The Man Behind The Tiger

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At the Jim Corbett National park in Uttarakhand, there are all the other animals and then there is the Tiger. The allure of the big cat is such that every visitor wants a glimpse of it. In fact, the very success or failure of their trip depends on a single tiger sighting, no matter how fleeting. Therefore the guides, who accompany the tourists on the jungle safari, become a critical part of the Corbett experience. Their reputation is built on their ability to predict the movement of the predator.

Manoj Kumar, the Chief Naturalist at Namah resort, has spent more than 30 years in the wild observing the flight of birds, movements of animals and growth of vegetation. He is even credited with the discovery of two bird species (in the Indian sub continent). However, despite the decades of exploration and mastery of the jungle, he wakes up every morning not knowing if he will be able to meet the expectation of the guests, who come all the way to the Jim Corbett National Park with the singular mission to see the big cat: Tiger.

India’s first national park is particularly charming in the winter settings between October to February. We at Tripoto took a long safari to learn more about the jungle that Manoj calls home. In this chat (conducted after the exhausting four hour safari)  he talks about his encounters with wild animals, pressure of tiger sighting, passion for wildlife and the secret to ensuring customer happiness.

“Everybody wants to see a tiger and as a matter of fact everybody cannot see a tiger.”

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Tiger is a charismatic  specie. The obsession has always been with people. In old times you would go with a gun and return with a trophy. Today you go with a camera and bring back a trophy in the form of a picture. It is the same hunting instinct which is governing you. There is no point in going and coming back with a spotted dear sighting because you have seen 200 of them on the drive. 

Mind you, they are lovely creatures. In no measures are they lesser creatures than tigers, but they are in abundance. People want to go through the thrill of “I have seen the tiger”.

It takes a lot of time and experience to grasp the location a tiger: Which area, what jungle timings, bird calls, animal calls and what is indicating the presence of big cats. These are all important factors in the search of a tiger.

Apart from that, there is a very important ingredient in tiger sighting, the tiger itself. If the tiger decides to stay behind the curtain it will never be seen. Then it doesn’t matter where you go, with whom you go and how much effort you put in. We cannot take the jeep off the track and into the jungle. The tiger has to come to us.

                 ”Tiger is only one of the aspects that the jungle has to offer”

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As a naturalist, there is a lot of pressure to spot the tiger. Everybody wants to see a tiger and as a matter of fact everybody cannot see a tiger because they are shy by nature. I try to put this fact into the guests mind. I tell them that if you simply go and look for tiger and it doesn’t happen you have not only missed out on the tiger but everything that the jungle has to offer. I tell them to enjoy the forest. 

If you go slowly and if you are watching things and if you are stopping to look at trees, shrubs flowers, butterflies, you are bound to listen more than if you are simply driving up and down the road. If you are more open to listen to what the forest has to offer, you get a direction of the tiger. Then take that direction.

“Yaar sher kithay hain (Friend, where is the tiger)?”

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There is no end to expectations. In the good old days we used to have 143 tigers in the park. I accompanied some guests who were extremely lucky to see two tigers within half an hour of entering the forest. After some time they said ,”okay let’s move on. There are another 141 more tigers to see in the next few hours.”

A small percentage, they are absolutely obsessed. They only want to see tiger and nothing else. All that is part of the job. We can all be in the right area looking at the right kind of signals to find a tiger and return unsuccessful, at times it is frustrating. Occupational hazard!!!

“If you don’t interpret the jungle then nobody is interested in what you have to say”

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I try to show as much of the forest as I can. And it is not only showing something, as a naturalist I have to weave a story. When you listen to something interesting you get engrossed. The whole art is to get the people engrossed. Weave a little story.  Tell them some history, an unusual fact and that does the trick. For instance the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is the fastest living creature on our planet reaching speeds of at least 124 mph. It swoops down from great heights and catches its prey in midair. 

If you are not passionate you will sit in the front seat of the jeep and sleep half the time. You are doing safaris because you have nothing else to do. If you are passionate, you want to make full use of every opportunity to go to the jungle to make an interpretation of what you have seen. 

The local guides finish the safari in 90 minutes. The guide is happy he goes back and does something else. But the guest is going to say, “Oh! We saw no tigers or wildlife. Corbett had nothing to offer. My concern is about the visitors. We should spent all the time allowed by the forest department or the amount of time guests want to spend in the jungle.”

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To find out more about the jungle safari offered at Namah call +91-11– 23242446, +91-11-23242422 

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How did the jungle safari work out for you? Were you enthralled by the big cat or did the exotic birds pique your interest at India’s oldest national park. Share your story with the Tripoto travel community. 

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