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Sighting a tiger

Having received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and with the country gradually heading towards normalcy, I decided it was time to explore the wild after months of staying at home. So after packing my bags, dusting my photography equipment, and dry-cleaning my travel clothes, I finally reached the hallowed grounds of Ranthambore, almost two years after I first planned a visit to this land of tigers. I had high hopes of catching sight of at least one tiger, though the constant bragging by all my friends who had visited Ranthambore and sighted tigers mounted a lot of pressure on me on thinking, what if I didn’t? Adding to my woes were two unsuccessful trips to the Corbett National Park and one to the Sundarbans.

If the third time didn’t turn out to be a charm for me, the fourth definitely did! On the very first day that I boarded a safari for the tiger reserve, I caught my first sight of a tiger! No sooner had we entered the national park, than my driver raised a finger, asking us to be quiet. Listening to the cacophony of the langurs perched on the trees, he suddenly revved up the car’s engine, shouting quick instructions. “Everyone stay calm! I’ll be driving very fast because there is news of a tiger around here. Please don’t make unnecessary movements and sounds. And lastly, pray that we see a tiger today!” With that, our Maruti Gypsy sped off across the winding topography of Ranthambore that up till then had appeared to be a tranquil grassland. I heard my stomach growling, and I thought of my pitiable “breakfast” of digestive biscuits at 4.30 a.m.

I had barely composed myself when we crossed a clearing and out of nowhere, a slow, cautiously moving figure dressed in a light-orange fur could be seen walking almost parallel to my vehicle. I had finally sighted my first Royal Bengal tiger. It was hard to believe that this was one of our planet’s mightiest predators feared by all. But most important, this was our national animal in front of me in all its glory!

“That’s Riddhi,” the driver announced. I had read about Riddhi, one of Ranthambore’s most famous tigresses, and seen some videos of her fighting with her sister Siddhi for territory. Even as I tried not to think of the more comical Hobbes from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, I could not help but gawk at the rich, beautiful coat that Riddhi sported, though it was certainly not as bright as fashion houses would has us believe. As word spread of Riddhi’s “spotting”, it seemed that every vehicle in Ranthambore had joined in, with tourists fighting in their vehicles to get some space to take selfies with Siddhi on the background.

Realising that I had a clear shot, I took several photographs of Riddhi, first with my DSLR and later with my phone — the things that Instagram sometimes makes us do. As I put my camera away, it seemed as if Riddhi looked in my direction for a fleeting second before looking away. I was perhaps just another tourist for her, my driver later suggested when I asked why the tigers in Ranthambore do not react when they see such noisy crowds. “They were born with these sounds and the smell of fuel, and they grew up with them. We are as natural for them as a flower pot might be for us.”

My driver might not have realised the weight of his words, but several weeks after returning from Ranthambore, I still ponder over them. Jungle safaris are immensely exciting and a great way of learning about the forest. But is it not our responsibility to do so sustainably, with care for the very creatures we undertake long journeys to see? We might never know.

rishabhkochhar92@gmail.com


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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 9:55:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/sighting-a-tiger/article37020873.ece

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