On New Year’s Eve, an American family came to stay at the Skay’s Camp Lodge near Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

Their objective: to spot Royal Bengal tigers. They set out on a six-seater open Gypsy to the Khitauli zone of the reserve, along with Satyendra Kumar Tiwari, owner of Skay’s Camp.

As luck would have it, Satyendra spotted a fresh pugmark. He asked the jeep driver to follow it. The pugmark eventually led to a small waterhole close to the road.

They had hardly moved forward about 50 metres, when dust engulfed the road, and from the dust emerged a tiger, like a true hero. But the din of jeeps accelerating towards the animal drove the tiger back into the forest.

Satyendra went by his instinct and asked the driver to move forward by about 100 metres. Within minutes, the tiger was back on the road — and was soon following them!

A glimpse turned into a sighting of 40 minutes with the tiger steadily following their jeep for about 4 km, almost as if to ensure they left.

More than a lodge Skay’s Camp is the home of Satyendra and his wife Kay at Tala near Bandhavgarh National Park, where they run their lodge. All 86 reviews on the Trip Advisor website have given a 5-star rating to their experiences at the lodge. “They bring passion, knowledge and experience of the tigers in the region (to the table),” posts a traveller from UK.

Satyendra is an ex-lodge manager with Madhya Pradesh Tourism who quit to become a full-time wildlife tour operator. His wife Kay (originally from UK) is a wildlife enthusiast.

Both have been into wildlife tourism for the last 35 years. Kay has been instrumental in naming many of the tigers at Bandhavgarh, that are now followed by the park authorities. When she came to Bandhavgarh way back in 1994-95, few tigers were actually named.

She wanted to keep track of the cubs born to tigresses and began naming them. Males born to Bachchi were coded B1, B2 and B3. Moreover, there was some method in the naming. B2 was named Sundar (meaning beautiful) as he was beautiful; females were given proper names like Durga, Jay and Indrani.

Over the years, Kay has maintained tiger identification papers with visual and written diaries on the daily events inside the park, along with a complete family tree.

Satyendra in turn is an avid wildlife photographer, whose photograph of a tiger cub appeared on the front cover of BBC Wildlife Magazine in 2004.

Both Satyendra and Kay have spent a considerable amount of their time gathering information on the flora and fauna of Bandhavgarh. Snakes, birds, butterflies, wild dogs and more. At Skay’s Camp, it is not just tigers but a thorough and honest view of Bandhavgarh itself, they promise.

Wild goose chase However, the chances of spotting a tiger depend on whether you want to look for a particular tiger or any tiger, says Satyendra. He says that the moment you think any tiger will do, the chances of your sighting one comes down.

This is because now only 20 per cent of the area is open to tourists, reducing the chances of spotting tigers.

And if one goes on a wild goose chance, the chances get even lower than a focussed approach to track down a particular tiger.

Satyendra advises tourists, in their own interest, to not be greedy. “You may be able to see the tiger for a longer duration if it is allowed to roam freely in its own kingdom,” he says.

No hopping around “Moreover, hopping around three different national parks in a week will not give you much knowledge about wildlife or the park,” Satyendra adds. One may see a tiger, but may not be able to see the park properly. He advises tourists to spend a minimum of five nights in a park.

Planning Satyendra advises travellers to do some homework about the park they plan to visit. Since the booking can now be done online, planning helps.

“You may start planning, sometimes, four months in advance to get the selected tourism zone,” he says. At Bandhavgarh, the safari zones are Tala, Magadhi and Khitauli.

Tala is the most popular for tiger sighting and is usually in demand throughout the season.

Hot season As summer nears, the prospects of spotting a tiger increases as it visits waterholes often to quench its thirst. Ironically, the best time to go on a tiger safari is April-June, which is also the lean period for hotels.

“It’s very hot during that time and we often slash rates to encourage tourists ,” says an official at a luxury hotel near the Bandhavgarh park.

Wildlife tourism has turned into luxury tourism near Bandhavgarh national park in the last decade, says Satyendra. Skay’s Camp lodge, while not luxurious, gives travellers a different experience at an undisclosed cost. To entertain serious wildife enthusiasts, it serves only vegetarian food.

Interestingly, Skay’s Camp helps you zero in on a particular tiger instead of any tiger. This can be fun. Game to meet Somanshu, Yoshila or Trya?