Love at First Sight

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In India 20% of the country is covered with forests. Project Tiger was begun way back in 1973 with the intent of protecting endangered animals such as the tiger, deer and many others. This led to the creation of Tiger reserves. These are special protected areas of the forests dedicated to protecting the big cat and the associated flora and fauna by providing its natural habitat.

I have friends who have been, for several years now, spent their holidays in these reserve forests in their quest for sighting various animals, birds and of course the tiger. The idea of a holiday, spent in off beat areas with much of the day wandering around in a forest, never excited me. But, the forest and the animals proved to be a wonderful experience. Ranthambore National Park changed my opinion, about forests and the animals there. Located in the state of Rajasthan, Ranthambore is, by road 145 kilometers (90 miles) away from Jaipur.

This was a bright, sunny afternoon, sunny of the Indian summer kinds; at its peak in the month of May. Our hotel was a lovely place, designed like a palace from an era gone by. Walking around this palatial hotel we felt “happy”. Temperatures were around 116 degrees Fahrenheit. It was time to go to the forest. We entered the forest in an open top SUV. The hot breeze blasted us and the often swirling dust did not help either. Yet the idea of spotting a tiger, made for expectant patience. We kept moving, all the while explaining to my 10 year old the virtues of silence in the wild.

Well, we did not know what was in store for us. The other open top SUVs would go past us, with a smile. We all were waiting for any calls from the Chital (spotted Indian deer) or the langur (black faced monkeys), which would indicate that a tiger or tigress was around and perhaps, moving. We strained our ears for sounds made by peacocks, deer, and birds, following each movement of our guide, straining to see what he may have spotted as he squinted into the distance.

It was a dream and it came true. There were a few SUVs parked around the lake. As we arrived around this lake, with the tiger we were pointed to a partially shaded part of the lake, some 100 feet away. And there was this magnificent tigress, dozing, partially submerged in the water. We waited, patiently, very patiently, that she may wake up, maybe move around. And then, about three-quarters of an hour later, she opened her eyes, looked straight at us and yawned! The tigress was awake now. She started to turn her head around, bent down lower to have a sip of water, and then generally observe the tourists. The very thought of seeing a tiger, eye-to-eye, is an experience which I would struggle to describe.

She was big and huge, weighing around 40 stones. The cameras went quite crazy and we took as many pictures of her, as was possible. In about 45 minutes the tigress decided she would get up. This is what everyone was waiting for.

She was quite tall and gracious, standing up. Her stride was magnificent, in every step she took. We did not know what she was up to, until she went away somewhere in the bushes but soon returned with something dangling, in her mouth. She had apparently made a kill two days back, and she had got the remains out, to have a post-siesta snack. Depending on the size of the prey, we were told; a tiger can eat it over a period of 2 to 3 days and during this time will remain in the vicinity of the kill. It will hide the remains to avoid it being taken away by the likes of hyenas. The guide who was with us in our SUV was a very interesting person and an enthusiastic photographer as well. He knew the forest very well, and the ways of the tigers. He advised us to be patient and enjoy this experience. Suddenly, she dangled the sambar deer towards us, as if trying to show us her kill. She then had a few bites of the sambar. Thereafter, she went to leave the sambar, in some nook, well hidden from the other animals. Sambar is a dark grey color deer found in various parts of South Asia. It all seemed as if this was a piece of drama, she was enacting for all the tourists.

After her little snack, she came back to the lake side, bent down and had a few sips of water and then, languorously, submerged herself in the cool refreshing lake. Promptly, thereafter, she went back to sleep! It was nearly 1.5 hours of tiger viewing for us. The excitement had to be expressed through smiles.

Generally the tourists are asked to remain quiet, with least noise, as a sign of respect for the forest. Tigers love to remain close to water. Water is useful in order to stay cool and particularly in the relentless heat of an Indian summer. I noticed when the tigress left the water; there was a distinct color difference, between her wet fur and the dry fur.

I am in love with tigers now. We saw this particular tigress, T39, again on this trip but of that, next time. Since then, every holiday, it is “go chasing tigers in the forests of India”. Our family is indeed very awe struck and excited about tigers.

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