I had set the alarm for 5:15 AM. Before going to bed, I was warned not to roam around at dawn before they switch on the generators. The risk of boars/bears (the guides have a heavy accent) was simply too great. But what kept me inside the tent was the non-stop alarm calls from the Sambhar and Spotted deer herds which were running scared in the valley opposite to the Dining area (Golghar) and tent #4 during dinner. After being the lucky one to shine the beam directly into their eyes making them freeze in fear, it became clear that the Leopard spooking them was staying too close for comfort.
After numerous dreams of strange wild encounters, I woke up at 3:15 AM. Still, the sambhar deers were making occasional alarm calls. I tried rolling over and sleep for another hour or two but couldn’t. Finally around 4:30 AM, I decided that I better try my luck and wound up placing myself between the sad excuse for a wall (canvas sheet) and the fragile door. With the faithful EverReady torch light, I was scanning the horizon for tell tale signs of the presence of the Leopard – Dogs barking like hell and spooked deer. Around 4:45, the pressure in my bladder started increasing. Caught between changing my dress/emptying my bladders, I reminded myself that with patience and perseverance comes rewards. Decided that changing from my boxer shorts to proper shorts would be of the highest priority. I could hear the discussions between the mom-son duo whom I interacted with during the dinner and evening safari. Relieved of my boxers, I was startled by the pounding of hooves on the rock between my tent (#2) and the next (#3 – the mother & son duo’s). It was unbelievably loud – it was as if I was watching a Discovery/NGC program in an IMAX theatre. The dogs started barking like hell and in excitement, I forgot that I was changing my clothes and dashed to the front door where I had kept my torch. I picked it up and in an instant it flashed to me that my best chance of spotting the cat would be to direct the beam near the lanterns. I was rewarded instantly when an unexpected pair of spotted deer came rushing down between #2 & #1, barely 10 feet away from me. Seconds behind them was a dark silhoutte approximately 4-5 feet long and with eyes in a different shape and reflection chasing the deer faster than the wind. And there it was all over in a fleeting second or two. The deer jumped over the rocky cliff and took a detour to the Golghar. Everything froze – even my leaky bladder ! I realised what I had just witnessed. A failed Leopard chase. The mom-son duo too had witnessed it but since they were 20-30 feet away from the action and not directing the beam from their torches in the right direction, heard the sound but didn’t sight anything.
Not that they had to. Having spotted a male tiger, a day earlier in the evening safari, and a tigress with her 2 cubs in the morning safari before being given a majestic show by what probably would have been the same Leopard in broad day light at 12:30 PM barely 200 mts away from the tents near the Chamarajnagar Rd checkpost, they couldn’t ask for more!
The biggest disappointment of my wild life chasing life came 8-9 hrs before. Being lucky to be with the wild life photographers group, we were waiting on the banks of the Annikere pond, paying rapt attention to the roar of the tigress, waiting for her to break cover from 5:45 PM. The deers and the Langur were going berserk and it was just a matter of time. But it was not to be. The father got a call on his mobile (damn the telecom operators for putting a tower in BR Temple!). As if on cue, the child started reciting rhymes to the totally disinterested mother (towards wild life). Pretty much every one of us were irritated and our collective stares moved away from the pond towards her. Completely oblivious to the fact, she was encouraging her child to recite even more. Their jeep driver quickly realised that she could spoil the entire party and asked her husband and their friends to get inside and drove away. By now, the roar of the tiger had stopped. It was 6:15 and a slight drizzle started. But we were too close to back away. After what it seemed like an eternity (10mts in real world), the roar was audible once again. Within a couple of minutes, it was obvious that it was not for the good – it was getting weaker, indicative of the tigress moving AWAY from the pond. My disappointment was beyond belief. Words failed me.
I had the perfect build up till that moment. On my way to the JLR Camp, K. Gudi after taking the diversion 2 Kms before BR Temple, I encountered a grand total of 1 vehicle and that too in the opposite direction. About half-way in to the journey, I took a sharp corner and there it was – a majestic tusker grazing peacefully, oblivious to my presence.
I was both excited and worried at the same time. I was wedged between 2 rocks camouflaged by super sized ferns giving me absolutely 0% chances to either swerve or reverse if the tusker decided to charge. The only saving grace was that it was at the bottom of a valley and the road was in good condition despite being a single lane and not steep. Being the only person, it was a risky move to take a shot. But I went for it and decided not to be fussy about getting the best shot. I had remembered to turn off the flash and reduce the shutter noise before entering the sanctuary. With the photo done, I changed gears and inched a little forward to see how the tusker reacted. The moment I sensed he was not worried, revved up and fled the scene with an eye on the RVM to see if he was chasing. Sadly, he was not!
The trip had a great finish when during the morning safari, the photographers were concentrating on a thrush. Bored, I looked around and there it was – something fluffy and brown jumping around in a tree a few 100 metres away from us. I was confused. The Giant Hornbill was supposed to be a no show. Then what was it? It turned out to be a Giant Malabar Squirrel. It was in no big hurry and gave us enough time to click a few shots.
I feel that 3750/- per head is damn cheap if you are there for the wild life. The super sized mosquitoes, centipedes etc are irrelevant. The tiger remains elusive – but I get the feeling that it won’t be that way for too long!