It was as if a secret message had been sent out to all the guides. By 5p.m. half a dozen jeeps had congregated at the lip of a short cliff in India’s Bandhavgargh National park. We overlooked a dry riverbed with a sorry looking pool infested with flies. The din of their buzzing was occasionally interrupted by the murmur of sun-toasted leaves as a breeze filtered through. We had been waiting for an hour. The mercury hit 35 in the shade. Sweat started dripping off sweat. To add irritation to boredom- a cloud of flies was incessantly hovering within inches of me. Their persistence was commendable in spite of my furious lashings and whispered abuses.
The concept of this stakeout was such that the sultry temperature would entice a tiger into coming down for a drink and a wallow. I personally thought it was a bit far fetched. But soon enough, I was proved wrong.
A piercing screech resonated from somewhere. I nearly fell off my precarious perch on the jeep’s roll cage. It was a Sambar deer’s alarm call. The guides spoke in hushed tones and kept pointing in various directions. The anticipation was building up. Then another cry! By now, suspense had started gnawing away inside me.
Then, a rustle amongst the leaf litter drew my attention to the left. From the opposite hillside the sound descended towards us behind thick cover. And finally from behind a tree protruded a tiger. His eyes were ablaze with curiosity and defiance. After carefully scrutinising us he stepped out into the open. His coat was flawless and hung loose over his enormous torso like a cape. He was the dominant male in this area and he knew it. His ears were unscathed and he had an unmarked nose indicating no violent tussles and maturity without being too old.
Around me there was a cacophony of shutter clicks as photographers, including myself, were driven mad with excitement. He gingerly reversed into the pool ensuring his derrière was fully submerged. Between quenching his thirst, he kept a close eye on us. But even royalty can be plagued by annoyance; and the flies retaliated against having him intrude on their watering hole by eventually driving him away. All the wait, heat and flies made those 15 minutes worth it.