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Stalking Tigers In Madhya Pradesh (PHOTOS)

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The following is a Fathom postcard from James Sturz.
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When we think of safaris, we think of Africa: lions, gazelles, the Serengeti, Botswana. But, if you want to see tigers, you're on the wrong continent.

Native to South and Southeast Asia, where they can weigh 500-plus pounds, half of the world's wild Tiger population lives in India. These solitary hunters may now number just 1,400 -- less than half of the population a decade ago -- but difficulty is part of the allure of traveling in the dense green belly of India.

Jungle is a Hindi word. Where Africa has savannas and bush, India is thick with tropical groves, towering bamboo, sal and teak. Strangler vines rise 50 feet and creep from tree to tree. But there are also open grasslands and flowering valleys buzzing with dragonflies that arrive from Africa with the monsoons. So whether your guide drives past bounding langurs or grazing herds of wild boar or spotted deer, there'll be plenty to admire.

The greatest concentration of safari parks in India is in its central state, Madhya Pradesh, where India's Taj Hotels and South Africa's &Beyond have collaborated on four swank wildlife lodges. Baghvan's twelve bungalows hug the edge of 187,000-acre Pench National Park, an 80-minute flight from Mumbai to Nagpur, followed by a two-hour drive. The park is where Rudyard Kipling set his Jungle Books and each morning the mahouts set out on their hulking steeds to track the elusive tiger.

Of Taj's four lodges, Mahua Kothi in Bandhavgarh National Park may be your best choice for spotting tigers. The park has one of the highest tiger population densities in India, as well as a gargantuan 10th-century statue of Lord Vishnu stretched out on a seven-headed cobra. Banjaar Tola in Kanha National Park features African-style tented camps in its own tiger-rich jungles, plus porcupines and hyenas, while Pashan Garh in Panna National Park is just 19 miles from the Hindu temples of Khajuraho, famous for their erotic, explicit sculptures.

When you drive in the jungle, first there's the greenness. It's a mouthful, eyeful, and faceful of twitching life. Then come the sounds: the rustling of leaves, the gurgling of streams, the mating calls, the wind and breeze sweeping sound and scent, the squeals and honks and screeches, the squawks and chirps, and the beating of wings. Then finally your nose kicks in, because the forest smells sweet and sometimes like baked bread, drizzled with lantana and frankincense, and even with peas and lentils. Yes, the forest teems with animals that want to eat it. Sometimes, though, there's also the fetid, wonderful stink of a kill, and you'll reach for her hand when you see the remains of a ribcage in the brush, where a tiger will have devoured the rest. That's when you'll feel your heart beating, too.

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