My love for wildlife viewing stemmed in the 1970s when as a school going kid I visited the Betla National Park in Palamu, one of the first Tiger Reserves established under Project Tiger, the tiger conservation programme launched in April 1973 by the Government of India. A sight still etched vividly in memory is of a seemingly infinite herd of chital (spotted deer) ethereally visible through the early morning sunlight as the silvery mist dissipated.
Down the years I visited other Tiger Reserves in India - Corbett, Ranthambhore, Sariska, Rajaji, Dudhwa, Periyar but never encountered the Royal Bengal Tiger. My impressions of the imperial beast were acquired only from William Blake's The Tyger, Maneaters of Kumaon, Life of Pi and Nat Geo Wild! Though almost every time the co-travelers from the accompanying jeep or atop the other elephant would have exciting stories to tell of hair-raising sightings during the same trip!
Earlier this year (March 2020) a similar story repeated during my two jeep safaris at Nagarhole National Park.
The first evening over dinner, amongst sightings of the big cats by others, the family staying in the cottage next to ours gleefully shared a video of a tigress with her cubs from their afternoon excursion.
The next morning our tracker cum driver kept rushing from one point to another hearing from his colleagues over his cellphone of a tiger chasing a leopard up a tree and another of a tiger by a waterhole.
I meanwhile during both my safaris made sure that I didn't miss out on the other fauna.
Our anticipated rendezvous with the big cat seemed to have come to an end as our jeep driver Amjad stopped by some hutments and vanished without a word, I assumed for a loo break which turned out to be rather longish. Seemingly refreshed and with a new zest he said - Let us make a final try in another area.
We came across a pack of dholes (wild dogs) and a Gaur ( Indian Bison) with her calf whose sighting Amjad extolled as rare and insisted we photograph them as if it was a lifetime opportunity. We complied!