Last night was filled with adventure. In the evening we took a drive beyond the village and into a locally known hotspot for animal watching. There have been a few animals which have eluded us during our treks and safaris here.
We have seen a plethora of peacocks and pea hens and wild boars galore, spotted deer reminding me of Bambi and among others, monkeys, monkeys and more monkeys. They are pretty cute the way they put their heads down into the water barrel, we left out for the animals (mostly the deer, since the village cattle over-graze the forest), and their butts up in the air while they drink. We’ve even seen a young leopard cat a few times, fierce and yet they look like tabby cats.
But yesterday evening we pretty spectacular. During our drive, we saw a sambar deer and a bison, both had not been easy to find during this trip. And the fact that on our morning trek we saw a black buck and 4 doe along with another sambar deer was truly a last minute miracle.
So, here’s what happened late last night…
Last night was our last night in the jungle. After a late dinner, about 10:15 or 10:30pm, we decided to make one last attempt at searching for that elusive tiger. I got on my sneakers and a shawl, Rajesh, our guide had simply sandals on his feet rather than hiking boots, as per his usual MO, in fact, most villagers and people in India for that matter, wear sandals, flip flops, or some low-heeled shoe to walk around anywhere and everywhere.
It was myself, two other people and our guide and it was a black as black can be with my only light, the brilliant stars above. Luckily my hiking companions each had a flashlight, so knowing what I know about this jungle, I stuck as close as I could to one or other light.
We walked deeper into the woods and many a time, there was a rustling in the trees which yielded some nocturnal birds, or rabbits running out of bushes and still no sign of the yellow glowing eyes we were searching for.
Arriving at the watering hole, we spread widened our search a little, I looked down at the ground and saw tracks. My companions also were enamored by the large impressions in the dirt. They were still wet. We looked at the watering hole from whence they came and followed with our eyes where they stopped. I said to them, “Tiger.”
Another surmised, “Leopard.”
Our guide bent down and put his hand against the impression, showing the size, and confirmed, “Tiger.”
My companion said, “Follow it.”
But the path the tracks took went into thick bush and I was not too keen to track this animal and corner it or have it corner us. I know that tigers will not intentionally hunt or attack humans, but even so, I am no tracker and I am not even remotely experienced enough to know these parts if anything should happen.
The guide led us away from that direction. All at once, the dogs in the village began howling and barking as if in danger. The village dogs had troubles of their own. Tigers like forest animals, but leopards, they are another story here, they’ve been known to pull a dog up a tree (they can lift 3 times their own bodyweight). Cats were on the prowl. Either way we went, there was a chance we could discover those glowing yellow eyes.
Alas, the sounds of the forest echoed with all sorts of taunts and teases, but no sign of the tiger. We approached our cottage home and decided to sit on the roof to look up at the night sky and enjoy the brilliant stars once again. From that veranda, there are miles of trees before us and a billion stars and galaxies above… As we sat, enjoying the pure serenity of the moment, not 500 meters before us, we heard the low growls of the tiger…