There are moments in the wild when you realise that Grasses are not just Grasses…
That there is something elusive about them…
That somewhere the pattern is not continuous…
That somewhere it gets a bit more ORANGISH..
Only then you know that FEAR has another name…
Have you seen a Tiger ?
Yes, of course. Surely, most of us have enjoyed the beauty in the local zoos. Big aren’t they ? Massive physique, growling & if you can see them roaming around in the limited space behind their enclosures, it makes your day. I did my engineering from St. Thomas’ College of Engineering & Technology at Kidderpore, Kolkata which shared a common boundary wall with Alipore Zoo, kolkata. Early in the morning at around 9 and in the evening at around 5 we used to hear the roars of lions & growls of tigers. It used be their feeding time. What a sight it would be if anyone was present there at that time !! Most of us have grown up longing to visit the zoos in winter season. What a craze it was !!
My introduction to wildlife Photography..
Born & brought up in a middle class family, I have enjoyed vacationing at traditional tourist spots throughout India. FORESTS.. didn’t grab my attention till Nov 2015 when I stepped into Sunderbans for the first time. I went there along with Goingwild – an eco-tour agency where my college classmate Dibyendu happens to be one of the three managing partners. World’s largest Mangroves, its sheer expanse grabbed my attention from the first time I stepped into the boat. Photography was a distant milestone for me at that point of time. I was carrying Nikon D5200 along with a standard lense 18 – 105 Nikkor. The other two guests along with me on the tour were Hirak & Dwaipayan da ( both happen to be very good friends of mine now). Suddenly they took out some very long instruments out of their bags – looked more like a missile of sorts. Rest was History. That was the beginning of my interest in wildlife Photography. They were carrying along with them Tamron 150 – 600 lense, I could not believe my eyes. It was so heavy, how can someone hold & shoot with it !! Well, now that I myself own the same variety, I understood it is more of practice & devotion, you will become used to it.
The BUILD UP to the Dream Sighting..
Coming back to my Tiger experience, ask anyone about Sunderbans & they will ask you in bengali – ” bagh dekhli ??” – ” Have you seen a tiger?”. Well in the mangroves people worship not to see the tigers, as many die every year when they venture out into restricted areas for fishing & honey collection. On the other hand, we tourists & photographers pray to get a glimpse of the majestic beauty. Amidst such dilema, I believe The Almighty favoured the locals more than my prayers as its been twice since Nov 2015 that I went into Sunderbans without being lucky to see the King of the Mangroves till 2017 end. The second time I visited the mangroves was in Feb 2016. This time I got introduced to another fine person – Mr. Parthsarathi who happened to carry an even bigger lense – 400 F2.8 !! it made my Tamron 150 -600 look like a matchstick !! Tough luck on Tiger sighting though.
It was the summers of 2016 & I had just returned home from my honeymoon to find a fresh copy of Jim Corbett Omnibus on my desk, which I had ordered on Flipkart prior to my vacation. Many of you must have read the book & surely all of you must be knowing Jim Corbett – the famous tiger hunter turned wildlife conversationalist upon whose memory the famous National park in Uttarakhand has been named. It must be clarified that Jim Corbett used to hunt down maneaters only and did not hunt for fun or other illegal motive. I had gone through the first few stories only after which I decided that my next destination needs to be Corbett National Park. I got in touch with my friend at Goingwild & fixed up a date in early Jan 2017 for the destination.
With high expectations & dreams of sighting my first tiger in the wild I waited for the long 6 months. Hirak managed to book a date in Dec 2016, one month prior to my visit in Corbett. A lot actually depended on his tour but unfortunately their 5 day tour did not yield any good tiger sighting opportunity. I felt a little sad & pensive. However, the only assuring factor was that PRAYERS were one sided. Remember how the villagers in Sunderbans used to pray to not see the tigers ? Well, here in Corbett, even though the prayers existed but were of a little feeble nature i guess !! There are many who say that when you go into the jungle do not only focus on seeing a tiger, as there are many other beautiful animals, birds & natural landscapes to enjoy. I felt the same, but deep within me somewhere I was quietly thinking of the very Obvious Subject – The Tiger.
JIM CORBETT National Park
Jan 9th 2017, I stepped in Corbett National Park along with my wife, Soumyajit da ( our mentor from Goingwild) & Mr. Jonathan Rao ( fellow tour partner). After having a sumptous dinner at The corbett Motel, we started early at 5 am in the next morning from Ramnagar in the gipsy driven by Irshad khan. Destination Dhikala. It was cold, very very cold – the temperature was near zero when we entered into the forest. On top of that we were on an open gypsy meant for creating better photographing opportunities. The cold wind accelerated further by the speeding gypsy felt like it was cutting through our flesh. All along the way, Irshad was discussing the various sightings over the past few days. We got more excited to find out that the prospects were very high of spotting a tiger in the wild. The safari timings were from 6am to 11am & 1pm to 5pm. By the time we reached Dhikala FRH, it was nearing 11am. All along the way from the entry gate to Dhikala FRH, we stopped at possible sighting opportunities arising out of alarm calls from Deer, jungle fowl, langurs. We checked in our luggage & had a quick meal to get ready for the afternoon safari. Dhikala FRH is situated right in the core area of the Dhikala zone & is a beautiful getaway for any nature lover – one one side, it has a vast expanse of grassland meeting the mountains in the horizon while on the other hand it looks over the famous Ramganga river.
Jan 9th afternoon safari – all pumped up upon hearing the news that a tourist group on departing from Dhikala had spotted a Tiger on Dhikala Road. There is good movement, hence after giving a quick scan of the grassland area we headed straight to Dhikala road region and its surroundings. Irshad happens to be one of the most influential drivers in Corbett with loads of experience & natural tracking capabilities. Based upon news of recent movement of tigers & alarm call from barking deer we stopped on a narrow road, quietly listening to any sound from the jungle which could give us a clue. The alarm call from the deer faded away & we moved into a phase where there was pin drop silence, there was no wind even !! Suddenly after some quiet 15 to 20 min we heard some faint sound, everyone got attentive & tried to guess the direction from which the sound was coming. To the very amusement of our curiosity, we found Mr. Rao to be gently snoaring at the back seat of the gypsy, he has passed into his own dreamy world, where may be he was enjoying a Tiger sighting !!! We could not hold back our laughter, specially my wife, for whom tears started rolling out of her eyes due to the continuous and extensive laughing. Suddenly awaken by the laughing, Mr. Rao obliged all of us with a very obvious question – ” What Happened ?” & all of us slipped into laughter mode again. We managed to frame the moment. The one in yellow is our beloved Mr. Rao.
The day ended with many sightings but not of a tiger. We got to see & photograph yellow – throated marten also. We had booked 12 safaris – 9 in Dhikala & 3 in Bijrani zone. The night was extremely cold & after a quick dinner we went into deep sleep to rise early the next day & get ready for the safari.
10th Jan 2017 – We heard alarm calls of chital or spotted deer as soon as we started our safari. It came from the grasllands, without a minute’s haste we steamed off to the area. we then silently parked our gypsy at a vantage position from where we could see 3 roads simultaneously. Alarm calls went on. The tall grasses prohibited us from good visibilty into the grasslands. After a good 2 hrs wait, at around 8:30am we left the spot to search other areas like sambar road & par. By that time many gypsies had already assembled in the area based upon our reports of alarm calls. It was around 9:30am & we were almost 20 min away from the grasslands when Irshad’s phone started ringing – TIGER it was & it has been sighted in the grasslands, the area which we had left 1 hr ago. I cannot explain how sorry we were feeling at hat point of time to have not waited a bit longer.
Irshad started driving at maximum possible speed to reach the grasslands within 30 min. We found out that the area was crowded with atleast 20 gypsies but the tiger has disappeared into the grasslands after sitting on the road for a few minutes. We were late or rather we had reached the spot a bit too early to have left it even earlier. Back in the FRH, it did not feel particularly exciting when others were explaining the episode of tiger sighting, drivers coming up to Irshad & telling how his intutions were correct.
On top of that when someone comes down and asks you ” Did you see it ?” – it does not help.
THE DAY – 11th JAN 2017
2 more safaris passed & it felt as if Tigers in the region were playing hide & seek with us. 5 safaris & yet no Tiger sighting. I thought something had to change. Before our 6th safari in the afternoon of 11th Jan, I clean shaved my beard which had grown out of proportions, our guide got changed with our new guide Zakir bhai coming on board with us & Soumyajit da relocated himself from the front row to the back seat of the gypsy. I remember how we stayed positive throughout all the safaris always hoping for a better time ahead.
We were returning to the sambar road area when a gypsy coming out the area informed about some calls from the ramganga riverbed side. Zakir bhai suggested to garage ourselves on the area. Sambar road is one way & therefore you need to travel all the way back to the grasslands to enter into the road. We then suitably parked our gypsy in a clearing. I still can’t understand how Zakir bhai & Irshad were absolutely confident that there was a tiger in the area without even spotting it & in the absence of any alarm calls. Our hearts started pumping fast & Zakir bhai instructed us to get ready. We were accompanied by 2 more gypsies. We waited & waited. The chill of the air blowing over the Ramganga riverbed touched our skin but it could not remove our focus from the direction in which we were anticipating the tiger to emerge from. Suddenly Zakir, in the most casual way said -” Tiger nikal aya“, meaning Tiger has come out & pointed towards the grasses. My moment in the wild – a beautiful tiger had just protruded its mouth out of the tall grasses. The shutters started clicking as if they did not know when to stop. I cant explain the adrenaline rush I was experiencing at that point of time. My wife looked super excited. We had to maintain our composure to not distract or create any commotion.
It did not end there. It looked as if the tiger was stalking something. It was coming towards us. It will be right to explain our position at this point – we were parked on sambar road while the tiger was on the grasses on the ramganga riverbed which was at a lower elevation than that of ours. The left side of the sambar road led right to the riverbed at the bottom. Hence we were looking to our front on the left & below our elevation. She emerged from the grasses & kept walking in our direction, all the time stalking something. We understood later there was a group of Chital right below us. To see her move was absolutely captivating. Throughout her walk, she was lowering her ears in regular intervals & dipping slightly as if to pounce on something.
Further ahead she suddenly disappeared into the taller grasses. We waited only for a few more minutes before we could see the movements of the grasses to understand that she was moving. By the very first look our guide had identified her as the Chuwapani Tigress. More importantly she had given birth to cubs & it was possible that she was on the hunt to feed them. The complete environment had become silent, all the deers were alert. The sambar on the otherside of the river was standing tall with its tail straight up & the langurs were attentively looking at one direction. Amidst all the silence, she emerged again, this time much nearer to us to give good photographing opportunity.
It was nearly 30 seconds before which she slipped into the grasses again & absolutely camouflaged herself with the surroundings. It was not possible for the naked eye to judge that there was a tiger among the grass. I was lucky to capture her movement while in the grass. It was simply majestic.
The time, when you will understand that its not just a grassland,
when you will understand that you are not alone,
when you will realize there is a bit more orange somewhere…..
IT WILL BE ALREADY TOO LATE.. The Tiger has already spotted you.
By that time the chitals had given their alarm call & there was a sense of urgency in the surroundings. Simultaneously, other gypsies had also crowded the area to get a glimpse of the beauty. Amidst all this, she moved again only to emerge in the perfect landscape that describes Corbett National Park. The frame has everything in it – from grasses to boulders, from the ramganga river in the backdrop to shrubs in the foreground. She coincidentally emerged in the single window where the sun rays were falling on the area to make the scene more dramatic.
Moving further ahead, she disappeared into the space below our road. We moved out of Sambar road in anticipation that she would cross the road and emerge at the back. Later we heard that she had made a kill of a little fawn and kept it in the bushes. We were not lucky to see her with the kill but later found her crossing the road to get to her cubs.
This was just the start as we ended up with another sighting on our 7th safari but a first will always be the first. This experience will remain inked in my memory forever.
Hope you relived my experience.
Surely, the craze of visiting the zoo has now vanished forever & you feel sorry for the animals who are forced into captivity just for our amusement. There are many rehabilitation centers who take care of injured animals & do an excellent job but the reason behind zoos where perfectly fit animals are kept so that we can spend our Sundays watching them, does not make sense to me.
As far as GoingWild is concerned, I believe they are extremely cooperative and extend maximum hospitality possible. Specially when it comes to the case of female tourists, they take special care to see that they don’t feel uncomfortable. I can assure this because my wife has been touring with them for more than 4 trips now. She has changed her lifestyle completely & is more interested in going with them in future. Recently, my aged parents also accompanied us to one of the tours & it turned out to be one of their lifetime experiences.