Tuesday, April 6

Tiger ahead

Native American Quote :
"If you talk to the Animals, they will talk with you. And you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them. And what you do not know you will fear,
               What one fears … One destroys."
               Chief Dan George

Right from the moment our daughter walked out from her Board Centre on her last exam day, we are off. Bags packed, spirits high, a sense of freedom and elation keeps the noon heat out of our minds. Our destination is Jim Corbet National Park. (It happens to be Himangshu's favorite place on the planet, we believe). He has been there several times in the last seventeen years. His stories of tiger sightings are infused with typical jagron of the jungle. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a Tiger in its natural habitat. Excluding the thunderous roar we heard at night in the Chitwan Park, Nepal,many years ago, plus the one mighty roar we heard behind our cottages at Dhikala,  I have never been close to a real tiger, ever. Despite innumerable trips, safaris, I have not seen this royal character my husband seems so fond of!

Well, all that changed on this trip !
We drove till Ramnagar, stayed at a friend's resort in a mango grove, and were up and gone by 9:30 AM the next morning. Straight into the dry, brown, and spring fresh greens (Yes, all that together) of Corbet Park.
You cross a couple of dry seasonal river beds on the way. The tiger is known to frequent these parts, so we always keep our eyes glued to the landscape. God knows where the Tiger might be camoflagued! But no luck, though there is always a strange , eerie feeling here that something, somewhere is watching you . If you keep absolutely quiet, you will hear your own heartbeat here. Trust me. Himangshu will digress, of course. Anyway, we drive through the beautiful forest, and all through the drive, we keep spotting deer. Spotted deer, barking deer, antlers...even crocodiles at the crocodile point. One can get down at the Crocodile Point and look down at the river flowing by. The water looks a deep, glassy blue at places. I have never liked the crocodiles. But there they are, sunning themselves on the sandy-rocky river bank. Photos. Click, click.. Thank you very much

We reach Dhikala camp around 11 AM. A recent rule disallows safaris into the deep jungle between 11 AM to 3 PM. I guess the jungle officers want the animals to get some respite from the noisy visitors during the hot afternoons. I aver , completely. We have a few hours to spare till we can go for a safari. Some tea from the canteen, food for the kids, some snacks for us, some rest, and then time for an elephant safari. Excitement mounts as the guides and mahauts mention there is a tiger in the Dhikala area. Someone has seen a tiger by the river the previous evening. The elephant safari takes us through the grasslands . I remember how, the last time we were on an elephant safari, we had seen a tortoise in the thick undergrowth.  Deer spotting becomes a bit commonplace when you are looking for the Big Cat. Nothing short of the orange and black stripes seems to hold any adrenalin-jumping kind of power over you. One has to respect every animal in the jungle. They know when there is a tiger around. The monkey is the first one to give a call. It can spot a moving tiger from its high perch in the trees and a monkey's call is extremely reliable. Even the deer give a warning.One learns to keep one's ears tuned to every sound in the jungle. The strangest thing I encountered in the jungle is the manner in which elephants, alone or in a herd, cross through the thick bushes, without any sound. Herds of wild elephants crossed the road just a few feet ahead of our car , not once, but twice! We never heard them coming, didn't hear any crackle under their several tonnes of weight crossing the jungle floor littered with dry leaves and twigs. Nor did we see them once they had entered the tall bushes along the path.  For an animal that size, it is a wonder how it keeps itself camoflagued.  

Back to the Tiger....
On our last day there, we went for a morning safari in our own car, with Mohammed Abdul as our guide. He used to be a Mahaut here, till his elephant died of oldage. A very interesting man, wonderful story teller. What I like about him is his humility, his love for the jungle and his obvious experience.
Normally the guides keep in touch with each other, exchanging news of any sightings. Wherever we cross another vehicle, everybody looks eagerly at each other's face, looking for that tell-tale sign of 'I just saw a Tiger !' Its funny sometimes. We look at the people in other vehicles, they look at us..no tiger sighting expression anywhere, and we all look away. Back to listening to the not-so-silent jungle. Someone had seen two panthers, one tigress with cubs on the main road (within the forest) and elsewhere, someone had seen the tiger hunt a deer.
 Naturally, when you hear of such stories left right and centre, you wonder, 'why haven't we seen it yet?' And then comes the anticipation-the storming emotions, the prayers, the pleading with all the fervour you can muster.."Pleaaase God, show me the glorious Tiger, please, please , please !" With Himangshu at the wheel, the guide sitting next to him, the kids and me in the back seat, we are five pairs of eyes desperate for a sight of the tiger. I pray to Durga Ma, pleading away with  my heart in mouth. I look up at the sun streaming through the tall trees, close my eyes and try to feel the presence of the jungle. Abstract, yes, but for those who know what being one with the jungle is, they will understand.

 In my minds' eye, I see the tiger walking through a river, white, rushing water...

 And then, we get a flat tyre. Yes. In the middle of the jungle. No one is allowed to get down in the jungle.
Our guide gets down to check the tyre, reports the worst , guides us to a place a few feet further up, where we can park and change the tyre. Kids and I keep looking around--hoping that THIS is not the moment when our prayers get answered !Thankfully, just before we started on this journey, Himangshu had bought a new foot pump. So now he and the guide take turns to pump air into the flat tyre. Himangshu does not plan to change tyres here. The tubeless tryes are a blessing in a way, because you can still carry on for a few kilometres with pumped air. Takes us about 20 minutes. One hubcap has also fallen off. A jeep comes by, the driver is kind enough to stop and ask if we need any assistance. Sweating from the effort of pumping with the foot pump, Himangshu just smiles and says no. And then another vehicle stops by, the two passengers look on quietly. The driver pulls up a grey disc, calmly asks if we happen to have lost a hubcap :) ! Hooray ! We have it back ! What a relief. The tyre is ready to go, and we drive off. Progress is slow and careful over the rough terrain. But the excitement and desire to see the tiger has come right back.

After covering Ram Singh Road, where the hunting tiger was spotted, we move off towards the grasslands. No tiger at Ram Singh Road with his kill, posing in a flamboyant striped suit for us.
We see two sambhar deer at the river's edge in the distance. Binoculars out, the guide hanging out of the window..he reports there is probably a tiger hiding in the bushes nearby. The stillness of the pair of Sambhar deer says that they are scared to move into the tall, golden green grass for fear of being ambushed. So they keep still. And we keep still, breathless in our safe car, quite a distance away.
Suddenly a white open gypsy zooms by, rocking precariously left to right, with happy, smiling, dust smeared kids leaning out, waving merrily. "Tiger at Teesra Paani, go ! go ! right ahead..go ! "
Its as if we have all come to life in one sudden jerk of the gear! We speed off, take the turning a few feet away, and lock into a veritable traffic jam. Over a rickety wooden causeway over clear, shallow water, there's a line of camera toting, binocular weilding, sun hats and scarves in place visitors. I must say, you feel irritated at the noise people can create when it is most essential to keep your peace ! We couldn't make out a thing. One set of visitors was quite excited, pointing towards the direction of the river. Our guide was trying his best to gauge the situation and take us to the the best vantage point. There was only one direction in which we could move--Backwards. Amid rising claims of spotting the tiger thereabouts, the crowd was abuzz with nerves..drivers, foreigners, visitors hanging out of their vehicles...wonder what the tiger was thinking of thic circus?? Was he even there?
Then equally suddenly, the lady in the jeep ahead of us was clambering on to the top of her jeep, camera dangling from her right hand. Even as I uttered a horrified 'oh God!', my son whispered," There he is !! there! In the grass..look quickly!!" I left the lady in front of us to her fate (( not before I saw her lose her balance and fall on the roof of the jeep as their driver kicked the jeep into motion in a hurry ;) ;)  )) and turned my attention to the tall golden grass on our right.
Sure enough, tiger stripes blend in so well with the landscape that it took me a minute to spot the tiger. He was huge! Royal. And least bothered about the circus around him. He must have crossed from the river's edge over to the grass on our side, moved RIGHT THROUGH THE JAM OF CARS, and on to the grasses on our right side. He was just 30 feet from us . My, I was so glad to have finally seen a tiger in the wild. Our kids were equally awed. When he disappeared from view, our guide urged us to drive to a bend in the road, from where the river is visible again. He was sure the tiger would cross the river and this was our chance to see it again. So we drove off towards that spot, and there he was, again! Languid, orange spot of power, beauty and raw wilderness. I was too busy observing his unhurried pace, his swagger, to bother about the noise and rising clamour around us now. We got a couple of pictures and video footage. And then he was gone. But the feeling of pure joy, the exhiliration of the moment refused to die down.

Even hours later, days later, we are still talking about this Golden beast.

True anecdote ---
Dudhwa National Park

Some nature loving chap found tiger cubs in the forest around his village. Smart fellow took a cub home. The tigress roared all night outside the hero's house. In the morning, smart sir went and handed the cub back tothe forest officials. Officials never fai to narrate this story to visitors.
As an aside--for readers interested in the mystical stuff...  :)

There's a temple outside Jim Corbett Park, dedicated to a local deity, Garjia Devi.( I guess another form of Durga Ma) where some people go before entering the jungle. Since the tiger is Goddess Durga's mode of transport, jungle lore says if you wish to see a tiger, you must have Her blessings. I have been there only once, on a very stormy, windy, strange day. But we did not see the tiger on that visit. The tiger/s must have seen us though.

Animal wisdom. The Tiger as your Totem:
Focus, Patience, Inner sight.Clairvoyance, Healer ( the orange  golden stripes symbolise vitality and regeneration.) Courage, Power/ Energy. Strenghth and will power. Tactics.



Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

I hope visitors are able to leave comments. My first official visitor here, Marinela Kotsina was unable to leave a comment.Wonder what needs to be set right?

Tonia Goslett said...

What an excellent adventure - a tiger in the wild would be a wondrous thing to see, but then so would any of the magnificent creatures that reside in your part of the world.

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Hey, Thanks for coming by, Tonia ! I never thought I would be blogging someday--this is my first ever blog.

Vinayak Razdan said...

Great start! Couldn't help noticing that some of the readers are saying they are unable to leave a comment. It's an old issue with Blogger platform's 'Embedded below post' (in which you get to see the comment box right below the post)m ethod of commenting. I have faced the same problem often. You might consider using the other options like 'Full page 'or 'Pop-up window'

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Thanks for the exact guidance, Vinayak. I have made the changes in the comments settings.

marinela said...

Goood morning sunshine,
Here I am again and it looks like this time it is going to work.
What impressed me here is your creativity and desire to have something which is yours. I also loved the way words are flowing easily from you, and your pen feels so comfortable in describing in detail your adventures.
This is a wonderful land of wild life, just the way god placed everything on Earth.
I love it and will be back again.
love & joy from Athens

Minakshi and Himangshu Watts said...

Marinela, Thank you..for coming by a second time! Thank you so much for your continued encoragement in all I attempt :)
This blog was created on a sudden impulse, and I am glad I did..because I needed to write again...and there is so much travelling in this family...so I have plenty to share.
I will be posting other posts in the next few days, hope you will come by to read them.
Thank you , once again, for your warmth and friendship.

Ranjit Monga said...

Hi...Greaaaat piece of work and writting. Yes your words flow so naturally. And i felt as i was seeing the tiger from your eyes! Exhilirating!
Best of luck