For many years, I have thronged the reserve forests of North India, with the hope of spotting the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild.
Umpteen visits to Rajaji National Park and Corbett Tiger Reserve proved futile. I saw wild boars, all kinds of deer, monkeys and so many varieties of birds that I almost turned into an ornithologist. We even got chased once by a mother elephant when our car ventured too near her calf. But the tiger stayed out of sight.
Once I imagined that I saw a tiger’s tail in the lantana bushes in Corbett, but a proper sighting never materialized. The guides showed me so many pug marks that I started suspecting that they make the marks themselves to fool gullible tourists. I visited Bandipur and Nagarhole in Karnataka and saw wild dogs and leopards. But even there, no tigers. Friends, foes and Facebook friends posted pictures and glowing descriptions of their tiger encounters, but I stayed a tiger virgin. My better half took pity on my tiger fixation and suggested that I visit the ChattBir Zoo in Chandigarh and shoot tiger pictures to my heart’s content, but I declined because I wanted to see it in the wild.
But every dog has his day. So does every wannabe photographer. This time, I joined a wildlife photography workshop organised by IIPC, Bangalore chapter, at Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. The month was June and Rajasthan was at its hottest. We set off on the jeep safari early in the morning. I was accompanied by some professional wildlife photographers from Bangalore with huge lenses and egos. Most of the morning was spent watching birds but no tiger was spotted. Suddenly, our guide noted that few Maruti gypsies were arrayed in a semi-circular fashion on a bend in the track. Our driver managed to worm into a gap in the circle, and there it was.
A huge male tiger was resting in a shallow pool of water, with half his body out of it. The dark mossy green of water, the striped majesty of the beast, the dark yellow-orange colour, and shadows playing across the face. The amber glow in the eyes radiated a strange kind of peace. A tiger at rest does not exude menace. And this particular specimen seemed to be in repose, almost zen-like. The guide told us that this was T-24, the infamous Ustaad, who is known to have killed three wood-cutters who ventured too near him. We spent around thirty minutes, observing the magnificent beast and shooting pictures to our hearts content.
But this encounter has not cured my tiger fixation. The jungle calls again, and I wait for the monsoons to end.I will be back as soon as the reserve forests reopen, armed with my trusted Canon 550D.
And hope that I get lucky again.
Vivek Banerjee is a pediatrician by choice and a writer by chance. He tries to escape from the pressures of his profession by seeking refuge in the world of writing. His debut novel The Long Road, which was well received by the readers, was published by Cedar- an imprint of Pustak Mahal in December 2010. He counts photography as a recent obsession.
In his previous post, he wrote about The Birds of Saharanpur.