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The next morning, as discussed the previous evening (it is a bit of a stretch to call 9.30 p.m. night), the alarm goes off at 5.30 a.m. I groan and turn over, willing it to stop and for everyone to miraculously forget about this morning’s safari. I haven’t slept well at all, what with the tiger’s incessant growling and the elephants’ voluble and unceasing rampage throughout the night.

But no one forgets. Prompt as the evening news, Arif knocks on the door on the dot of 5.45. “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I say grouchily, jumping out of bed and pulling on my jeans. “Don’t forget to put on something warm,” he says. Was he serious? It is just the end of October in North India, and even after accounting for the extreme exteriority of the jungle, just cold can it be? I disregard his suggestion and fling open the TRH door. And almost die as a blast of cold, I mean COLD, air hits me. With a yelp I scuttle back inside and grab my jacket. “I told you,” Arif says reproachfully.

As I am about to get into the Gypsy, Rampal, the caretaker, cheerily calls out from the kitchen. “Here, have a cup of tea. It’s ready.”

But Arif doesn’t even let me have my tea. “We can always have tea later,” he says amiably. “I’ve just heard a ‘call.’” I look at him mutinously and silently avow to kill him the next time he mentions the word ‘call.’ But I comply, contenting myself with a longing look at the steaming cup.

It turns out to be a good decision. Following a female’s pug marks (they are more elongated than a male’s which are completely round), Arif drives on to a spot called Waterhole number 3. He turns off the ignition and we settle down to wait. There’s dense jungle on one side of the narrow trail and a vast field full of tall elephant grass on the other.

There’s complete silence. A breeze whips up and gently whooshes through the vegetation on either side. Normally this would not even be heard, but in the early morning calm, this sounds loud and ominous. We snap our necks fearfully every time we hear a rustle. Arif pretends to be one Rambo but I can see him look over his shoulder warily every now and then.

And then after about half an hour, our patience is rewarded. I see the deer suddenly up and tense and I spring to attention. I peer hard, scanning the grass field. I can feel it in my bones. I know I’m going to see her. And I do.

I see the tigress get from the waterhole and walk languidly across the field, back into the jungle. I see her for a whole twenty seconds. She spots us as well and stares at us disinterestedly as she walks. It is an awesome sight, a holy moment. I have a camera in my hands but my fingers are suddenly nerveless. By the time I spring into action, she is almost out of sight. I snap a picture but it is an ordinary camera with an ordinary zoom. All I get is a blur.

When we come back to the TRH, Rampal, takes one look at me and says, “You’ve seen one. I can tell. People who spot a tiger have a special swagger when they come back.” No kidding. Arif is grinning too but for a different reason. He knows that a hefty tip is in the offing. People who spot a tiger are generous with tips.

The rest of the day goes by, doing nothing at all. Venturing beyond the electric fencing is not permitted except on Gypsies and there are only so many bone rattling drives you can take, especially when you know chances of sighting are remote (tigers are notoriously lazy, preferring to relax in the shade during the hottest part of the day).

In the evening, we venture out again. We meet Abba, another sardarji tourist guide, and he informs us of the location of a tiger, tigress pair. Arif drives us there and we again settle down to wait. Our patience is once again rewarded. After about forty-five minutes, suddenly, I see a tiger spring up and lunge at a deer. All this happens in a jiffy and it is all over before I can shut my jaw which has hung open.

Omigod! I can’t believe it. It’s like a totally National Geographic moment. Arif and I both look at each other in disbelief. Did it really happen? Was that really a tiger? We couldn’t be sure, but who else would spring at a deer like that?

I come back from Corbett, awed and convinced more than ever before that these magnificent creatures must be protected at all costs. I also vow to come back with a better camera, one with a zoom like a canon (the piece of heavy artillery, not necessarily the brand), like the one professional photographers have.

My love affair with Corbett has just begun. I’m already planning to go back in March-April which is the best time for spotting tigers.

 

 

 

 

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I’m back after a fantastic holiday at Corbett and Ramgarh in Uttarakhand. Thank you all for continuing to read my blog and leaving comments. I promise I’ll get back as ASAP. For now, here’s a little bit about my holiday.

It is the 19th and our bookings at the Corbett Tiger Reserve are for two nights starting today.  We are staying at the Forest Rest House (or is it KMVN?) in the Jhirna zone. We dare not be late for they will give our bookings away to someone else. Which by the way suits my sister perfectly well because the Jhirna Forest Rest House (FRH) is supposed to be pretty basic. No electricity save for three hours every evening, no hot water, no fancy food. In fact, whatever you need besides what they provide at the FRH you have to carry with you. Once you are inside you are pretty much stuck for the duration of your stay.

The Corbett Tiger Reserve is divided into four tourist zones – Dhikala, Jhirna, Bijrani and I forget the name of the fourth. Of these Jhirna is the most recent and therefore most rudimentary. Of course there are other private (and luxury resorts) around Corbett but they are all outside the forest and kinda defeat the purpose of being in Corbett.

Coming back to our trip, we all get up at 4.30 in the morning. Our plan is to leave by 5.30. It is a 7 hour journey from Delhi in spite of being just around 240 kms away.

We have a small child with us, my niece, but still we manage to leave kinda on time. No thanks to my sister who wants to pack important stuff like shampoo and conditioner at the last minute. I see through her plan and whisk everybody out by 5.35 a.m.

So far so good.  And then we realize that we forgot to tank up last night and no fuel pump on the way is open. So we take a long detour just to save the odd rupee per litre (fuel is more expensive in UP than in Delhi) and end up running behind schedule.

Still we manage to beat the traffic and stop just short of Moradabad for breakfast. We spot a lovely roadside dhaba and order aloo paranthas with butter for breakfast. Hardly do the paranthas arrive when one trucker, having juts partaken of breakfast pulls out his truck from dhaba onto the main road. For some reason he takes a wider turn than necessary and another truck coming along the road bangs into him. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps the driver of the speeding truck thought there was enough space for him to squeeze past the turning truck and the divider.

It is a loud bang and my heart stops. The cab of the speeding truck is completely smashed in and all I can hear is piteous hoarse howling. When the scene clears somewhat I see that the trucker’s handyman, a mere boy of about fifteen, is wedged inside the squashed cab. I wonder what to do. For a moment I don’t react. I’m paralysed.

A tractor passing by stops and quickly attaches a tug rope onto the smashes cab and pulls out the shattered metal sheet. The boy is pulled out. He has deep gashes on his legs and his bones can be seen but nothing seems broken.

A hefty man scoops up the slight boy in his arms and sets him by the roadside. The boy is more frightened than hurt and I can see his eyes are welling out but he is trying to be brave.

By now my muscles start responding to my reflexes and I jump up and run towards the small crowd. I have to help the boy. It is one of those moments in life when you know you just have to. Not because I’m noble or anything. I just hope that if something like that should ever happen to me, someone would help me too.

Except my arrival creates quite a stir and everyone abandons the poor boy and focuses on me instead. They stare and snigger at my suggestions of taking the boy to the nearest hospital. To add to my discomfort the injured boy is also shooting me black looks. I consider lighting up and making their day. Perhaps once the novelty of the jean clad, cigarette smoking city girl has worn off they’ll concentrate on the boy.

He needs to be taken to the hospital which is about four kilometers away. Somebody from the nearby hamlet comes on his motorbike and boy is whisked away to a hospital in Joya. While the two drivers try and sort out stuff. Soon policemen arrive on the scene like vultures. They figure there are pickings to be had. People say that Indians are resourceful and enterprising. I guess we’ve got to be in the face of official apathy.

Presently we arrive at a fork just outside Moradabad and stop to ask two young men by the roadside which road leads to Kashipur. They obligingly point to one road but they don’t look too sure. So I ask them where the other road leads. They don’t respond. So I ask again. In response they look at us in exasperation and one of them says, “Ye jaanke kya karoge? Aapko toh Kashipur jaana hai.” Why do you want to know? You want to go to Kashipur.

After some persuasion the boys relent and inform us that the road leads into a colony. “Oh, we don’t want to go onto that one,” I blurt before I can stop myself. And hurriedly put the car into gear before they can respond with a suitably cutting retort.

We continue the journey along bumpy UP roads and Mayawati’s face beaming down at us from large hoardings keeps us company throughout. Which makes me think Behenji hasn’t had much occasion to travel on these roads.

Anyway, the rest of our journey goes by without incident and we arrive at Ramnagar at the Forest Director’s office at 12.30.

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