You know, there is a FB page called,”Save the Tiger”. They keep putting up awesomastic pictures of Tigers. That majestic walk, that piercing look, those playful cubs, who wouldn’t want to watch it live! So we planned our next trip to Kabini forest reserve. By luck we got our rooms coinciding with the republic day hols and thus started our journey, the chase for tiger sighting. As we drove down the highways all the series that I had watched in animal planet, Nat Geo and discovery were playing in a loop in my head. “But not everybody gets to sight them the very first time yaar”, my friend.. “We are the epitome of optimism, we will sight!” That was the confident me. “Also I read tigers in the south are shy, they won’t come out easily!” Why oh why?! “Seriously? Do they also have the culture problem?” I exclaimed. As we checked in the first thing that caught my eyes was the Tiger sighting board. Every day, morning and evening they had spotted tiger and leopard and guess what, there is a tigress with three cubs, yay!! With the day being hotter at Kabini than Bangalore, we were waiting for the sun to come down to start our boat ride. I was craning my neck to spot the tiger when the naturalist pointed, “All these are cultivation area. Jungle starts from there!” We came to a clearing and the first thing to spot was shit! Loads of elephant shit along the banks! Shit, they are done drinking water and have moved away! And then came Jinke, lots of them grazing. Jinke is deer in Kannada and am gonna address it as Jinke; it sounds perfect than deer. Along with the jinkes were monkeys, boars, sambar jinke, piglet and plenty of birds, plenty! But the cat was yet to come out. At a distance the naturalist spots a crocodile, he asks us to keep quiet as they are very shy, he drives slowly near the croc, the kid decided to wail at the right time and the shy croc immediately went into the water. Another turning, an array of bamboo shoots brought down by the elephants and there was a mother and calf chomping. They were determined to show only their bum irrespective of how we turned our boat to get a better look. Further jinkes, jinke mari and boars. And then it happened, suddenly the jinke barks! It gives out the alarm call, boat is switched off, we crane our necks, jinkes crane their necks and I was waiting for the tiger to chase the jinke any moment now. “Why arrre wee even waiting?” a weirdo tourist lady who had no idea why the deer was barking, broke the silence of the forest. The tiger must have got offended, he did not come out. Jinke moved to the other side and started grazing peacefully. Our day ended with no luck.
Also read – Tiger Tales from Tadoba Andhari National Park
The next day morning, I was tucked in my jacket and shawl and fueled myself with hot cup of tea! It was jeep safari and luckily we were teamed with photographers. All those huge (I mean torso length) cameras were having a hearty laugh looking at my old point and shoot poor zoom camera. Sigh! Jinkes were peacefully grazing, langurs were happily munching and plenty of birds were enjoying the morning sun. My feet and palm were freezing, my camera refused to zoom, birds came as tiny dotted pictures and the jinke turned away its face looking at my cam. When the jeeps passed by, the rangers threw up their hand in the air, no sighting by anyone. That is OK na, if I don’t get to see nobody else should. We drove for a good three and half hours and Jinke did not even bark. “Don’t lose hope, once we saw a leopard head on just before the check point, so it can come out anytime!”, a fellow traveller cheered up and again I craned my neck. But the check post did come, and by now my frustration knew no bounds and the last thing I wanted to see was a peaceful Jinke. It too showed its bum and walked away. At the breakfast table, someone mentioned seeing a tiger from boat at a distance, someone spotted one in a different zone and I could feel the jealousy heat up my cheeks. The evening was warm and we found comfortable seats in the Jeep. Almost all the jeeps had left and we were waiting for someone to come. There came our tiger offender with her kids! The kids refused to stop wailing and now I knew what was in store. We moved to a different zone of the forest, two other vehicles are already waiting, they heard the Jinke call!! We stand at the junction and strain our ears and eyes. Jinke calls again! Nothing emerged. We trail through paths, we stop at places and wait patiently (with the kid wailing of course!), and the rangers call each other to update sighting, none! We then come by a river and the Jinke calls again! It is not just one Jinke but many Jinkes continuously calling. The other side is core jungle, we wait to see if tiger will come down to drink water but no. The Jinkes keep crying but sir had other plans. Somebody should teach the tiger to drink water regularly, for its own health sake of course! Our ranger gets a call; “What? Where? Oh there? How many?” How many? Somebody has seen it. He asks the driver to go towards a pond, tigress with cubs were spotted. A van passes by and the enthusiastic people elaborate their sighting of the mother and her cubs and how they scurried up on seeing the van. Hot air was coming out of my ears!! Our jeep proceeds and there is another jeep standing still. They showed us a sign that the tiger just ran past their jeep in full speed. What the!! I am not even a photographer, I don’t even want it to pose for me, I just want it to show its face or even tail would do! The ranger gets another call of Tiger sighting at tiger tank, we chase the wind and drive at full speed. By now to me everything looked like Tiger; the tiger was grazing peacefully, tiger was jumping from one tree to another and was galloping around with antlers. I was reciting all the slokas and placed petition to all Gods but we came to the empty tiger tank. We were now greeted to the bum of Gaur! “Dekho betta dekho, Gaur ke saath photo keench le!” the offender shrieked again and the gaur moved off! Sighhhh.. Jinke laughed as we left the park. The next day morning. I had no hopes. I no longer cared if it was jeep or window seat or a sound ranger or that my camera is dumb or if I was sitting next to the offender. What was more pitiful was we had not yet seen an elephant herd or jackal or fox or wild dog! Not even the dog was ready to give darshan! Boo hoo. We drove into the next zone, Jinke raised its head, “Jokers!” it thought and continued eating. The langur cried and the sambar jinke cried, the ranger was now sure that the Tiger is moving. We come round and round and wait and wait and look and look and pray and pray and the cry died. We met rangers who threw up their hand in air. I was now sure tigers were vacationing for the Republic day holiday. I started looking up, as I have seen pics of leopard perched on tree. So I look up for the next half. Then a brilliant idea strikes, I start reciting, “Swamiye Saranam Aiyappa!” You see Tiger is His vehicle and he might get pleased with my prayers and come out. But he wasn’t. As a final moment of grace, a herd of elephants and a jackal gave darshan. As we left the park I think that Jinke showed it’s tongue at me! The breakfast table is abuzz; our previous ride fellow traveler shows pics of leopard chasing Jinke! I was now banging my head on the table.
There are around 72 tigers and 80 leopards in Kabini, of which 11 tigers and 15 leopards are in the safari range. The safari is just 10% of the forest area, rest is core thick jungle. None of the 26 predators gave us darshan. Some solace, * The guy who spotted tigress with cubs, “I have spent nearly 1lakh to jungle lodges and only today got to see the tiger.” Ok am 10% up there. * The guys who spotted leopard, “One game we saw the tiger and the leopard but there have been many games when we have seen none.” * The ranger, “it all depends on being there at the right time and right place!” * Another traveller, “for a sure sighting, go to Mysore zoo!” Four safaris, three hours each and no darshan. I am no longer going to complaint about waiting in Tirupati queue! “Our trip is incomplete! We need to spot the tiger, let’s come back!” I urged my friends. “Ya ya, we have to see it. You buy camera then we will plan.” My friend backed me. “Oh yes! How about the good friday weekend?” We were just few km out of the lodge and were planning for the next visit. “No no, these tigers will take leave. Like how they went on holidays this time!” “Yes true! Let’s come on a week day! It must be slogging on a weekday and we will get to see!” Plan set! Note: The rangers at the Jungle river lodge put their earnest effort to spot the cat. They are so passionate about it that they become sad when they cannot spot the tiger for the day though they would have spotted one just yesterday! Tiger spotting is purely your luck, your luck and your luck! I seem to have loads of it. Check it out, two tigers 😉