Thursday, 22 January 2015

On Tiger Trails and Travails


Tucked between noisy news of parachuting politicians, noisier roadside shows and noisiest intellectual opinions in 140 characters about both, was a piece of news that made me roar with joy sitting in New Delhi. It said – ‘Good News. Tiger Numbers in India up from 1,400 to 2,226 in 7 Years’. 

Good news, indeed, because tigers and I go back in time a long and winding jungle way. You see, I’ve been looking for them since exactly seven years back. And something tells me my heart-felt but unheard call in the wild, ‘Oh show me your face, a paw, the tail or even a whisker, will you please?’ must have echoed in the various Reserves, Sanctuaries and National Parks I honeymooned in. Must have inspired them to multiply. While then not an inch of stripe did I see, in true election-style I hereby snatch credit for making boy tiger meet girl tiger, man tiger meet woman one, and so on and henceforth for hitting this milestone of 2226. 

As I sit wondering if it’s time for a second run through the wild, this time with greater chances of meeting the ‘Tiger, tiger burning bright’ (albeit without handshakes and hi-fives, Jai Mata Di) I thought of putting my tiger travail flashback to rest by bellowing about it right here. Yes, I call it a travail because to spot a tiger is like looking for a needle in a haystack where the hay is not just wet but spray-painted silver too. 

On the face of it, our jungle sojourns summarized looked something like this: 



On the face of it. 

The greatest thinkers on Facebook warn you that every happy family picture veils a load of sadness (and hen-pecked husbands) behind it. This picture too is that cheery curtain on the stage behind which such misery resides as would make you shudder and sigh. Because, even as we both say ‘cheese!’ in these snaps we had not spotted a single black stripe after visiting the most densely tiger populated habitats and spending hours there. Instead, we could write a thesis on ‘The Cheating Wild Boar; The Grunt that excites as if a Roar’ or ‘Mosquitoes; The Bloody Suckers You Can’t Beat’ or ‘How to Cushion Your Ass against Mud Roads When On a Safari’. A chapter on ‘The Importance of Patience’ picked from sacred texts could be the common one between the three.

Of course, when it first began at Buxa Tiger Reserve I was an uninitiated idiot high on love and love for all things wild. There I stood on the watch tower, excited to know from the beat guard that ‘Any time now, madam, the path behind you will be blessed with a tiger. You can make a wish, it is lucky to spot one.’ With a wish list prepared, mister in tow and khakhi-pants asked to double-check the lock on the gate, we had stood there long enough for migratory birds to have reached South from North, with a lunch break and siesta at the Equator. 

The beginning

Just when we were calling it a day, Jumbo had walked in as if to say ‘I am all that you got, honey. Stay and I’ll spray you with some namak I’m about to eat’. I had said tata to his salt and made my way out of a Reserve which had a tiger in its name but none on its knees four feet, and certainly not for me. 


The standby suitor

I had pocketed the wish-list I had made at Buxa though, hoping to ask the black-and-orange genie for some material pleasures (which soon enough meant Odomos, and drinking water) but failed to summon the other genie who would call the tiger out for me in the first place. 

So, for Sariska National Park we woke up early, really early to have more viewing time. It was cold and misty as we circled the beautiful lake our guide began the tour from. Dear reader, while I may lay the blame for a bursting bladder entirely on the cold, do know that the playfully deceptive whirls of mist in an area teeming with tigers does no good for the enthusiasm and confidence one goes looking for the national animal with. If anything, the mist seems full of evil eyes and with all intentions to pounce at the slightest sound denim makes against denim.

This is where I saw multiple tigers, in my mind's eye

We did see a host of other animals once the sun was up in Sariska, but did we meet The Royal One, snoozing behind the bush or feeding in the grass, swaying his lazy tail at a butterfly or licking her cubs clean? Le Sigh, etc.



As months went by, I kept myself from Googling the probability of spotting a tiger in the wild. Something told me for the number of hours we had spent in these two widely-apart tiger habitats without spotting one would mean we had been incompetent and undeserving failures. I knew now what we thought was our stomachs grumbling with hunger was indeed a tiger purring in pleasure for having tricked us. That what we brushed off as the play of light-and-shadow on the tall trees or dry grass actually had two eyes staring right back at us. 

Oh, if only we had looked harder and not let our rational minds rule supreme.

I looked and waited

He waited on me and looked too
One day, when I made up my mind to bring home a cub of my own, I heard that we would float around in the Sunderbans for two days to spot tigers and tickle crocs with our propellers. I was ecstatic! I was ready to be robbed of breath at the sight of a majestic Bengal getting his paws dirty in the slush and giving me the looks. Except, I had no idea our room for the night in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by nothing human would be as tall and as wide as a baby's cot. Breathless I slept, breathless I woke up. As for what happened the rest of the time?

We learnt the laws of this land. I prayed too. 

We asked around and cried when we heard 'It just passed by'

But looked around, with ferocious hope

Till 2 seemed 4, and everything at least 2



And the deception continued ...
Till the point when faraway egrets seemed to roar


Till dawn became dusk, twice over

No tiger did we ever see, not even the tip of a tail. 

Le Sigh number two.

Aside - whenever we sit and think back to those days of backpacked wild abandon, even the discomforts and disappointments of those days we miss. There is something so unique in seeing plants and animals and native tribes enjoying their natural homes; with an ease that no other place affords and a sense of belonging that another’s territory can never create. Much like us humans, happiest where the heart is and we know the heart is always at home. 

Of course this poetry-in-prose doesn’t mean I am not ready to lock home and go for round two! 1400 has become 2226, the good news, the good news! 

Perhaps, next time I will go lusting for wild boars or deer, squirrels or parakeets. Maybe then I will spot a tiger? Who knows how Murphy the Ranger thinks! Some tiger somewhere has to be born to grace my presence with his majestic frame. It cannot be otherwise. It just cannot be.

I'm not dropping my anchor yet. Not just yet!





42 comments:

  1. You certainly have searched a lot. But the beast is elusive. May be better luck next time.

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    Replies
    1. Believe me, we have!
      Better luck next time. Should try Corbett next.
      Thanks, Abhijit, for stopping by. :)

      Delete
  2. I dont even want to see a caged Tiger Sakshi! I am in awe of the creature and dont want to be even miles near to it in the open.

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    1. I understand your stand, Preethi. But there is a thrill in going looking for it. :D

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  3. I experienced the same in Thekkady.. but ended up seeing some Deer and me and my husband often made growling noises saying we are the real tigers.. I know, lame :)

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    Replies
    1. Ha ha, not lame, cute! :)
      Thanks for stopping by, Shruthi. Good to see you! :)

      Delete
  4. Loved the shots as well as the story. :)

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  5. Lucky we were to have spotted one at the dense jungles of Kanha Kisli last year after many fruitless visits and waste of money doing the safari in Corbett, Sariska and Thekkadi. Our guide at Kanha said that Ranthambore and Bandavgarh are places you could be sure of Tiger sighting. We're planning a slightly longer trip sometime this year. Do visit Kanha as it is one of the most well-preserved jungles we have seen. Truly jungle in all senses of the word.

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    1. Thanks for the pointer, Rekha. I thought about you all day yesterday and Mr. Parker (?) you had fortunately spotted. I will wait for my cub to grow up a little before venturing into the thick of things again. But I know who to contact for pointers when I do. :)

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  6. Join my league :-D Three days in Bandhavgarh and four jeep-safaris ..still no luck. We saw pug marks, we heard alarm calls ...but the majestic beast :-( It kept on playing hide & seek with us!

    I've been to the Sundarbans 5 times...tiger? forget it! le sigh ( infinite times)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hmm.
      Like they say, one man's grief is another's joy. Cruel as this may sound, I am delighted to know that I'm not the only one the beast did not show its face to. :D
      Same boat-same boat and such comfort in numbers.

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  7. I only got to see the claw marks of tiger in Kaziranga, else yours and my story are the same. It's so difficult to spot one. Loved all the pictures.

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    1. Well well, this is turning out to be a little Miss(ed)Tigers' Club. :D
      Thanks, Rajlakshmi. Must have been something to see those claw marks.

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  8. You have at least something to boast about, the journey and the wait. I have yet to start...maybe I will be lucky as now they are more in numbers :) Nice pics.

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    1. You are right, Janaki. The whole experience was much more than just about spotting the stripes. Yes, on that 'more in number now' I am riding my hopes too.
      Wish you a jungle safari as soon as you wish one.
      And so good to see you here. :)

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  9. Just looking for it must have been an experience as evident from your write up...well maybe better luck next time :)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, we've had some fun in the wild, Naba. I really shouldn't be complaining, except in jest like up above.:D
      Good to see you here. :)

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  10. Hello beautiful people and awesome writers, they say we write to inspire others and for sure you have inspired and motivated me to write some more. Hence, I nominate you for "Very Inspiring Blogger Award" and for more details check this link http://myviewsinmywords.blogspot.com/2015/01/very-inspiring-blogger-award.html.
    Congratulations :)

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  11. Beautiful shots and you are one BRAVE lady!

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  12. Beautiful images, Sakshi. And love the captions too. I'm yet to spot a tiger in the wild. Perhaps, I shall do some (ad)venturing when the little one is a bit older.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sid, for liking this. :)
      I'm going to wait for N to grow up a wee bit more before (ad)venturing into the wild again.

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  13. I have never seen one in the wild myself, only so far seen the pug marks .. ONE day for sure .. All the best with your looking ..

    Maybe this time when i come to india I will see one who knows .. fingers crossed

    Bikram's

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    1. Fingers crossed for you, Bikram, and also for you sighting it from a safe distance away! :D

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    2. oh yeah that tooo.. Safe distance BUT no worries

      as they say "EK sher Doosre SHER ko Millega".. ha ha ha ha

      dont know why i thought of that dialog :)

      How are you Mam....

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    3. You thought of that dialogue because you were feeling filmy, why else. No crime there, though. :)
      I am good, especially now that my regular reader is back.

      Delete
  14. I have seen one in the wild in Nagarhole National park. It was beautiful, living in the untamed wild. That was our tenth wedding anniversary, a memorable trip in more ways than one. Hang in there, Sakshi. The tiger is one that you will see, very soon :)

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    1. I'm friends with someone who worked as a researcher in Nagarhole National Park. He tells me the place is unmatched when it comes to an experience in the wild. I must go there next. :)
      Thanks for sharing your experience, Shailaja and good to see you here.

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  15. 1400 to 2226 is good news indeed! Cheers Sakshi. Finally we have more probability of viewing our national animal f2f rather than in GK textbooks & Save the Tiger Campaign posters.

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    1. Certainly a greater probability.
      Although, f2f ... err ... maybe with 500 metres between us? ;)

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  16. Ey, Nomed! Good pics and writing. But looking for the clean words next time!

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    1. 'Clean words', Prajeesh?
      Thank you for reading! :)

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  17. Gorgeous pics, tiger lady. Come on, that's the challenge and go to charm them..hehe Loove this one and too Good, Sakshi:)

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  18. Sounds very exciting! Wish you could have 'darshan' of the beast! Btterluck next time. The photogfaphs are amazing.

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    1. That 'darshan' probably needs the right planetary arrangement. Better luck next time, I suppose.
      Thank you for liking the pictures. From an old point-and-shoot. But beautiful places don't need great cameras. :)
      Thank you, Usha ma'am, and good to see you here.

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  19. How beautifully you have painted your cherished desire and elusive beast! More I read you, more I want. Best luck for your next adventure.

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    1. Thanks for the appreciation, Binod.

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  20. Have got urgent writing task? don't know what to do with it? If not, its high time you need to think about your time management. Because accomplished writers like these are always winners of time.

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  21. I know most of us feel disappointed having not met the exalted one. :) better luck he next time. I was lucky that i spotted two on day 1 and none on 3 more days ... but we saw a myriad other jungle beings. http://www.digitallensreflex.com/international-tiger-day/

    ReplyDelete

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