When i was in school, which was really long ago, i’d read the book by Jim Corbett on the tigers. His description upon seeing a tiger was what i had kept in my mind always. To hope i too see a tiger in it’e eyes when IF & when do see one. June 3 -7, i was on way to Tadoba tiger reserve… forest in Chandrapur. It was sheer determination, I wanted to see real tigers yet again before they become extinct. Unlike other tiger reserves, Tadoba has NO forced sighting of tiger. It’s sheer luck, by chance….
I was determined to go under any circumstances. I was fed up on my job, my work profile & fed up of petty politics. Instead of whining & complaining i thought, yes let me see beyond humans. I’ve always loved a tiger & tried to trail wherever, like in Chitwan when i went way back in the early 90s. So here i was alone exploring, just with a gut feeling i WILL see a tiger.
My aai, (mother) was hell bent on not letting me go, just for the records the temperatures in this area were varying between 48-50 degs. Deaths of people, monkeys, other animals were reported from Vidarbha region. This was my chosen destination. I packed 8 bottles of nimbooz-ready made lemon juice available, electral, 20 bottles of water. My bag nearly bogged down my shoulders wt the sheer weight of these bottles. All for the tiger.
My start to the journey was hilarious. After a mix up of train timings my friend told me i had only 45 mins to reach the VT station. I hate uncertainities, i plan travel rather tediously, well in time before departure. This was rush, rush. Reached in time for Nagpur train. My friend & colleague Jaideep one fo the finest reporters in young Vidarbha region. He arranged everything for me…i took a car & left for chandrapur, however the forest officials had just left back for nagpur. It was merry go round for me going fm pillar to post to get inside. Finally i made it to the forest fm Kuthvanda gate. Now ONLY at Tadoba have they divided the number of vehicles across the 5 gates. But the problem is vehicles that need to be allowed should be only gypsies. However public use all their political clout, access to officials & ministers & then they all come in their own petrol/diesel vehicles.
The first eve was doomed. Everyday on every trip i spent Rs 1500/- nearly. I didn’t ask the officials to take me in their vehicles, because that would mean it wasn’t seeing by chance. Till then i saw NO tiger…but what a terrain! Parched, dry, pinching my insides. Skin felt torn, head splitting wt the heat. I kept sipping water. Thankfully visiting a forest is no mean task. It also means getting to see innumerable birds & animals that we otherwise can’t. So while the tiger was away the monkeys, bulls, deers of all varieties, birds were at play.
On 2nd day early morn was a monkey show ONLY for me. i told the official they have to let me in their vehicle. I saw 5 youth wt cameras. I smelt a rat. I too had professional cameras, not a single but 2 cameras. He was trying to postpone my visit, the field officer & i realised if i let go of that chance i’d never get it again. Unfortunately for that officer, he was calling out to those 5 youth, while the gypsy owner signalled me. He said the officer was calling me, i went ahead & finally my friend Jaideep called. I told him the whole story & he was like just go ahead.
The officer asked me to sit rt inside in the gypsy. I said no, im a lady i can’t get squashed between all the men. Honestly it wasn’t a excuse. When realised there were 5 men, i made immediate calculations & realised that i’d NOT get any chance to click a single pic. They trouped in & i shoved them inside in the back seat.
Finally we went to the water hole, where grandly sat a tigress wt her 2 cubs…she gave us ferocious looks for a few seconds, then when the jeep was turned off, she sat quietly keeping a watchful eye over her cubs. These were one & a half yrs old. They looked fully grown. They were awesome. By then, i’d forgotten all about my thirst, immense heat & blistering sun. It all got eclipsed in a fraction of a second. I recently told a friend that i was headed to the jungle to meet my 1st love, the tiger. Truly i think i love this animal more than anything else.
The cubs were happy soaked till their necks in the water. Believe me if we humans find 48 degs & humidity that day was over 65% hot, then it’s twice more for those animals. I was stunned by their beauty. We moved reverse, came closer when i got a better view & then one cub got up fm the water to give me that ‘tiger’ look. That cub was signalling me that ‘look don’t forget i’m a tiger!’ then he went towards the mother to climb over her & play wt her. The tigress was just too watchful keeping an eye over her other 2 cubs.
We came out i wanted to dance around like the bhalu to express my immense happiness. But more was to come, which i didn’t know. By then i was relaxed, i’d got something that most don’t easily get. Yet i felt the Jim Corbett experience had eluded me. By then I’d happily seen 8-10 varieties of deer species, bisons, plenty of birds, peacocks, bear that ran amok right up til the gate, monkeys, especially the black faced ones, the langoors. So on & so forth.
The officials had booked me in the director’s room at the rest house. It overlooked the lake at Kolsa. It was truly beautiful but everything was hot. Even the ground was hot that day, it was immensely sultry as there had been few showers inside Moharli gate & village. Next day early morn i reached Kolsa gate & the guide Rajesh took me around. Around 10.15am there was a buzz among drivers & vehicles that a tigress had sat in numb 2 water hole when she heard a vehicle & had gone inside the jungle. We waited there. Thankfully one professional group of wildlife specialists were there. They were keen enthusiasts who could shut up loud public, noisy vehicles and abso listless public that had no idea about dos & don’ts of a jungle.
We stuck behind their vehicle. We sat watching as every minute in that heat seemed as if i was in the middle of a lava, or crater. The heat was killing. On top of that i had climbed out & sat on the window after rolling down the glass. I kept both the cameras handy the manual & digital. That tigress was a treat to the eyes! to say the least. She walked stealthily popped her head out, looked around & went right back. She must’ve really got pissed off by the human beings. But its summer time, the tigers & bisons can’t stay out of the water for long.
It was then i recollected Jim Corbett’s words. All that i had read came to my mind. Jungle & especially tiger trail teaches one a lot. Mainly being patience. I had all the time in my life I’d come for this purpose ONLY. The public in other vehicles was getting impatient. I tell you we city people should be disallowed from jungles if we can’t behave ourselves. Then the professional foursome hushed everyone. They told me, ‘These are sarcastic bastards who want to tease the tigers.’ it’s true to a large extent. Then madam tigress came halfway out. I was dumbfounded, absolutely silenced. I only wanted to see her. My first instinctive action was not to rush for the camera, instead i remember saying, “Wow! she’s gorgeous.” If the US army has a weapon called stealth bomber, its a name abso apt for the tigress. She moved with such conviction, majestically she commanded attention & yet so agile, silent, its amaZing.
She went around from behind the water hole she moved in, keeping an eye on us all. Then the profnals requested all cars to wait for at least 10 m
ins silently. Just then one jerk’s car wt automatic lock made some sound. His defense was, “what can i do?” He drove right behind us disturbing the tigress. She was losing patience. Predators are of cat family & they like their space. They need to be left alone, i believe in it & follow the same attitude. My mother always says ‘Neeta you must’ve been a cat in your previous birth.” she thinks i’m vv cat like.
Then the jerk behind us honked & that was it, another impatient bimbo put his gypsy in motion. They tried to blame my driver for the noise, but all knew it wasn’t us. The tigress had had enough of us humans & went inside the jungle. By the time we went to th rest house in a huff the guard told me he had taken action on the guide & fined the vehicle for breaching the rules. Those tourists left in anger..like i give a shit.
Our guide was one great human. He knew his jungle well. He told me “Madam you come by 2.45pm sharp at the gate, we will go inside. I guarantee you the tigress will be at the water hole.” We saw many birds & animals, including mountain rat, Ghorpad. Yes, same one fm Shivaji’s story days. We went on water hole trail & there she sat inside the pond. She sensed us, in few secs got up quietly & went inside. I got her pics. Then she looked harassed by humans, sounds & more so the heat. She was thirsty & wanted to cool off. So we waited patiently at a distance. This was abso EXCLUSIVE. Tigress sat wt her head down abt to sleep. Then came trail of pvt vehicles. Their car nearly fell on one side as the elders, kids squealed loudly…look tiger tiger..kuthe…toh bagh..tithe…it was like a zoo. The tigress surely must’ve thought we are all from some zoo. stupid, ridiculous the whole atmosphere was.
Then word spread around that we were the only ones to see the tigress. suddenly all & sundry came to ask when next will we see a tiger, was it male, female. blah blah. We had our show. We were fed up & we had had our fill. Meanwhile Anil driver & rajesh guide got into a competition to tell me whose luck had rubbed off on me. I was like i’m really lucky to have 2 people’s luck rub off on me!
I know one thing for sure, this is one majestic animal, tiger/tigress & i had a dream that i’d see it walk past me. It happened. It was magical, i have no words to describe that ultimate pleasure.