Well, this was probably the 30th time in two years that I was heading to Masinagudi, one of my favourite getaways from Bangalore. Being a wildlife enthusiast (who unfortunately had never seen a tiger in the wild), I was livid with the fact that quite a few first-timers to the forest had encountered a tiger while, I, with all my frequent trips had never seen the big cat.
A group of friends and I decided to spend two nights at my regular haunt, Wild Haven, which is located a good distance away from most other ‘commercial’ resorts. This place, located in a clearing, is a fantastic place to watch wildlife pass by from your porch.
The first day and night were pretty uneventful but what we guys were gearing up for, was the morning after the second night – a trip into the jungle at 5:00am. We worked overtime, used all our good offices with locals, and finally got permission from the forest department to drive into a restricted area.
That morning, we were up early. It was dark and cold outside and as mentioned earlier, the driver (who was one of the few to be allowed into that part of the jungle) was ready with his old jeep. After a short drive, we entered an area that I have never been to earlier. The tar road was increasingly getting scarce and at one point, the driver pulled the jeep away from the main road and from here on, it was total off-road driving in the wild.
The entire group had gone silent and I am sure all of us were wondering what would happen if we had a flat tire now or encountered an elephant head on. Our thoughts we suddenly interrupted when the driver screeched to a halt. There was a python right ahead of us and the guy looked like he had just fed himself. I could see a big lump in his middle and I guessed it was a rat or something he had gotten hold of. We made sure we didn’t get too close to him as these pythons, though lazy-looking, can be lightning fast when required. We stood a good 2 meters away from this long guy, clicked snaps of him and got going.
Next, we had to cross a river and it was absolutely thrilling to do so sitting in the jeep. We saw huge elephant foot marks and could also hear a heard trumpet nearby. All across our path, we could see huge, deep pug marks – they belonged to a tiger and were pretty fresh. I started getting desperate to see a tiger and was cursing my luck when we suddenly came face to face with an elephant. What happened thereafter is a little difficult to explain, but it would suffice to say that one of the males was not really thrilled on seeing us, and decided to make his displeasure known. We turned around and scooted while he chased us trumpeting and throwing sand on himself to appear fierce. I managed to get a good snap of this sequence and patted myself. This was supposed to be a mock charge. I wonder what the real one would be like.
We got down, walked to a cliff and spent some time there watching distant elephant herds but there was no sign of the elusive big cat. We got back into the jeep, got onto the tar toad and were heading back and that is when we saw him. A big fellow, sitting on a rock at the top of a hillock overlooking the road. The sun was behind the tiger, so we had a clear view of him. He sat there for 5 minutes, moved his neck around a couple of times and then got up, and majestically walked away. I was dazed and was totally mesmerized by this sight. I came back to our resort but I could not shake myself out of my daze. William Blake’s words kept coming back –
Did He smile his work to see,
Did He who make the lamb make thee.
Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry.
Wild cat spotted deep in the madhumalai forest range
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