When we learnt of a pioneering new trip that involved cycling in the buffer zone linking two of India’s better known Tiger reserves there was considerable excitement in the office. As tiger habitat shrinks and human, animal conflict increases, these ‘tiger corridors’ are vital in the conservation of the species as they enable tigers to move freely between the National Parks, undisturbed. A three-way tussle ensued over who would be lucky enough to go and recce it and after a certain amount of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ I managed to manoeuvre our Product Director and Managing Director aside and emerge victorious.
Less than two months later, in the middle of a teak forest between Pench and Kanha National Parks, I was in the saddle of a top-spec mountain bike having skidded to an abrupt halt next to an unmistakably fresh and enormous tiger pug mark. Langurs crashed through the trees around me and the sense that a tiger may be watching us was real. Very real. It was awesome – if the use of surf vernacular can be forgiven/is permissible.
Two hours and twenty odd kilometres later and I was sat beside a roaring fire with an ice-cold gin and tonic in hand. My cycle companions and I were reflecting on the beauty of the scenery, the charm of the small but immaculately kept villages we had cycled through, and also the merits of our recently purchased and newly broken-in padded cycle shorts. These merits, incidentally, are considerable and the padded cycle short must be at the top of anyone’s packing list if embarking on this trip. We cyclists, for that is how we now saw ourselves, shared the warm glow not just of the fire (and the gin) but of the sense of achievement and peace that comes about from cycling and seeing new landscapes from the saddle.
Moving at cycling speed you see more, feel more, and are more accessible to the local people. ‘Cow dust time’ is a wonderfully simple and evocative term used to describe the moment when, at around five pm, the light softens and the air smells like a summers evening in England. Cows who have spent the days wandering and grazing begin slowly making their way home. As they walk the dust on the trails rises up and twinkles in shards of sunlight. There is a pervading sense of calm at this time of day as the villagers work is done and they are sitting outside their homes. At cow dust time I would pedal slower and answer the village children’s calls of ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ with a big smile and a wave. I would also return their charming ‘thank yous’. I was thanking them for allowing me a glimpse into their lives in an area that has captured both my heart and my imagination.
Over the next few days we cycled a lot more and it never grew old. It was exhilarating and a huge amount of fun. We also learnt an awful lot about tiger conservation and the importance of tigers moving from one park to another. It was an excellent trip and a real adventure, one that I’m excited to recreate for our clients.