On safari in the forests and grasslands of Kaziranga National Park. (Cont. from Part 1)
All except one animal, one which no one talked about but was up there on the bucket list of animal sightings. If the park and all its animals is the cake, the Royal Bengal Tiger is the icing, the cherry and the candles. In our briefing in the morning, I had told my guests the exact same thing. True to their word, they hadn’t talked about tigers during the course of the safari and I knew that it was on everyone’s mind, just like it was on mine. So we drove to a watchtower overlooking a massive ‘beel’ or water body and a good place to spot tigers in the evening.
After spending a fair bit of time on top of the watchtower scanning the areas around the ‘beel’ with several binoculars and even more eyes, we noticed we were the last vehicle left at the watch tower. Reluctantly, I told the guests that it was time to head back as the sun had already dipped below the horizon and very soon it would be too dark to drive. As we all bundled into the vehicle, all that remained was beginners’ luck!
Driving back after a successful safari is one of the most satisfying feelings. When one is on safari, time usually is inconsequential, except that as it always does, passes by way to quickly for most of our liking.
That’s actually true in the case of most things we enjoy doing. As we bounced along the jungle track each of us lost in our own thoughts, our driver quietly tapped me on my shoulder and pointed to something on the track a little distance away in front of us. It was too far to make out which animal it was and before we could get the binocular on it, it ran off into the tall grass bordering the elevated track.
A quick exchange of glances later, our driver drove to the spot. Whatever it was was long gone but we decided to wait a while. Balancing precariously on the roof of the vehicle, we scanned the grasslands to our left. And then it came, the alarm call of a Hog Deer. And then another and soon we had a whole chorus of calls!
We could see the deer and there were about 15 of them. They were in an elevated glade about a hundred yards to our left and they were calling incessantly. With all eyes trained on the glade to our left, our driver suddenly noticed an animal walk into the glade from the grassland to its right and immediately called ‘Tiger’!
The sight of a tiger is always a shock and no matter how many times one has seen a tiger in the wild, the excitement levels soar through the roof. I looked back at my guests and they were all in different stages of shock. But they were giddy with excitement at the prospect of having seen a tiger. The tiger walked out into the glade and sat down and then to our complete amazement, out walked two cubs from the same spot the tiger had just emerged. This is was unexpected but very welcome. The cubs walked up to their mother sat down on either side of her. Very soon the cubs got impatient and started playing with each other. They chased each other around the glade, reared up on their hind legs striking out at each other in a mock fight. It was classic tiger behaviour and there were many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as we took all this in.
The deer were standing about in a semi-circle, stridently voicing their alarm calls and every time the cubs got too close, they would scatter in panic into the tall grass. But they always regrouped in that semi-circle and kept watching the tigers. Keeping track and sight of one’s mortal enemy is the best form of defence and the deer obviously had this lesson ingrained in them. This lasted for a few minutes and then the tigress stood up and walked into the grassland and her cubs followed suit.
As we drove back to our safari lodge, the tiredness from the day’s exertion was all forgotten and nobody could believe their luck and were jubilant having seen their first tiger in the wild and that too, a sighting very few are privileged to see. It reminded me of something I was told a long time ago by a wizened old man of the jungle, “the effort is ours, the luck is yours”.0