SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: I was with a bunch of friends in Nagarahole the other day, my favourite watering hole, a jungle I have returned to, times without number, in a period spanning a little over 25 years. But what happened to us this time should go down as one of the most improbable and impossibly hard to imagine set of events in one single evening in the Nagarahole jungle.
Like every wild lifer, I’ve always longed to see a tiger in the wild. And seen it I have, but ever so rarely and ridiculously infrequently, considering that I have trekked, camped, driven around and almost ‘lived’ in some of the densest parts of these jungles for days on end. Beastly luck in a sense.
As we started our safari into the jungle on the evening of Friday the 2nd, in a Scorpio laden with five eager men full of hope, the usual herd of chital came into view as routinely as sheep in a farm barn.
Brilliantly plumed peacocks strutted around near a giant anthill pecking grub. As I pointed out to them, there was a bit of a yawn in the jeep, a kind of bored acceptance of these all too familiar sights.
Ten minutes into the drive, we reached Doddahalla, a water hole with an immense bund, skirted by bamboo grass on one side and a green, swampy patch on the other. A tiny terrapin lay lazily on a stump of wood that jutted out of the water’s surface.
Sharath jumped out of the jeep and trained his humongous camera in its direction. No sooner had he focused than we heard the unmistakable alarm call of a chital. There was silence all around and the call echoed through the trees, sending a chill up the spine.
As we huddled together in nervous anticipation, training our eyes in the direction of the call, a flock of parakeets shot across the landscape, chirping as they went.
Suddenly Sharath hissed, “I can see him there. There he is, there, there, a tiger.”
As the rest of us shuffled and jostled around to catch his glimpse, our eyes narrowed and our brows became a slanting arc. But yet we couldn’t see him.
Sharath kept insisting that he was there. His hands were jabbing the air animatedly pointing in the direction of the bamboo clump just by the edge of the waters, hardly a couple of hundred metres away.
And, then, I saw him!
But even as I was registering his presence, he slunk away into the bamboo thicket, his back and tail, dripping water. Perhaps the tiger had just then entered the waters to cool off, when the commotion must have irritated him.
“Guard“ Gururaja, our guide for the evening, suggested that we take the game road that circumambulated the water hole and reach the other side as quickly as we could. He felt that the tiger could be moving towards another waterhole called Peacock Kere.
We jumped into the jeep and drove as fast as we could on the bumpy game road to reach the area into which the tiger had presumably entered. Not a word was spoken in the jeep, only heavy breathing and feverish gesturing. Our collective eyes scanned the area like a microscope would a germ.
As I came up a short incline and eased down a bit, we saw him there, bang on the game road.
“Tiger, tiger tiger,” we hissed like a cobra gone crazy, obviously we couldn’t raise our voices and disturb his walk. He was half wet and his hind legs looked grimy from the mud bath he had just then taken. He walked just a few metres in front of us, completely unmindful of our presence.
This was a sight that all of us had been praying for, hoping for and wishing for, for ages. Our prayers had been answered after all. We pumped our hands like victorious school boys in a game of cricket that until then, the opposite school had always been winning!
Sharath went berserk with his camera while I tried reining in his excitement. After all, I didn’t want His Majesty to disappear! Every moment, every single nano-second on our watches meant a great deal. All of us kept staring at him as he turned a bit towards the left from where we were, went off the game road, glanced at us and entered the vegetation.
Mercifully, this being summer, the outgrowth wasn’t thick and we could see him way into his somnambulant walk, spraying urine as he went and also squatting briefly to deposit his scat.
“It was a she,” said Sharath peering closely into the pictures he had captured on his digital camera that allowed for instant reference.
Our evening had been made.
Prasanna excitedly declared, “Our lives are going to change from now on!”
Sampath sat next to the window, simply waving his hand to denote awe and respect.
Murthy kept a satiated smile on for long.
As we grudgingly left the area and drove towards the main watch tower, I said we might spot one more tiger there. My prediction born of stupidly unreasonable imagination was met simply by silence.
We clambered up the tower to see a family of elephants with a calf at the salt lick. They seemed to be in their own world as we looked around in all the four directions like sentinels at the time of war. Minutes ticked by. The jungle throbbed with amazing bird life. Scores of birds flew around alighting on branches only to take off after a moment.
The sun was beginning to set, the light was fading, and the moon in the sky was slowly assuming a pallid splendour.
Murthy jerked my shoulder. Pointing to some form in the distance he asked, “Hey, what’s that?” I indifferently said that it was piece of rock when it suddenly moved.
It was a tiger!
He had been there all along, resting leisurely after a heavy meal perhaps. We couldn’t believe our luck. We observed him for over half-an-hour as he rolled on his sides and at times stretched his hind legs to the sky like a dog in repose.
Obviously he wasn’t interested in us. Gururaja, the guard, reminded us that it was time to leave as it was beyond twilight. We left the tiger to his world and drove back to the Ranger’s office from where we had started.
As we started on our journey to Mysore through the jungle, Sampath boldly declared, “We will spot one more tiger near the Veeranahosalli gate.”
Would you believe it if I told you that’s exactly what happened? A huge male!
Three tigers in two hours in three different locations.
And to think I had seen a grand total of six in twenty-five years before this!
Verily, in Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses. One doesn’t come for ages, and then…
Photograph by Sharath Rangaswamy
Sunaad , thanks for the nice writeup… speaking of tigers , can anyone tell me what’s the exact population of tiger in Karnataka and also why is there so much of controversy about the research that Mr U Karanth seems to be doing.
Sunaad Saab, what a hearty writeup! Very uplifting.
Can’t match your two tigers a day, but I was fortunate to see a tiger too. Early June of 2005. I was returning to Mysore from Ponnampet after visiting Swami Jagadatmanandaji of the Ramakrishna Ashram.
There were five of us in the rented Tata Sumo, including my mother and my Mumbai dost Dr. Vijay Prabhu. Around 8 p.m., as we neared Hunsur, the Sumo’s headlights caught two pert rose-button ears of an ambling beast. It was a tiger, and he looked stranded by the roadside.
We screeched to a halt, but the animal was not bothered — which was sad, because it suggested he was used to humans disturbing him. He glanced at us, eyes like diamonds. At last, I felt I understood the passion of Sri. C. Naganna of Maharaja’s College (1993) illuminating William Blake: “Tiger tiger burning bright/In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
Our tiger was a big animal with muscled flanks and a long, gently curving tail. Ignoring us, he slowly disappeared into the darkness behind a clump of young teaks.
We were so excited we could barely hold a thought. We knew friends who’d spent long months and years on machans and safaris, hoping to spot a tiger. Here was our bonanza, without any effort.
But not yet end of story. As we resumed driving toward Mysore, we got a shock two minutes later: There was a man walking on the road, heading toward the tiger! He seemed to be a local villager, with folded panche and a towel tied to his head.
I’m a bit ashamed to say the next day the first thing I did was scour the pages of Andolana for a story of “Hunsur villager eaten by a tiger.” But no such news: The man had escaped, or his remains were never found, or the reporters had missed a story.
Or maybe the tiger forgave him. Of course, when tigers make a mistake of straying into human territory, humans are usually not so forgiving.
Long live the tiger, the greatest cat to ever walk the Mysore jungles.
Very good post. Hope the tiger lives so that humans can live too.
bladi hell!! some people have all the luck. :)
well written piece.
that way mysoor is really gifted, go 60-100 kms anywhere to south, west, south west and you are in some really really wild places.
I wonder how long the forest will last and tigers are aloowed to coexist with
millions of homosapiens that India is adding every year . There was a time when we the mysoreans do not have to go that far to see wild elephants and tigers.
Which one was my dear friend and film actor Prabhakar? Of course, you should have seen a tiger with a cow’s face (gOmukha vyaaghra) too…. Any guess who it was? (of course, I know who it was!!!)
Is this Sharath, the yoga guru?
Sunaad, sorry, make that “three tigers a day” in the second para of my previous post!
Sunaad yella OK nimma enjoyment aadhree
neevu ondhu commentnalli helidree.. cauverygoskara neevu adheno vedike maadi charche maadbeku …cauvery samasya beedhi rampa maadbardhu antha…aaa nimma Vichara ghosti/ Vedike yellige banthu?
Cauvery nyayanga theermanekke nimma parthikriyae yenu?
Navilu kere, right !
I saw the hind of a tiger as it disappeared into the greenery once at Ranthambore. The colour was “so shockingly, amazingly bright” that I keep replaying the image and kicking myself for not having spotted it when it was in full view. Other taller companions in the canter saw the whole majestic animal–but facing the opposite direction. Still, I can say the tigers I have seen in the zoo are simply “colourless.” Poor things, they must be ill too.
In Corbett, I have seen tiger’s pug marks and pursued the elusive creature all day with no luck. But we came across herds of elephants at every turn and later one lone male tusker even charged at our jeep. When we went on elephant- back on a safari, we were caught in a fierce storm that raged for over an hour and the forest was both beautiful and scary.
In Thekkady, despite all the promise of the Periyar reserves and a night trek, I had to be content only with the “sighting” of a tiger MOTH.
I guess I should make that trip to nagarhole ASAP.
“Sharath jumped out of the jeep” – It seems that you are not adhering to the rules of the national park. People are not supposed to get down from the vehicle, perhaps u had brided the forest guard/guide for doing this.
One should not forget that Nagarhole is not the best managed wildlife park just due to the efforts of effective forest dept or govt. The credit also goes to Coorg Wildlife Society, NAWICOED ( Nagarhole Wildlife Education Society) and other firebrand NGO’s in Kodagu who keep the forest dept, poachers and govt in check.