Three days of trekking inside the forests of Bandipur in the Moolehole range, as part of the tiger estimate was a great experience. During the first two days of our stay and trekking inside the forest we saw n number of scats , pug marks etc.We would hold our breath and wait behind the bushes whenever we heard any alarm call by the langurs and the barking deers.But nothing can match the excitement of sighting a tiger when you are on foot !
On our last day of the count on 27th Jan 2010, the day began as usual. The early morning honking by the trucks and cars waiting for the forest gates to be opened, woke both me and Geeta Prasanna up by around 5.30 am. After our morning chores, bed tea and biscuits we set out for the herbivore estimate on the Hebbala trail.It was a two kms trail, around 9 kms away from the IB, where we were put up.This estimate was being repated for the second time.We began around 6.45 am and finished our task by around 8.00 am. We saw bisons ,elephants and spotted deers during the count.
It was a long wait for our hero/heroine to emerge...except for the consistent calls of the White-bellied drongos and Mynhas nothing much was happening. I was feeling hungry and so was Geeta. We decided to open our tuck box and munched biscuits and chocolates...Suddenly there was a strong smell of urine in the air..we both looked at each other....but there was no sign of anything... We heard a langur call in the distance...Little later I had a fleeting glimpse of a raptor and was feeling bad that I could not bring my Kodak Z980 as its battery was totally discharged ( There was no electricity in the IB). My aim n shoot basic Casio was there with me. Just to kill time I took it out and was looking through its viewfinder..I saw some movement on the other side of the bund .The dry habitat and the constant stare into the grassland had strained our eyes...I whispered "Spotted Deer".
Geeta looked through her binocular and whispered aloud- "Hey ,its tiger"...I was numb...My god !...And yes..it was a tiger...I saw it coming out of the bush into the open..it looked down into the water and jumped in....Oops!!!!....I could not see him now... he was in straight line from where I was sitting .However, I was on a lower ground, hence was unable to see him...At that moment we both realized that Bommanna was looking somewhere else...I tried to wave at him to see the tiger...Geeta whispered to him" huli huli..." ..He too got excited...Meanwhile ,on the right side of the bund ,he saw another animal straying in.. ..whereas I could see the tiger getting up and looking sideways... both Geeta and Bommanna could see the other animal stepping towards the bund area...Bommanna whispered .."Henn Huli( female tiger)...take the photo"...Geeta looked through her bino and said .."No its a leopard"...Wow! That's a double bonus!!.....I slowly stood up...and saw that the tiger was on alert!!..His tail was upright and he was looking at the direction of the leopard..
That leopard was a smart one..on realizing that the tiger was already there he/she ran away from the spot. Hence, I missed taking any clicks of the leopard.The tiger, meanwhile to make sure that no one was around in his territory, slowly started moving towards the direction where he saw leopard straying in..
He stood there for a while scanning the area around him
then paced around for a while...
He was making sure the territory belonged to him!
When he was sure that no one was around he again came towards the bund....sipped a bit of water ....
Suddenly he turned around and started coming towards our end of the bund..Oh god!...I was scared to death..what if he sees us? Edge of the bund was just about 20 mtrs away from where we were standing!! ...I slowly bent down and took my backpack which was lying on the ground in case we were to run (?)! and lost many precious moments of taking some good shots..Geeta tried to reassure that nothing will happen.. my constant thought during those few seconds was that ,what if he sees us?...and what will happen then.?
The tiger was slowly stepping towards our end of the bund....came till the edge of the bund...He stood still ....And then he saw me taking the pictures through the tree branch!!..He stood there and stared at me.....I was frozen...... I didn't move but realized later that I could have taken few more pictures had I kept on pressing the shutter button...I was actually shit scared at that moment..he looked back towards the grassland and again turned his head to look at me ...now I remembered to press the shutter!!...and suddenly his tail went upright but he jumped away from us into the grassland...
And with big binaca smile on our faces, on our return to the base, we three were the stars of the day!!!