A post lunch nap underneath a shady tree in a hot summer noon is nothing short of finding heaven on earth. I rested for almost an hour and then it was time to leave the comfort of the shady tree and venture out again into the unrelenting heat. Even as I write, my skin feels the noon heat burning into my skin, drying up and at the same time heating up the pores in my skin.
As we reached the gate of the sanctuary, Rajesh informed me that he has some other guests to attend to and his younger brother would be driving the Gypsy for my evening trip. As we left in Gypsy with our allotted guide, I saw that I was given the most undesired (for guides and drivers) “Route A”. I once again briefed them that my primary aim was to explore the wildlife as a whole and not only the Tiger. This has been my motto every time I venture into the wilderness, since in my view by being fixated on only the tiger we lose sight of significant moments with other beasts/birds.
A Jungle Babbler- My companion during rest hours
As we proceeded the Guide suggested a route which is not often taken by the other groups/teams this seemed to be a good idea since these undisturbed patches of forests usually would be frequented by more variety of birds and animals.
My theory was vindicated as we went further into the jungle. This was an infrequently used route and thegrass was ankle height even at the tyre trails left by the gypsy vehicles. We had to frequently take evasive action to avoid the vines and foliage which seemed to envelope the trail. As we had chosen an unconventional route the weather also started to behave a bit unconventionally. All of a sudden clouds covered the sun and the temperature dropped a few degrees. The omnipresent buzz of the cicadas echoing all around added to the eerie atmosphere.
A Female Nilgai
As we moved ahead a herd of female Nilgai crossed the trail and vanished in to bushes. As we reached a dense and distinctly greener patch of the forest, our first delight of the evening appeared,a herd of 3 Indian Gaurs well spread out, were silently chewing over the green leaves from the trees. Often mistaken for the Bison, the Indian Gaur is one of the largest animals of the cow family. It is regarded as possibly the most dangerous animal in the Indian jungle, and with good reason. Gaurs are normally safely viewed from the confines of a Safari vehicle. When in herds, there is at least one member of the herd keeping a close watch on the vehicle at any given point in time. However, when they feel threatened, especially if they sense a threat to their young, they can simply lower their strong heads charge at the vehicle without even the slightest hesitation. When this happens, there is little that one can do, for a few thousand kilograms ofmoving hard muscle, coming in contact with metal or bone is bound to cause serious damage. Unlike elephants, there are not too many warning signs or mock charges that can prepare us for the lethal attack. The few signs that indicate a serious confrontation are a strong snort, the foot scraping the ground, the stiffening of the tail, throwing up of dirt and the head shaking furiously up and down. Possibilities of a potential charge increases at the peak of summer as heat and insects add to the annoyance of the bovine.
Indian Gaur- Having a meal
Not trying our luck for too long and to avoid stressing the feeding Gaurs we moved ahead slowly and just a few meters in to drive we came across another mammal the Indian wild boar. Here was a classic specimen of a young Indian Wild Boar, with the signature large canines protruding out of its Jaws. The Indian Wild Boar is one of the most versatile, intelligent and abundant of all ungulates. This prolific breeder is the main source of food for majority of the predator population across this range. The Indian Wild Boar is omnivorous and feeds on roots, grubs, tubers and carrion. The wild Boar is also known to kill whenever possible. They are fierce and powerful animals and present a formidable challenge even to predators like the Tiger.
Indian Wild Boar
Being in a dense forest patch meant that we were not sure of the light conditions out in the open and hence to maximize our distance coverage in good light we decided to quickly move ahead with as least stops as possible. Our driver told me that we would need to reach a canal which runs through the meadows and this patch is frequented by many mammals in the evening. On the way I observed that there were no artificial water bodies in the entire trail and this entire route was much greener than the forest which I had explored in the morning.
Rolling ahead we entered a serpentine road and just at the bend of the road we saw a small mammal rapidly moving through the woods . Considering the size of this deer I assumed that it must be a barking deer I asked my driver to move slowly towards the next bend which presented the best opportunity to get in proximity with this Deer. The Jeep moved smoothly negotiating the next 2 bends and at just at the end of second bend we spotted our prized catch. This was a four horned Antelope, unique for being the only one of the antelope family with four horns. The four horned Antelope has a liking for hilly terrain and is usually solitary in nature. Being my first sighting of this Animal in the wild and considering the rarity of it I was highly elated. The Four Horned antelope swiftly disappeared in to the woods.
The variety of Nagzira is such that it has both Asia’s smallest Bovine (Four horned Antelop), as well as World's largest Bovin, the Indian Gaur.
A Four Horned Antelope
Moving ahead we reached a road which was going alongside a Nullah with long grass on both sides. This was the perfect set up a predatory waiting to prey on any animal thirsty for a sip of water.We carefully scanned the meadows but finding nothing untoward and with the shadows elongating at a rapid pace, we moved ahead.
We reached our next stop which was next to a small dam like structure with steep slopes shouldered by long trees on both sides. This played to my advantage as a crested serpent eagle perched on a tree right at my eye level. It had all the makings of a perfect shot, dark clouds in the back drop, a barren perch and a majestic raptor sitting on it. We crossed the dam wall and took a U turn and began our return journey. As we looked ahead the sun was bathing the mountainside in crimson which signaled to us that we do not have much light left for the day to end. It also signified that this is the time for the crepuscular apex predator to come out into the open.
A Crested Serpent Eagle
Thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across an increasingly darkening sky. It was 6:45 PM and the muscular dark of the night started exerting its will on the fleeting remains of the day. We were still about8 KMs away from the exit gate of Nagzira Wildlife sanctuary. My guide and driver both knew that it was going to be difficult to get out in time.
I kept my eyes wide open, alert for any movement in the bushes or on the path. As a drop of rain hit my cheek, I looked upwards to the dense clouds, which was snorting and fuming like a bull before the charge. I quickly shut my camera and packed it safely away. As we navigated the uneven Jungle roads with its undulating curves, all of a sudden my eyes lit up. There was a dark shadow sitting in the water body... “Thamb I whispered... Tiger...!” We came to a screeching stop and my guide and driver gasped where..? About twenty feet away the handsome hunk of Nagzira, “Viru", sat in shallow waters cooling off ...Time stood still.
A Stare with Killer eyes
" Viru" in Night- Dismissing us of our presence
" Viru" the Handsome Hunk of Nagzira
Observing the sheer size of Viru, we suddenly became aware of his proximity to us. In the exuberance of sighting a magnificent animal its innate ferocity and the potential life threatening danger that he posed to us was forgotten. Viru sloshed about in the pool dismissing our presence and continued to enjoy the relative comfort of the water.. In between sips of water he would fix us with a stare which clearly communicated his disdain for our presence in his playground. We could clearly hear Virus’s panting and this particular patch had a weird smell of popcorn in cauliflower flavor. For once I was blank as to how to respond to this situation. Viru was clearly aware of us though not seemingly threatened. Before we could decide our course of action, all of a sudden the Monarch of the jungle stood up from the water body, shook its back legs one by one and leisurely strolled towards the opposite side of the Jeep. My eyes followed Viru till he vanished in the gloom .I was in absolute rapture ,a feeling which was tinged both with regret of not having more time with this elusive beast relief that Viru was in a good mood today..
Monarch on the move
A night sighting of the tiger is a totally different one to the guided safari sightings which really never makes us aware of the thin line that probably stops an attack by the beast.. I have always believed that whenever wild animals and Humans are in close contact with each other, both are subject to a common danger of being attacked or killed. From the animals point of view we are intruders into their territory and inherently the nature of any being, be it animal or human, is to defend its home and family. Sadly the animals no longer can fight on equal terms, which all the more make it our responsibility to defend their homes.
A Final thought that came to my mind is “Route A or Route B”, holds no significance for animals, Routes are for our understanding and animals are the righteous owners of the forest and can roam around anywhere at any time.
With my mind full of memories, I bid adieu to this wild adobe called Nagzira; with a promise to keep coming back for more.