There was a hush in the forest. The forest guard bent low and pointed at the whiskers of a tiger cub and quietly exclaimed “ there…a cub!” Ankush, Dinesh, my wife Srividhya and I directed our gaze eagerly to fill our retina with the image of the tiger. Then we heard a loud crunch! Krishna, my son, was munching on a big packet of chips. I was horrified and admonished him for bringing a chips packet to the forest. His reasoning was simple. “ You are so worried about the tiger. What about me? I am hungry and can’t control anymore!” Has anyone won an argument with an eight-year-old?
Ankush, the other day casually enquired, as we returned from a game of badminton, whether have I ever visited Tadoba Tiger Sanctuary near Nagpur? I was about to open my mouth and say “No” and never shall I visit a wildlife sanctuary. Somehow the wilds smell me out the moment I book tickets for a safari. I imagine that they must be calling an emergency meeting and the top of the agenda would be our visit. The tiger would solemnly get up and say we go deep inside the forest for a week and the hyena would laugh hysterically by just imagining my frustration in not sighting a wild animal. The deer would get up in unison and cry “ why only we should be there in the forest all the time?” The tigers would have guaranteed their safety for a month! My detailed exploits with wildlife can be read here. For the record, I confirmed to Ankush that Vidhya and Krishna would be accompanying me.
D-Day arrived. We quickly got ready at Ankush’s house and topped our tummy with lip smacking poha for breakfast prepared by his mother. We picked up Dinesh, Ankush’s friend and soon exited Nagpur. These two gentlemen have been to Tadoba so many times. Both of them regaled us with tiger stories and how they spotted tigers during their visits. I hoped I could at least sight a tail of a tiger. We picked up refreshments and water on our way and soon we reached the gates of Tadoba- Andhari Tiger Sanctuary. We boarded a Maruti Gypsy, and soon we were away!
The Gypsy slumbered to a halt and there lay a young tiger deep under a bush. I heard a muffled bellow from Dinesh “Sri..photo le.” The twitching of the black ears engrossed me! I peered through the viewfinder and was greeted by my first ever tiger yawn.
Wow! I looked at Ankush and whispered that even if I don’t see another tiger in my life, I still shall be eternally grateful to him. The forest guard slowly whispered that there is another one nearby! Two tigers… I should buy a lottery. Soon the two were joined by another. Three cubs..woah!!! The three cubs slowly made their way out of the underbrush. How majestic they appear! If the forest guard had not mentioned that they are 15 months old, I would have taken them for fully grown tigers. Soon they made their way on to the forest path. Animals walk and then there is a tiger walk. Relaxed, with the swagger of certain yesteryear West Indian cricketer who knocked the daylights of bowlers- pace and spin alike across the world.
I will stare at your camera
The jeeps went berserk. Our driver suddenly had a brainwave, and he said that he knows an alternate route. Now what followed was straight out of comic books you would have read.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I know the meaning of the word “hurtle” but never experienced it. The jeep flew straight for some distance and suddenly veered right and I slammed the left side of my face against something. I was rubbing the hot red part of the slam and suddenly I realized we were up in the air and soon the bonnet angled downwards. We bumped once, twice. Did I just read the front number plate? On top of it, I had a monster of a camera lens with me which I had I taken on rent! The sight of the post dated cheque deposited with the lens lessor, which covers the cost of the lens, getting en-cashed danced in front of my eyes. No signs of stopping and we started to gather speed. No stone or tree was going to pose a hurdle to the metal box. My son was squealing with delight. My head was bouncing about as if it had acquired Prabhu Deva’s legs. Trees went by in a blur, and the guard was goading the driver to move faster! Really!! Then again hard right and we stopped.
The tigers were right in front. I do not know who was more surprised. Tigers or us! It took some time for me to take control of the roulette-like movements of my eyeballs. We clicked some more pictures, and the tigers sauntered ahead. One of them chose again to enter thick underbrush and remained static for the next hour or so.
Which camera is that?
I am watching you!
I felt that days end very quickly in a forest. No sooner the darkness began to envelop us, the tiger moved out and came directly towards our vehicle. Krishna was already whispering that we should have left the forest a long time ago! The jeeps, suddenly on cue, switched on the headlights in time to catch a glimpse of the silhouette. Our voices returned to us after we reached the forest guest house.
The guest house canteen serves delicious dinner, and we tucked in with gusto. Dinesh casually remarked that a group of visitors did sight a tiger right outside the guesthouse. With that parting thought, we retired for the night.
The next day, we got treated to the sight of a male tiger. Whatever idea one has about a tiger will get reset once they see it in its home- the forest.
How to get to Tadoba:
Ample trains ply to Nagpur. From Nagpur, Tadoba is about 105 kms to the South East. By road, it will take you two and a half hours. Safari and stay bookings can be done online. Be there on time. For camera lovers, I learnt an important lesson. Carry a bean bag which can be placed on the Gypsy railing in case you are carrying heavy telephoto lens or enrol in a gym nearby in case you choose to shoot handheld! Beanbag costs less, I assure you.