On occasion of International Tiger Day (July 29), I share my only encounter with the world’s most beautiful (read ferocious) animal
The air was filled with a heavy scent of flowers and the smell of old wood, typical of a forest especially after a spell of heavy rain. The mist and filtered light added to the heavenly feeling that we were experiencing. Suddenly a flash of yellow streaked through the bushes that enveloped us. I strained my neck to get a glimpse of the unlikely episode unfolding in front of our gypsy. It was a tigress, walking nonchalantly along the thick woods of Ranthambore National Park, situated near Sawai Madhopur, about 360 km from Delhi.
The land of legends — Ranthambore — in every case is unusual among the Indian reserves, due to presence of large number of Bengal tigers. If anybody knows Ranthambore it’s because of its existence as the Tigers’ Paradise, which was once the private hunting ground for the kings of Jaipur. Tigers have always fascinated and inspired us. We have featured them in mythology, folklore, films, literature; we have used their pictures on flags or made them mascots for sporting teams. The tiger is also the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and South Korea! Bangladesh’s national symbol is also a tiger. It is no surprise then that there is a special day dedicated to this most loved cat species — the International Tiger Day – which falls on July 29.
Back to the jungle
That morning when I encountered a tigress live for the first time in my life is etched in my memory forever. I remember the sequence of incidents like it all happened yesterday. Although a lot of other animals like leopards, striped hyenas, sambar deer, chital, nilgai, langurs, macaques, jackals, jungle cats, caracals, sloth bears, black bucks etc can be sighted here, tigers remain the main attraction. According to the forest department, the national park is home to at least 60 tigers. I have travelled to a lot of national parks, but tiger sighting had always remained a distant dream. A glimmer of hope resurfaced every time we ventured into the forest, I’d never got lucky. But that day, it was time.
Although the sighting lasted for not more than 20 seconds, I was awestruck with the sheer size of the most beautiful animal I have ever seen. “There’s Machali,” shouted my guide Rakesh Prasad. “Keep quiet” were his next words. Machali or T-16, the royal tigress, is the pride of Ranthambore National Park. It is the most photographed tigress here and is also known as the “lady of the lake” since the tigress can mostly be found along the water territory of the jungle. At a distance of less than 10 feet, the tigress teased us with a hint of yellow and its loud grunts pierced the silence of the forest. It was a feast for the senses. My adrenaline rush was over and my eyes stuck out. The tigress disappeared soon, leaving behind a bunch of people with all eyes set on the jungle.
Driving back to my lodge for the last time, I couldn’t help but reflect that over the years, I had been chasing the striped cat — with little luck. But when it actually happened, it happened without any warning, just like life.
Words By: Abhishek Chakraborty