I discovered wildlife through the eyes and lens of KC. KC is a wildlife enthusiast, photographer, avid racer and a full time media professional. He grew up in the forests of Assam, where being in the wild was part of his childhood. From the time we became a team, his passion rubbed off on me, and we soon became regulars at the Wildlife Sanctuaries of Kabini, Bandipur, Wayanad, Nagarhole and K. Gudi.
A fellow photographer once told me, “For every time you sight a tiger, he has been watching you over a hundred times.” The first time I sighted the big cat was the most memorable day of my life. KC’s first sighting was even more rewarding, since he had travelled his fair share to sanctuaries in the South, East and West of India, only for the elusive beast to never make an appearance. KC had a nine-year-old dry spell that needed to be broken.
Madumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary shares its boundary with Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Masinagudi is one of the five ranges of the Sanctuary. With a local guide, KC and his friend commenced their trek into the jungle. Thirty minutes into the trek, they heard low growls by the riverbed. The alarm calls of spotted deer and langurs just added as a confirmation. Treading carefully and quietly, they hid behind the dense vegetation to witness a mating couple, playful with each other. He had waited for this moment for almost a decade.
As KC positions his camera, the male senses the intruders. What happens next was the scariest moment of his life. The tiger had his eyes locked on KC. His low growl was now a mighty roar. He leaped across the 30-foot wide river and charged towards KC who ran for his dear life. All of a sudden, the tiger gave up its pursuit. KC captured the moment just as the Tiger stopped on his path, turned and walked towards his mate.
The Tiger filled my imagination when I first read William Blake’s poem Tiger Tiger
during my school years. The metaphors of the poem were lost on me. Years later, I watched a documentary on the maneaters of the Sundarbans and the Tiger became an animal I feared yet fancied. From the time I actively began my foray into wildlife, my quest for sighting the Big Cat had begun. A year into this quest, I found myself returning from multiple expeditions with zero sightings. I went so far as to visit Nagarhole and Kabini every weekend for two consecutive months, but returned disappointed each time.
The morning of the second weekend of April 2016 began with the news that there had been a fresh kill of an Indian Gaur
in Nagarhole. A dozen safari jeeps waited patiently by the kill. KC and I, joined by few regulars knew too well that the tiger would not come out to this audience. As I looked around through my binoculars, I spotted a crouching tiger cub across a water body. It was my very first tiger sighting and, even though it lasted for a few seconds, it left an ever-lasting memory.
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The safari ended uneventful for the dozen jeeps. However, the adrenaline of my first sighting motivated me to peer into every bush from the speeding jeep. About 200 meters from the jungle gate, I thought I saw something and asked the driver to stop. As the jeep reversed, we saw the most majestic sight! A full-grown male, hidden almost too well, sat calmly, waiting to cross the trail. Ten meters away I saw every word of William Blake come alive. For over half an hour he waited patiently and so did we. Finally he made his way out of the bushes, crossing the street in a quick sprint, he disappeared into the jungle.
Sighting a big cat happens when luck really does play on your side. It took KC nine years to sight a tiger. Patience is the biggest takeaway. You could have mastered all the alarm calls and waited patiently for hours, yet you could go home disappointed, And if you’re driven by a deep desire to spot the magnificent cat, you return the next day with the same enthusiasm. Meanwhile the tiger, camouflaged perfectly, would have been observing you all along.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com; Photographs by Kalyan Chakraborty