Encountering a Tiger

Pugmarks and tyre tracks

The tiger, India’s national animal, has awed humanity for generations. Regarded as the vehicle of God in Hindu lore, it’s an icon of the natural world. 

My first encounter with a tiger was tantalisingly close—serendipity at its very best.

Even as they lean precariously over the cliff of extinction, tigers symbolise all that’s beautiful in the natural world.

From my childhood, I had an intense fascination for wildlife and nature. I spent countless nights watching National Geographic shows in awe—a pride of lions bringing down a wildebeest in Kenya or a great white shark leaping out of the water to catch a seal.

Like most childhood fascinations, this passion faded with the years. As I indulged in other activities, this took a back seat. But like a dormant brood of cicadas, it remained in my mind, just waiting for the right moment to resurface.

In early 2017, my father had to travel to Bandipur Tiger Reserve to meet a friend. Attempting to rekindle my passion for wildlife, he asked if I’d accompany him, saying we’d go on a safari afterwards. I was delighted, seeing I could skip some days of school. 

It was January when the trees shed their leaves and prepared for the long, dry summer. The forest turns golden brown, and the wildlife congregates around waterholes. 

Bandipur in the summer. Photo by P N Shanavas

After the 5 hour drive from Bangalore, we pulled into the forest department’s quarters and waited for the safari vehicle. I looked around at the dense vegetation, wondering what lay in store for us. 

As we climbed into the jeep, the guides told us they had sighted a tiger on their earlier safari. But I didn’t give it much thought. For the tiger always shows up for them. It is us tourists, to whom they remain elusive.

Spotted Deer
Spotted Deer

We spent a few hours scouring the forest, seeing spotted deer and the odd elephant—nothing I hadn’t seen before. A tiny flame of excitement, reminiscent of the old passion growing in me, was extinguished.

Dejected, we turned back. The guide raved about the times he had encountered tigers, the marvellous sights he had come across. I had already zoned out; I was thinking about what school work I’d need to catch up on.

The first time he cried, “tiger”, I didn’t register it. Seeing my father leaping out of his seat, it dawned on me.  Looking over the bonnet, I saw a golden coated beast striding away from us.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, because the feline in front of me was too big for all the tigers I had imagined in my head. I felt a deluge of emotions I couldn’t fully comprehend.

We watched him with our hearts in our mouths. I still remember reaching for my phone to record it when my father said, “Look at it with your eyes”. I am so glad he said that.

The guide drove the jeep in front of the tiger, and what happened next changed me forever.

He was limping forward when he raised his head and looked me directly in my eyes. Time slowed as we stared at one another, his gaze penetrating to the back of my skull.

Then, in a blur of dappled gold, he turned and vanished into the undergrowth. I sat there transfixed, staring into the space where he once stood. It was a vision of wild India at its most inspiring.

When we headed back, celebrating the encounter we had, I knew deep down that what I had felt while staring at the tiger was unlike anything I had ever felt. At that moment, I knew I was inspired. 

Even as they lean precariously over the cliff of extinction, tigers symbolise all that’s beautiful in the natural world.

The video was shot in low light conditions, and thus is slightly unclear. Nevertheless, it shows the entire sighting.

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am an 18 year old, based out of Bangalore, India.

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