The forests of central India, namely, Tadoba, Bandhavgarh and the likes, are very popular and well established destinations for tiger lovers. The reason probably is bifold. One being the relatively higher density of tigers, resulting in a better chance of sighting one in the wild in comparison to many other parks in India. The other, in my opinion, is the feeling of exclusivity that one gets on the safaris and also the safari’s, relatively longer duration. There are options, where-in, one could pay for a full day in the park, something akin to an African experience !
After multiple failed attempts at seeing a tiger in the wild, in Kabini and Bandipur, I was getting kind of desperate. The urge was too much to either quell or to let go off easily :) So, made up my mind to head to central India and try my luck there. And, at that opportune moment, Birdwing was planning a trip to Tadoba and I hopped in. Never was I aware then, that I would end up falling in love with a beautiful lady ( hope my wife doesn’t read this ;-) )
Second day, morning safari, was going to give me my first sighting of a tiger in the wild. Tadoba, in summer, is a furnace, to say the least. So, unsurprisingly, the water holes were the hotspots for sightings and the routine was to judiciously check each of the water holes for hints of any activity. As we reached one such water hole, we saw that a tiger ( a tigress, in-fact ) was in that and was cooling herself off. Later, learned that the tigress was known as Maya, one of the queens of Tadoba.
So regal, she was ! Draped in her beautiful black striped, orange coat, a shapely face, wearing the wonderful white whiskers and those piercing, mesmerising eyes, she looked enchanting. I was awestruck at the beauty of our nation’s pride, the Tiger. She seemed to be enjoying the cool waters as much as I was relishing the experience of watching her. I could feel a hint of love, blossoming in my heart, for this beautiful lady :-)
Few moments passed and suddenly a small herd of spotted deer appeared from the bushes, coming down to the same water hole for a drink. On noticing the tigress, they went on their guard.
Maya noticed them too. It seemed that the surprise factor was equal on both the sides. The spotted deer were very cautious in approaching the water hole. A few of them stood alert, watching the tigress, while a few others had their drink.
However, Maya, didn’t seem to be interested in them. After cooling off, her mind seemed to be on finding a nice resting place, in the shade. She slowly moved out of the water, went into the bushes to rest and let the water soaked coat of hers to act as her air conditioner. She wasn’t going to be coming out into the, ever getting hotter sun, anytime soon. So, we headed on our way. This was to be my first encounter with a tiger in the wild, was exhilarating!
Since Maya was resting, our guide said that there was a very high chance of seeing her again in the same place during our afternoon safari. And so, it was to be.
We visited the same spot in the noon and found her resting in the bushes. We decided to wait and slowly she showed herself, got into the water again, as the sun was still high and burning bright. After a while in the water, she slowly came out and headed towards her morning resting place. Just as she moved behind the rocks on the bank of the water hole, she gave a quick look at our jeep and her eyes met with mine, or so I felt, was just mesmerising….!
She rested again for sometime. We waited patiently, in the hope that, she would show herself after the sun went down and that we might get a much closer encounter. Just as the sun started its descent, the place began cooling down a bit and Maya came out. She started walking towards the scores of jeeps waiting by the side of the water hole. She has a reputation of being a bold tigress and I was witness to just that. With a low growl, she kept moving towards the jeep track.
Anticipating as to from where, she might emerge, our driver drove ahead and positioned the jeep so that she would come on to the track facing us and luckily, she did just that.
She walked towards our jeep, passed it at arm’s distance and went on her way.
Oh! wow!, it was indeed a close encounter and to say that I was thrilled, would be an understatement. Moments, that I will no doubt cherish my entire life.