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Friday, September 23, 2011

Tiger by the River

It was 3 years back and I was leading a German bird watching group at Corbett. Birding is very time consuming and requires lot of concentration. The group wanted both birding as well as tiger sighting. The latter becomes difficult when you are in quest for birds. But nevertheless I was keeping an eye in the avian species as well as the tigers.  

It was early April but heat had picked up we were on five jeeps all scattered but on the same route. Somewhere around the Bank of Ranganga I heard one sambar alarm cry which was never repeated. Much to the chagrin of the jeep driver I asked him to stop. Within seconds the alarm cries were repeated on the other side of the river. These were spotted deer who were moving into the forest at frantic pace.    

This was enough to tell you that there is a predator in the vicinity. "Quite close by," I told my bewildered guests. This was the first experience for them of sounds of the jungle in India. We began to wait for the predator to emerge. Lot of time passes...the impatient driver and the guest now irate at losing precious birding time look at me with a bit of irritation. Lot more time had passed and nothing happened.

I had an inclination that the predator had heard the jeep sound and was hiding in the bush somewhere near. Their was a pin drop silence all the way now but the tiger as I presumed it to be was coolly lying down at peace with itself.           

Other jeeps with the rest of my guests in total fifteen had reached us by now and I told the jeep drivers to wait in total silence. I knew I was risking my job if the tiger did not emerge there would be a complaint. But I paid no heed to the drivers who were urging me to move on. 

As luck would have it a troop of macaque came across to my left. The macaques have a peculiar habit of going right near the predator and irritating it with raucous alarm cries. Hari Lamba the local birding guide on other jeep  also knew this. I asked my guests to watch the movement of the leader and eagerly they did. The leader went right up to the spot where the big cat was hiding. He began to cry frantically from the tree nearby, and within few moments a huge male emerged. I had asked my guests to keep the camera ready but none could photograph in that exciting moment. We could see the tiger moving besides us about 30 yards and vanish into the deep confines on the bushes on the bank. 

That was it I had tracked the tiger! The cheers that followed were heartening. But not for some guides and jeep drivers, the lot here have a peculiar habit of expressing their "no ledge" and very rudely at times. I have not experienced anything like this elsewhere. The staff respects the age and experience of old timers, not here.    

At the forests near the Dhikala accommodation we had heard alarm cries the evening before but could not locate the tiger hidden well inside. The jungles of India are full of surprises.  While returning to the rest house through the same road, we were still in trance with what had happened. Then what happens, the yesterdays tiger emerges from that very spot, crosses the road approaches us and vanishes into the vegetation across. This time my guests managed to photograph a tiger without head (behind a tree trunk at that moment) and other pic of its bum about 5/6 feet away from us. What a way to store eternal memories!           

Hey! I had no role play here except taking a weak chance, nevertheless it all boiled down to me. I could not understand German but the smiles told me a lot. 
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