As I gear for my first trek in Tadoba- Andhari Tiger Reserve, a place with about 40 tigers, I am told by the forest officials, as per policies, - Can’t guarantee a tiger”
Early in the morning, as I embark on my maiden tiger safari, the atheist in me is looking at the sky, “ Please, Please, I hope to see at least 1 out of the 40 tigers in Tadoba.
The guide speaks softly – Madam, please, do not yell or scream out of excitement. Phones on silent and flashlights off’. As the gipsy enters the thick bamboo surrounded jungle, I have already started anticipating for a tiger. Every time a gipsy would come from the other end, our driver and guide would ask, “ Dikha kya?” and the other driver would go, “ Nahi, Kuch Nahi – Call bhi nahi.
The first couple of things I saw, were a pair of deers grazing in the dense forest. Indeed a beautiful sight. I was telling myself to focus on the overall beauty of the jungle and enjoy the wilderness.
Tadoba is an extremely beautiful jungle with well-spread flora and fauna of the place. Right from peacock, hyenas, even playful dogs. Not to forget the widespread Jamun trees, mango trees, surrounded by mighty mountains and waterfalls.
As we went further into the jungle, our driver hushed, ‘ Pug marks’. The pug marks were stretched over a kilometre or so. The anticipation when you see pug marks is unparallel. Your neck almost turns like an owl. My heart beating in my mouth and eyes waiting to catch a glimpse, the pug marks head into the dense forest, our driver said, ‘ Ab Nahi dikega’.
We got back from the first half of the safari tour. Almost 1.5 hours and no sight of any tiger. Back into the tent for a brief break, dejection was written all over my face. One of the women from my batch came with me and said, “ Hey! This is my third jungle safari and I have seen the Tiger just once. Don’t let it get to you. Jungle safaris are about the thrill, chase, the anticipation and the sudden rush in adrenaline, Live that.
Resuming our drive again. We enter the inner sanctum of the Tadoba Jungle. A mesmerizing mix of the deciduous forest and flower-filled areas, it was such a mood lifter. I told myself, I am going to enjoy the chase. The thrill.
I saw sloth bears, sambars, birds of all kinds. Suddenly, we hear ruffling of leaves. Our guide signals that we stay quiet, as our vehicle stops. My camera now ready to click at any minute, my heart is beating in my mouth, damn, turns out, it is a nilgai. Uhhhhrrrrgghhh
My guide turns around to us, “tough luck ladies. We have to turn back now. It is close to dawn”. I look at the ladies, we all manage a faint smile.
As I listen to the crying of the birds, returning in their nests, ruffling of leaves with the evening wind, our gipsy stops. As I pull my head out to see why – Tiger. Yes, I see a tiger right in front of our vehicle, walking slowly towards us. My jaw dropped as I pinch myself to believe this with one hand to my mouth to avoid any noise.
The tiger minding its own business, walks away into the dense jungle, crossing in front of our vehicle with a mild roar. Royally.
As our gipsy starts, my joy knew no bounds. I could not stop smiling. That is the beauty of a jungle safari. You go in with Hope and hope strikes back when you least expect it.
Image courtesy: Google Images.