Rajesh Karkera relives spending exciting and eerie moments following a tigress.
It is 5:30 am, and I am wide awake.
I wait outside my tent for my wife Namita and daughter Teesta to get ready.
I am impatient as I want to choose the jeep for the safari, and want to be seated right ahead at vantage point :)
The roll call for the safari teams is at 6 am and by 6:15 we are on board a Tata TL 4x4 -- one of the earlier versions of the only crew cab pick-up from Tata, the Tata Xenon -- with our guide.
His favourite bird in the Kabini forest, he says, is the Indian Pitta.
IMAGE: What a pretty sight the Indian Pitta is!
The safari comprises six vehicles, which all leave at the same time.
Each vehicle heads out in a different direction.
Close to the highway, grazing on the wild grass, are three massive Indian Bisons.
The safari jeep, which can seat a maximum of nine individuals -- three in each row, -- is never really crowded.
The Kabini River Lodge managers try and keep the occupancy to a maximum of seven so that the ride is not uncomfortable.
Unless, of course, there is a group of nine or 10 people who insist on sticking together.
We soon enter the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, where private cars are not allowed.
A guarded barricade is opened for the jeeps to pass.
As we ride along the beaten path, we pass a large empty area with tree stumps.
Every tree stump has been cut down and looks like small round tables spread on grass.
We spot a fox, sprinting as fast as it could, looking back at us every few seconds.
A small deer is so intrigued by our presence that it keeps watching our movements from the bushes.
It is not alone. There are so many spotted deer that everywhere we look we spot a deer.
We spot a giant squirrel on a tree.
The Malabar Squirrel is always found on tree tops and seldom on the ground.
Hunted by leopards and big birds, this squirrel almost never flees when in danger.
Instead it just flattens itself on the tree trunk.
No one can miss this blue beauty flying low. My first view of the Indian Roller.
It is also the state bird of Karnataka, some say.
But then it is also said to be the state bird of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana :))) I wonder if they will start fighting over this bird now, like Odisha and Bengal squabble about the origin of the rosogolla.
As the serene safari proceeds, we encounter a wounded wild boar, walking slowly, seemingly uninterested in us.
It was wounded probably by a tiger -- the wound seems like a tiger's claw.
A Crested Serpent Eagle, seated on a tree, looks attentively at us, as interested in us as we were in him.
I spot a strange looking bird -- rather the silhouette of a bird -- far away in the waters of the Kabini river -- and I quiz the guide about what it is.
"The Long Tailed Robin," he says.
The Robin has a different flying style -- probably the long tail affects its flight.
A large mongoose with its orange nose seems oblivious of its surroundings, sniffing around, searching for its next meal.
Even the pigeons at Kabini have a colourful avatar.
These yellow, blue, grey and green ones are known as Wild Pigeons.
A bunch of curious langurs head towards our vehicle.
"The Hanuman Langur," our guide says, "They are found all over the Nagarahole forest. They give warning calls when there is a predator nearby."
The calls of the langur are a distinct sign, which the forest guides at Kabini follow, to track large predators.
Just then we see an owl in a tree hollow.
Blending into its surroundings, its colour camouflage the bark of the tree.
"The evasive Brown Fish Owl is very rare," the guide tell us.
They are also known as the Indian Scops Owl.
Owls are probably the only birds whose wings don't make a sound while flying.
All other birds flap their wings and the turbulence created by the wings make a flapping sound.
The mysterious owl's feathers are designed like a comb, which breaks down the turbulence created by its wings, giving it silent flight.
It helps it hunt prey. The 'Silent Killer,' I guess.
The mighty elephants of the Kabini forest move in a herd.
We see a mother and child being guarded by the herd.
IMAGE: A Hoopeo looks for worms in the moist ground.
This bird can easily be mistaken for a woodpecker.
They nest in rocks cavities and trees and feed on insects, worms, small reptiles and other creatures.
We see a peacock strutting around looking for food. It suddenly picks up pace and flies away.
After the peacock disappears, we start to head back as the light begins to fade.
Our driver and guide Gangaswamy, an excellent tracker, suddenly stops the jeep in the middle of the beaten track.
He jumps out to look at something on the ground. It is some kind of animal excreta, and to our shock he puts his finger in it!
As we squirm, he tell us, "It is warm tiger dump."
Which means there is a tiger nearby.
Everyone in the jeep goes silent -- there is both fear and excitement.
The guide, after messaging his colleagues in the other jeeps, starts to slowly follow the warning calls of the langurs.
The calls grow louder and louder -- the guide is quite certain a tiger is lurking around.
He asks if we would like to stay there with the jeep's engine shut. We nod silently.
The next 22 minutes are silent, exciting and eerie.
We keep hearing animal calls from all around. Fear creeps in when one of the sounds circles us.
As time passes, the warning calls fade.
The guide tells us the tiger may have walked around us.
It may be a tigress and cub, he says. Tigresses don't come out to greet adventure-seekers with cubs in tow, he adds.
He starts the jeep and we drive off slowly, keeping an eye out for the tiger.
Then he stops the jeep again.
This time he points to fresh pug marks in the soil. The tiger is a few metres ahead.
Our guide races ahead in the 4x4 hoping to catch a glimpse of the tiger.
That's when he gets a message on his cell phone, which is in silent mode, that the tiger we were tracking is spotted by the jeep behind us.
It is spotted at the exact place where we had waited for 22 minutes.
And yes, it was a tigress with her cub.