A tiger that tailed

“I kept a plastic bag with your old papers next to the TV, it has been lying there since 3 days Mohan, getting fed up reminding you,” said Mamatha, my wife and the sole force behind the cleanliness orderliness at home. How my personal correspondence when I was single (30 years ago)had found their way into her wardrobe was a question I did not dare to ask. “

I squatted on the floor obediently and turned over all the contents inside out. Some papers were so old that they had turned brownish yellow. Most of them were old letters from my friends. Luckily I found letters or snaps or romantic exchanges of my pre marital affairs. But what I did find interesting was a note titled “TTD before 35”. TTD was my acronym for “things to do”. The first in the list of ten was “to sight a tiger in wild” followed by “ see the 7 natural wonders of the world”.  I stared at the slip as my mind journeyed into my past experiences.

My fascination with tigers started during my adolescence when I happened to read my first of the dozen or so books on man-eating tigers and Indian wildlife. I visited various tiger reserves in India; Bandipur, Nagarahole, Mudumalai, Thekadi, Khana and Kaziranga reserves more than 50 times and over 100 jeep and elephants safaris.

Stories of encounters and sightings increased as years rolled by, but the top on my TTD list was yet to get tick marl. I continued to chase my dream and visited Kabini and Nagarhole sighting everything from pythons to panthers but not the gentleman of the Jungle, the Royal Bengal Tiger. All those Safaris seemed bland without a glimpse of the “Gentleman of the Indian Jungles”.

One good thing about tiger reserves in India is that the food tastes exquisite after the long and tiring Jeep rides and the ambience after Sundown is tailor-made for enjoying Scotch. In spite of so many tiger-less safaris (I stopped counting after 25) by getting up at 5 in the morning beating hangovers, inability to relax during the Safaris due to the rocking and jumping of the vehicle and staying alert anticipating a tiger at the next curve I never stopped hoping, I continued doling out hundreds of Rupees to guides and drivers who promised me to show tigers as if the wild tigers were their royal pet pussy cats and would appear to their calls.  The empty whispers” tiger droppings and pug marks were only minutes old a tiger is close by” still gave me Goosebumps even after I heard it for the zillionth time.

On a foggy and cold morning Safari at Kabini in 2010, during an exceptionally jumpy and oscillating Jeep Safari, as I was holding on to the Jeep railing so tightly that my knuckles had turned white, I suddenly got an epiphany. The sudden Buddha-like enlightenment and realization were that I had a rare aura and God-given gift that made wild Tigers go into hiding the moment I went within a mile’s radius from them. I was a tiger repellant. I named this gift “Tiger Balm” since it kept tigers safely away from me. If someone wanted to avoid tigers, all he or she had to do was to take me with them.

I gave up all hopes of ever sighting a tiger in the wild that year.

A few more years rolled by and I promised Mamatha in January 2013 that I would book 25 treks or adventure trips to celebrate 25 years of our married life (we married in 1988). I named our project ’25 for25′. In keeping with my commitment, I booked two nights at Jungle Lodges and Resorts in Kabini tiger reserve for the last weekend of March which was 6th or 7th in order of the 25. My son, Rahul’s birthday, was in March, and it allowed us to celebrate his birthday amidst denizens of the Jungle.  With all of my motivation and inclination for tiger sighting having sapped, the thought of buffet dinner after my Scotch was more exciting for me than the Safari.

We reached the resort at noon and our evening safari was to start at 3:30, Lunch was excellent with Biryani and roast chicken along with really chilled Kingfisher Beer. After my usual afternoon nap, we waited at the entrance of our cottage for the arrival of our guide. 

Within minutes of our ride, we saw a full-grown Gaur, the largest wild cattle in India weighing nearly a tone. The very muscular Gaur feeding on fresh bamboo leaves, after posing for us walked silently inside the bush.

I was enjoying the typical forest sound of screeching cicadas and their occasional sudden silence. I saw our Safari guide Ravi along with driver Aslam approaching our cottage. I felt weary of going on the jeep safari resigned to the notion of my tiger curse leaving the comforts of the lodge.
 I dragged myself to the Jeep for our late afternoon Safari resigned to my fate that I wouldn’t see a tiger.  The large Willis Jeep had the three of us along with another newly married couple from Kerala.The safari jeep hit the dirt track as I held the iron frame and my eyes started to scan the forest. Even after more than 60 Safaris, the sheer thrill of being in the Jungle surpassed the weariness of my tiger curse. The familiar summer scene of the dry forest with leafless trees with their bare, outstretched arms, the thick dry leaf carpet on either side of the road and the dust from the un-tarred roads formed a ‘jungle book’ mindset in me.
Cambria (Bod


Within a few minutes, we came across a Tusker. I was already content.


Most of the waterholes in the 1500 sq km forest cover of Nagarhole and Bandipur dry up during summer forcing migration of elephants from the Bandipur-Nagarahole landscape to the Kabini backwaters. Animals are forced to quench their thirst at the very few remaining watering holes and the sparse and dry vegetation during summers is conducive for the sighting of carnivores.


We moved on to the other side of the Kabini reserve where tiger sightings had been reported just the previous day. Aslam parked the Jeep a few meters away from the Kabini river and took a walk around the perimeter of the river. Both Aslam and Ravi came running back to the Jeep and whispered: “A Crocodile is stalking a deer” and turned around the Jeep and went closer to the river. He parked the vehicle, whispered to us to be quiet and pointed out a Sambar standing so close to a crocodile, still as a statue as if challenging the Crocodile!


After a few minutes the female Sambar turned away and went back into the thickets.

It was around five in the evening and we left the spot to roam around the watch tower area. This Safari had already been the best Safari of my life and I kept looking at the watch to return to the cozy comfort of the lodge.

We were in the western part of the forest and after about twenty minutes Rahul suddenly screamed “tiger, tiger”.Aslam pressed the Brake pedal bringing the Jeep to a sudden halt. There was silence all around and I whispered “Where?”  to Rahul. He pointed out his right hand finger towards the right side of our road ahead. I Could see nothing. Suddenly Mamatha blurted out “There Mohan, to our right”. I still saw nothing. “I don’t see anything” I said. Mamatha pulled me close to her and pointed towards a brown four legged animal moving on the side of the road.Then I saw it. It was a large male Tiger.


Aslam started the Jeep and started driving very very slowly since the tiger was still a hundred feet away from us. Now the tiger was clearly visible to me. It started walking towards the direction of our Jeep nonchalantly looking for something in the ground. I was stunned with a euphoric chill at the sight of majestic striped master. All my knowledge about its power, size, strength and its hunting skills flashed my mind. I was ecstatic.

It walked and came just a few feet from our jeep and stared at us for a few seconds and snarled.

I was speechless and had never imagined that I would encounter such an amazing moment. It was hugely built, walked towards us until the distance between us and tiger was mere five feet. It was frighteningly close to us. I could see all her five sets of whiskers.I tried to smell him but could make out nothing.

We followed the tiger through its entire walk of about ten minutes. It never bothered to go into the thickets or towards the lake choosing to take stroll all along the safari trail. It was as if it was sent to satisfy my three decades of visual starvation and deprivation of the sight of the Gentleman of Indian Jungles.Our presence was not making any difference to him.

It was surreal driving almost parallel to the huge tiger and at one point of time it stopped and moved head on towards our Safari Vehicle. The alarm calls of Langur monkeys reached a crescendo and suddenly the tiger turned and went into a small dried up waterhole.After a few seconds it started moving towards a large tree and marked its territory by urinating on the trunk with a massive forceful spray. It turned towards us and nonchalantly started walking along the road side. It was as if it wanted to tails us.

Needless to say, the thrill I experienced when I saw my first wild tiger was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was the perfect picture of Magnificence. Never in my life had I seen such a picture.  I had seen huge tuskers, lions and lionesses with their cubs at dawn, leopards and Rhinos from up close, but nothing was ever so beautiful and so glorious to me as that tiger walking out of his jungle. Perhaps the legendary descriptions from hunters like Jim Corbette weighed heavily in my mind (about how a large Gaur, which would not be likely to weigh less than 1,700 pounds was dragged fifteen yards by an exceptionally large tiger and after the tiger fled, even thirteen men could not move it one yard, and it was eventually hauled out by transport elephants)

I uploaded a video on YouTube;

Celebrated writer and thinker Paul Coelho said;

“There is ONE GREAT TRUTH on this planet:
Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you want something, it is because that desire originated in the soul of the Universe. It is your mission on earth”.

There may be delay for the Universe to grant your soul’s wish but there is never ever ‘denial’.

I ticked my first item of my TTD list on march 25th 2103.

 



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