We were visiting the Jim Corbet national Park in 2002. Having read several books by Jim Corbet I was more than eager to encounter some man-eaters , or even deer eater tigers of the Kumaon. For those of you who are not aware – Kumaon region of Northern India is famous for its tigers and leopards and they were made even more famous by the legendary Jim Corbet when he decided to pen down his trysts with them in the jungle way back in the 1940s.
Coming back to 2002, we were visiting the national park from Nainital and were at the gates by the morning for our safari ride. We didn’t go for the safari at the deathly hours though which is around 3 AM I think!
The guide there had said you will get to see this and that and blah blah in the jungle. But we were most interested in the big cat! Throughout our day long safari we saw – wild boars, elephants, countless deer, one peacock, several birds, a supposedly big snake’s nest (it was only the opening of a burrow that we saw) and some other animals. But no big cat! Such a waste.
The guide kept showing random impressions on mud as pug marks – we were totally dejected. May be it was not in our luck.
We were on our way back to Nainital. Roads in the hill are tricky – if you don’t know the way you can either bump your car on the hill or go down the bottomless pit!! We were travelling in a Maruti Van – those were popular in those days. My dad was half asleep in the front seat beside the driver, mom was looking outside her window though the glass was slid closed – it was November and cold there. The only glass that was open in the car was by my side – because I was feeling dizzy with the hill drive and wanted fresh air. Music was on in the car stereo and drifting thoughts in my teenage mind that time.
Suddenly the brakes screeched and we were all jolted back into the action and heard the driver yelling – “Dekho dekho tiger dekho!” [look at the tiger]
In that half asleep state dad asked “Tiger, where?”
I had almost sprung up from the seat and lodged myself above the gear box to see ahead. There it was a huuuuge majestic tiger. The tail was probably as long as the body. He had climbed down the hill, was crossing the road to get down the sides. The driver had put the headlight on brightest and thus the tiger stopped on his way with so much light on its eyes. In those two seconds I remembered I should click a photo and was searching for the camera in my bag. But the tiger had other plans. He roared and took a step ahead. That roar is something I’ll never forget in life!
It was enough to scare the driver who had put the gear in reverse by that time. And then there was darkness. Darkness and silence apart from the sounds of insects. The driver had pressed so hard on the clutch in that moment of fear he forgot he had pulled his hand break earlier to marvel at the tiger! All lights were off, the car was not starting – there was a total silence for a moment.
My mom started screaming – Tina close that damn window!
Dad – There can be more tigers, I can its eyes glowing at us.
The driver was already saying his Hanuman Chalisa.
It was a risky and scary situation. It was already dark outside with a broken car and an almost angry male tiger ahead (yeah it was male because I had spotted his THING) and god knows if he had few more friends following him. If another car came from behind it could hit us and we all could be down the slope with the tiger and his friends and be their dinner.
We could see the glowing eyes turning and going down the slope. We also felt that musty smell was gone too. That’s when I realized that tigers smelt horrible!
My dad asked the driver to go and check what was wrong in the car but he was too scared to do that. Thankfully it was a van and he went at the rear of the car through our seats! Finally we figured out some wire had gotten loose which had cut all power supplies. He had managed to fix that within the car.
The driver later said this was the first time in his career of 17 years as a taxi driver in that road that he had seen a tiger. He said – “aap to bohot lucky ho, aisehi tiger dekhneko nahi milta” [you people are lucky, you don’t get to spot a tiger just like that].
Yes we were lucky to see a wild tiger and in the most unexpected way. Guess, the tiger wanted to surprise us! This is an experience three of us will not forget.
I don’t have any photograph of that tiger, but frankly somethings are so deeply etched in your mind that you don’t even require a photo!
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