Not any more…
Warning : Over exuberant, gloating post ahead. You might need shades to protect your eyes from the shine my preening feathers might throw up !!!!
To get the record straight, this was my 8th safari of 4-5 hours in Tiger country spread over a decade & 3 national parks that finally I managed to spot my first tiger in the wild
They say the fruits of patience are quite sweet and I can now understand, after roaming about on rocky bumpy roads for so many times finally I met the big cat and how…. I didn’t just spot it from a distance… She came to greet me as near as 5 feet from my jeep !!!!
On day 2 of our trip in the morning we were lucky to spot a leopard, which is claimed by most as even more elusive than the tiger (pics later) somehow though, I have been lucky, I have spotted a leopard two times earlier on foot !! In Gir and Sheoganj both This was the first time I saw it from a jeep. The tiger however eluded us in the morning, apparently the biggest male in Ranthambore T-24 as the guides identify him had perhaps run whole night and it left our driver and guide completely confused where it was, there were way too many pugmarks and at many places we could see pugmarks going in one direction and simultaneously returning the same day. Normally female tigers have a territory of around 10-12 sq. km. as per the guides in Ranthambore but Male tigers have bigger territories, 20-25 sq.km, T-24 apparently, the biggest tiger in Ranthambore has a territory of almost 40 sq. km!!! As if it was not a difficult enough possibility to spot a solitary tiger in a 40 sq. km. area that the guide announced that these males mark their entire territory every 2-3 days and as per him T-24 doesn’t feel nice without checking out atleast a couple of other female tiger territories every 2-3 days. After trying for 2 hours, eventually we gave up on tracking T-24 and ventured into shooting the jungle and the deer and other birds.
The afternoon though was lucky, Kanhaiya, our guide came to our hotel to pick us up after lunch at 2.30 with news that we have been alloted route no.4 where a tiger was spotted in the morning and it was also reported that the tiger was resting near some caves. Now that was good news, normally tigers walk about and roam a lot in the nights, however around 9-10 in the morning they find a place in shade and near water and laze. Some are so lazy they do not even wake up or move an inch till evening. So off we sped straight to the spot the Tigress was spotted. On the way we learnt that the tiger that we were off to watch was not a tiger but a tigress. Now she was no common tigress, infact, she is the most photographed and documented tiger in India.
She is a legend in herself, The lady of the lake, Machli, T-16, Park ki Naani are some of the names that she is known by!!!! BBC had made a documentary on this tigress which was first spotted in 1997 in Ranthambore, today almost all the tigers in Ranthambore are perhaps her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She once was a very very strong and ferocious tigress that ruled the most beautiful parts of the Ranthambore park that had 3 lakes and the picturesque Rajbaug. She is believed to have killed as many as 8 crocodiles thanks to having the 3 lakes in her territory. Today though, the territory has been taken up by Sundari, her youngest daughter and Machli has been left with perhaps the smallest of all territories among all tigers in Ranthambore.
We reached the spot where she was first spotted and in about 15 minutes saw first movements from her, although quite far, I spotted her move and was thrilled to bits…
But after a couple of minutes of spotting her from a distance she disappeared in the bushes and our driver Shambhusingh reckoned she went and sat in the ‘nullah’ (a small stream of water, behind the slope) I considered myself fortunate enough to see her even from such a distance and was thrilled that I had my first tiger pics
Eventually after 20 mins of waiting our guide and driver insisted we leave the area and take a trip around in another tiger’s area and also photograph the jungle, I was kinda not keen to move from there but they advised we would come back here after a while nearer to 5pm when it would be relatively cooler and the tiger might start moving again. We saw some very beautiful parts of the forest with red algae infested lakes and all but somehow my mind was just not into photographing anything else and I just wanted to go back to the place where we had spotted Machli.
Eventually when we reached there, unlike earlier when we had the tiger just to us, this time the front row was already taken by 3 canters and 5 jeeps already waiting and I was already cursing my driver beneath my breath that we were the farthest and no chance to get a decent shot. Besides me were two foreigners who had lens that were atleast 2 feet long and I was already getting a complex of sorts about how wonderful their pics would come and how pale my pics would be.
However, watching tigers and keeping patience is not everyone’s cup of tea. At 6 the park closes and everyone has to be out, so as the clock struck 5.30 the canters had moved, all jeeps too gone and with them the 2 feet lens just 2 jeeps left, us and another govt. guests who didnt have to follow the 6 pm rule. (snobs I tell ya)
We were sitting and clicking Lapwings and Tree pie’s when suddenly the driver of the other jeep spotted movement, Machli, returned from the ‘nullah’ half her body was wet. She again sat on the slopes and tried to go to sleep and we thought that was it. She was not coming any more near. Then as our driver picked up, she is being troubled by some fleas or flies or bees… who are not letting her sleep and then again the tigress started moving this time towards a road. Our driver who was pretty experienced took us further ahead to a crossing he reckoned she would come out from and lo….
This pic was taken when she came out of the bushes and was watching the jeep behind us… YES YES YES !!!!
I took this pic Me me me…. After all these many years of searching the tiger decided to pay me a visit Then after checking us two jeeps she started ambling towards our jeep and our voices started to become low toned shrieks with my wife and son whispering in shrieks almost she is coming so near so near so near so near and then she came to almost 5 feet close to our jeep before she changed her track and crossed our jeep from the front side and went into the bushes there and fell to rest again !!!!
Look at that 17 year old, does she look like an old tigress in the evening of her life. Well I am no tiger expert and I can never tell. This pic has her playfully raising her tail and her tongue out as if she is coming to play with her Daddy !
The biggest quandary for a photographer and a wild life enthusiast I guess is to decide whether to observe with his eyes or to capture with the lens. Although Machli was kind enough to let me do both, when it came ambling towards our jeep I held by son tight and watched it and then as my wife pulled my son back I got enough time to click loads of shots here are some of them
That is when she came real close… apparently our driver spotted her whilst ambling that she was hurt in her left fore limb which we only saw later when we saw pics in our laptop in the evening.
Walking oblivious of us, after all, she is the queen of these forests.
Traces of having taken a dip recently are quite visible here…
That gives you some idea of how near she had come and mind you this is when she started going away… she was nearer than this… we were thrilled while she was around. Cat caught my tongue was what literally happened to me… I just kept clicking it…
it was only after she went away that I realised how vulnerable we were if she decided to give us a royal lick but well so far I have understood these animals are a lot more kind then we humans are and she didn’t change that understanding of mine at all.
The moment it went into the bushes you could see how difficult it is to spot a tiger… see how easily it camouflages itself.
And then it went back to its favourite pastime in the day… Sleeping, Hobbes, I am sure you can completely related to this…
PICS Courtesy: yours truly !