of the hills and saw the Vishnu Temple, where there is a natural spring as well. From that vantage point, we had a nice panorama of the park, and we again remarked that Zone 1 seemed to be much nicer than Zones 2 and 3 (particularly 3). On the way back, we saw a tiger opposite the entrance to zone 2, but a couple hundred meters from the road and in very low light. Justin could see it through binoculars, and there is a black blob in one of the photos that corresponds to the tiger (the blob about 15% of the way from the left horizontally, in the middle vertically). If not for having seen the tiger in that spot through binoculars, there's no way to tell from the photo that it is a tiger. If that had been our best sighting of the day, we'd have been a little bummed, but thankfully it wasn't.

Back at the lodge, we took yet another shower, and then had drinks by the pool. We talked with one of the managers, Pryam (sp?) for awhile, then with Vijay as well. Then we had an excellent dinner with some spicy chicken-sausage soup type dish that was kind of like Gumbo. The chef came out, and we asked if there were ever cooking classes, and the next thing we knew we had something arranged for 11:30 the following day. For once, we got to bed at a halfway decent hour.