A WALK WITH A TIGER

The Corbett National Park trip this year in November 2012 was an awesome one and I am at loss of words here as I find that there is no room for narration owing to the overwhelming and enthralling feeling. This was the longest feline sighting I ever had in all these years ever since I enrolled myself as a student of nature and choose the Corbett National Park as my classroom on the subject of ‘Tiger’ (Panthera tigris tigris).
Accompanied by three friends, all novices when it comes to wildlife and nature, but equally inquisitive about my wildlife enthusiasm, we entered the Jhirna gate in the evening of 15th November 2012 and spent an eventful night at Jhirna forest house.
The following day on the 16th November 2012, post afternoon, we entered the Bijrani beat to proceed for the Malani forest house deep inside the beat. This was destined to be one of the longest tiger sightings of my life. Leaving behind the Bijrani check post and canteen which is 7 kms deep in the forest from the main gate, we drove deeper into the forest for about 15 minutes till we came across a bend that concealed a shallow flowing nallah behind the high rocks.
From this point onwards the next 22 minutes were no less than poetry on nature as we sighted a young tigress elegantly stepping out of waist high grass from the left side of the track in the cold & bright November evening on the track beaten up by the forest vehicles in the picturesque sunlight that seemed to spread gold dust on the grass. My driver Faheem, turned left to negotiate the bend and manoeuvred through the shallow nallah with fast flowing spring water.
Faheem, instantly pulled up the brakes to allow us to grab our cameras. Like soldiers pulling out swords from the belts on the battle ground we armed ourselves with cameras. The gallant young tigress, who I reckon was around 3 years old, looked stunningly beautiful in her bright and fresh coat. Ignoring us with her ‘I don’t care’ attitude, the elegant feline jumped across the nallah in a single bound and landed on the other side.
Walking a couple of paces, the young tigress stopped and gave us a chilled look over her shoulders for a few seconds. Turning back she stooped down on her forelegs and sipped water from a small puddle next to the nallah, then resting her haunches she again drank and finally stood up to resume her walk up the vehicle track. Fortunately for us she resumed her majestic gait in the direction that we were bound. Professional driver that he was, Faheem needed no instructions as he ignited the engine and began to follow her slowly maintaining the needed pace and distance.
Following her for about 200 meters through a couple of bends on the track, we watched her climb a steep 4 feet high uphill track with ease. This small uphill climb is located on a junction where our vehicle track divided itself into two different tracks, one going straight and other turning to the left. Unlike our walking beauty, we faced some difficulty in negotiating the climb and as my driver throttled hard to gain some power for the vehicle to overcome the difficulty, the young queen stopped, turned around, raised her tail and gave us a low agitated growl in a stance that warned us of a charge from her. I asked Faheem to cut the engine out and stop the vehicle. For about 20 seconds she stood that way chilling us down to the bone and then lowering her tail she turned around to resume her walk on the track straight ahead.
Reigniting the engine we resumed following her next 600 meters or so as she walked gracefully. She presented us will all the shades of feline behaviour as time and again she paused to check in and over the grass, sniffed the air, crossed over from one flank to the other on the track, stopped to peep & check the tracks that left the main track, raised her tail to spray scent marks on a high thick grass stack and lowering her tail she turned back in the direction she was walking. All the while she totally ignored us and continued writing poetry on elegance.
As this aura continued, she twice stopped for a minute or so and stood motionless as if she was a frozen. She had noticed something that was walking parallel in the high grass and bushes to our left and this for sure was a potential prey that she decided she will give a shot for. She resumed and walked for about 20 meters and again stopped to inspect the bushes on the left. This time with a slow noiseless access, she stepped into the bushes with immense stealth. We reignited the engine that we had cut out when we first saw her notice something in the bushes and slowly we drove to the point where she had entered the bushes. Reaching the point we stopped parallel to her on the vehicle track while she had gained about 20 meters in the bushes where she stood motionless with her back to us and her eyes fixed on the potential prey somewhere in the lush green thicket. Analyzing and calculating she again moved forward, obviously, it was a definite stalk as she lowered her body, set up her head straight, fixed her eyes in the outgrowth, and took very careful, slow & noiseless steps. Keeping my eyes on her, I slowly lost her in the thick lush green outgrowth.
We stood there motionless for a while but the art of hunting that the felines possess is far superior to the art of tracking the humans have developed. My 22 minute association with the young beauty had ended, she was gone and I knew it. It was a memorable day, as though I had sighted tigers before, I had never seen any of them display the colours that this young beauty had shown me on the 16th of November. I had seen the feline take a long walk with us, ignore us, quench her thirst, give us a mock charge, spray to mark her territory and stalk a prey with stealth, all this in a single unedited stretch.