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Rediff.com  » Getahead » The Day I Saw My First Tiger

The Day I Saw My First Tiger

By PRITHVIRAJ HEGDE
Last updated on: January 06, 2023 10:18 IST
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'The tigress drank, the photogs made their pictures, the Mela had a story of a lifetime.'
Prithviraj Hegde has a magical encounter with the tigers of Ranthambore.

IMAGE: 'The tigress came about 100 metres away and started sipping water from a small stream.' Photograph: Kind courtesy fotokatha/Instagram.com
 

A chilly December morning. 8 degrees Celsius but the wind chill in the open Maruti Gypsy makes for a cold we have rarely experienced.

We begIn the day with a sense of trepidation. This is our fourth safari and we were unlucky on our previous three attempts. The others at the small but sensational farmhouse homestay (five rooms) already had tiger sightings. We were the only ones to make our debut, in a manner of speaking.

But we were oh so close!

There had been a sighting in our zone the previous evening. But we reached the venue quite late and other vehicles had blocked the road and the view of the tigers. Some of us got glimpses as the tigers strolled the thickets. But it was very unsatisfactory.

As disappointed as we were, we gritted our teeth and said, "We have seen the trailer, now let's see the movie."

 

SEE: 'Arvindji said, 'Get your equipment ready the tigers will cross the road'.' Video: Rajul Hegde

About 30 minutes in our morning safari, our phlegmatic guide Arvindji got excited, left his seat and began examining some pug marks on the dusty road. After a quick consultation with the driver, they decided to go back and check near a water body. No sign of the tiger/s.

We retraced our steps and when back up the road where we had spotted the pug marks. Arvindji was standing on his seat, scouring the landscape.

Suddenly, to the left, in a thicket were two tigers. We gawked unashamedly, all etiquette of silence giving way to small squeals of excitement among the amateurs in the group. The tigers looked uninterestedly at our lone Gypsy and continued about their business.

After about 30-40 seconds of this, Arvindji quietly asked the driver to move some 300-400 metres ahead. We were a bit perplexed, but knew better to ask him why he did that.

"Get your equipment ready, the tigers will cross the road," he said. And sure, enough the two tigers strolled majestically across the kutcha road giving us a sighting we will remember for long.

 

SEE: After about 30 minutes, the tiger got up, a ripple of excitement ran through the jungle Mela.' Video: Rajul Hegde

The tigers then entered an area of thick vegetation and disappeared from view soon enough.

Arvindji ordered the driver to turn around and we were soon at a clearing, which we later learnt was also their watering hole, where he ordered the driver to take a vantage spot and wait. Another Gypsy with a foreign couple also joined us.

One of the tigers came in sight and sat about 800-900 metres away obscured by vegetation. The other was not to be seen. We waited.

Soon other jeeps started arriving. They too had tracked the tigers or heard the jungle-vine. In about half an hour the place was teeming with jeeps and 3-4 Cantors (hulking 20-seater open mini-trucks).

It was the Ranthambore version of a Mela.

We still had vantage.

The Mela was alive. It was nearing 9 am and the sun was warming the frosty forest. As the lone tiger sat in the distance, folk began opening their snacks and knick-knacks.

Kids squealed, guys made smart-alec comments, guys with longer lenses tried to capture the languid feline. The ambient noise was not the forest's normal resonance.

After about 30 minutes, the tiger got up, a ripple of excitement ran through the jungle Mela.

Suddenly, out of the thickets, and into the clearing came three tigers.

One, a female (as we learnt later) came towards us. The Mela offered a silence that was tangible. She came about 100 metres away and started sipping water from a small stream. One of the males wandered towards her, but stopped short of the stream. The third wandered in the distance, disinterested in the human melee.

 

SEE: 'The tigers then entered an area of thick vegetation and disappeared from view.' Video: Rajul Hegde

It was a sight for the gods!

We and the Mela gawked in a strange but almost silent trance.

Only the high-speed clicks of the photographers' shutters broke the silence.

And I saw my first tiger. Sorry grammatical error. I saw three tigers.

The experts later told us these are three sub-adult siblings of the legendary tigress Shakti.

The shy males will grow more. The unabashed female who gave us that unforgettable pose, is almost fully grown, and will give such performances to several more wildlife lovers for years to come.

IMAGE: 'I saw three tigers.' Photograph: Kind courtesy fotokatha/Instagram.com

BTW: We bossed our hotel that night. The others had had a bad day. There were no sightings in the other zones. And it was to be our only sighting in 6 safaris. But we were happy campers.

This is the picture of the female tigress made by wealth manager by day, wildlife fanatic for the rest Saurabh Pandey, who was our constant companion and expert on all our safaris. It is the clicks of his camera that you can hear on the videos. fotokatha (external link)

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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PRITHVIRAJ HEGDE / Rediff.com