Treading in Tiger Territory

This being my first blog post , I actually wish to kick start by talking about something contemporary. Yes, the title pretty much says it all – This post will be about my experience at a largely unheard of , and rapidly rising national park in India , Tadoba. Well, that’s the shortened version of Tadoba Andheri Tiger Project, the largest national park in Maharashtra ( Source : Wiki ).

Upon enquiry prior to my visit, trusted sources revealed that Tadoba was the best place to spot tigers in the wild. This assurance pretty much can kindle anyone’s curiosity to explore this previously unheard of Tiger Territory. So, it was decided. For the first time in 21 years, my family were out on a holiday, and it was to a tiger reserve. Four safaris had been booked , spread over two days, and that pretty much was the holiday. The tickets were booked till Chandrapur, the nearest piece of civilization bordering the gates of the Reserve.

As we made our way through the tiger reserve, I took a quick glance at my phone, and continued to stare at it in horror and disbelief. NO NETWORK COVERAGE. The driver of the jeep chuckles and says that the only network that covers the reserve was Reliance. (Well played Mr.Ambani). I was engrossed in deep thought. Being without a phone for one day seemed improbable, four days seemed unthinkable.  After reluctantly leaving my phone behind, I boarded the safari Gypsy and soon found myself to be a part of an endless line of gypsys, parked outside the gate, remotely resembling the queuing up of Tata Sumos in any Hari Film. While waiting , my eyes wandered taking glimpses at the people in the other vans, and they all had one thing in common. A DSLR. Yes, the same camera that invariably one of your friends possesses, that gives a ‘100 likes guarantee Profile Pic’. Some of them had lenses about the size of a Canon (pardon the pun). I took reluctant yet compassionate glances at my modest Olympus 10 Mega Pixel Camera, as if to reassure that it still had a future in my hands.

******************************ROARRRRRRRR************************************

No, that wasn’t the call of the tiger, but rather the roar of the engines… and it was time. The gates had opened, and we entered the Reserve. We were now accompanied by a forest guide, one of those robust forest rangers , not like the Jayam Ravi of Peranmai fame. As we wandered through the land, educated to me as Dry Deciduous Forests, we seemed fascinated by the sheer plethora of wildlife that we saw. Everything barring the Spotted Deer ( which infests IIT Madras ) seemed new. But while we sat gazing in awe, our Forest Guide, Shravan spotted some movement in the grass, in very close proximity. And after a brief hiatus in the grass, it slowly emerged out. A Tigress, around a year of age rose from the tall blades and lazily ambled forward until its entire 6 – 7 feet body was entirely visible. The gypsy pulled over as close as possible to the tiger, and there was a point when we were facing the tigress, as she attempted to cross the road.

This was a moment of fierce competition among the photographers, who had assembled their DSLRs on the tripods and had begun to click away , picture after picture. Some took it further and recorded videos as well. It appeared like the tiger was in fact posing for their clicks , and seemed unfussed by the commotion caused by the photograph clicks. Finally, after providing the viewers with a Tirupati level darshan, the tigress took leave and dived into the forests. The rest of the evening was spent engaging in discussions with the photographers, as they skimmed though the pictures that gave them their bragging rights. It was here that I met two incredibly talented photographers and birdwatchers Yuvraj and Sangameshwar. During the course of the conversation, they brandished their i-pads and flaunted their pictures, complete with watermarks. While most of the birds looked exactly the same to me, the two of them not only identified the bird, but also described its taxonomy, scientific name and gender.  I still cannot fathom how they managed to identify the gender.

     Another day, and another tiger sighting was inevitable.  It was another female, around about the same age, spotted at a distance initially, but our gypsy managed to pull over real close. There was a stage when the tiger was face to face with the vehicle in the middle of the road. Yes, this was a Photographer’s delight and my sister, who possessed a DSLR too, began to click away, being in the best position of all. And then, Good Old Friend Murphy decided to pay us a visit, through his popular saying :

                   “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Memory Card Corrupted. DSLR reduced to a mere toy. And then, suddenly, what appeared to be an insignificant , ancient relic , suddenly sprung to life. The 10 MP Olympus camera, handled by its able commander chief,  shot the pictures, which saved my sister the blushes.

The next day started brightly, but midway through the journey, our hopes became rather dim when the entire forest succumbed to the rolling thunder and streaks of lightning. The forest had transformed into Cherrapunji. So much for calling it Dry Deciduous. The open gyspys were soon covered with plastic sheets and the search resumed. There was a brief encounter of a tiger, moving through the woods, shy to come out and face the limelight. As the vans queued up, there was a growing sense of expectation that the tiger would eventually emerge. The stage was set for a dramatic conclusion as we approached the climax. One of the parked gypsys, featuring a photographer who appeared to be a cross between Malayalam Actor Mohan Lal and Tinkle’s Shikhari Shambu, decided to move in for a better view. And like a Black Sheep exposed in a Gaptun Vijaykanth movie, left the rest of the vans completely exposed, by the sheer racket that it created. The tiger seemed so embarrassed by the attempts made by the gypsy, that it decided to turn its back and head back into the woods, never to be seen again. I don’t know who takes responsibility, but that photographer was at the end of an open firing of curses, ridicule and even an assorted collection of swear words from the other disgruntled by-standers.

And that was how the vacation ended, anti-climatically, but not before throwing us some fine memories which are forever to keep.

Also, the trusted sources were right when they said Tadoba was the best place to spot tigers in India.

It houses 67 out of the 1411. The numbers are increasing. The future is bright. Roaring times lie ahead.

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