Preying for Rain

Tripoto
Photo of Jim Corbett National Park, Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, India by Syed Ali Husain

"Kuch mila?" That was the only greeting on the tongues of the drivers and photographers in Corbett Tiger Reserve, and also mine. The forest Gypsys were running from Paar to Mota Sal and back- all unsuccessful in tracing the tiger that we all knew was just around the bush somewhere, so close we could almost smell it. Or perhaps that was just our optimism...

Two days ago when I had entered the Dhikala area, I could see how unpleasant the flora had become- dried up leaves on once magnificent Sal trees, burnt bushes and beautiful flowers which had now turned black. I could easily make out that the forest was unhappy- it seemed to be begging for something. A great blaze in Uttarakhand had damaged the vast grasslands and the forest fire had left deep scars on the Sal woods of Corbett.

But suddenly, before I could even start to debate in my mind what the forest needed most urgently, the intense heat of the sun mellowed and the beautiful deep blue of the sky turned tar-black, all in a matter of minutes! Rain clouds rushed towards us like an angry mob, and we knew we were in for it. The Water God had heard the silent prayers of the parched land, and the dry earth of Dhikala was now to get its due. I understood that the plants had been longing for rain, and when it started, the first shower of the season, it rained the whole day. The land seemed to celebrate, but the faces on every Gypsy were overcast, as chances for a tiger sighting were reduced to nill.

Storm clouds gather

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

Visibility became low.... I was sitting on the floor of my Gypsy, waiting and hoping for the tiger to emerge. The roof and the windscreen of the Gypsy danced with spray and I could hear the murmuring of the rain, in fact I could smell the rain, and see the droplets flowing down the bark of the saal trees. Leaves whistled and the flowers danced, and the water droplets played a soft harmony on the sharp blades of grass. Seeing the Gypsys rushing to the Dhikala forest rest house (FRH), my driver, Kaleem bhai, decided to check the grasslands before returning back to the FRH. The situation was getting worse as I had no raincoats for my cameras or myself... My camera was lying next to me and I could see sadness on its face as the poor fellow hadn't seen a tiger for many days. Our eyes were locked on the deer herds; still no alarm calls, no pug marks, no signs of the beast called tiger....

As I climbed the hood of my gypsy, somewhat in desperation, I saw some black stripes making their way through the grass.... the Grassland Queen had finally showed up! I immediately climbed down the gypsy and grabbed my camera. The gusts of wind blew with a ferocity that made it impossible for me to point the camera at the tigress...and soon, she disappeared! I was happy that I had sighted that the tiger... but disappointed as I couldn't photograph her.

Tracing her movement was very tough... Kaleem bhai, decided to stay near the deer herd as he believed that the tigress was in a mood to make a kill. As soon as I heard him say this, I got goosebumps as photographing a killing machine was a desire I hadn't had a chance to fulfill in many years. As the engine coughed to life, I sat down and tried to calm myself. We decided to rush to a spot near Sher Bhoji where the tigress was expected, but to our horror, a huge elephant herd was there to block our way... we looked at each other, and the next moment our eyes were on the clock! Any second, the tigress would slip past Sher Bhoji and we would miss her entirely. I was tapping my camera body, out of patience.... and finally the herd crossed the road... We took a breath of relief....

Stop: Elephant Crossing

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

Kaleem bhai parked the gypsy under an old tree, not very dense. Droplets of moisture began to drip from the leaves; they were sprinkling onto the grass. They were everywhere! Sher Boji, this place was called, and as we waited for the tigress to emerge, I wondered aloud why was the place called so.... Kaleem bhai insisted on the scene around us and it became clear that this had been a feasting ground for tigers for many generations.

Squinting hard, I tried to focus on the deer herd. I saw the deer beginning to run, there was an adrenaline rush again, and yes! I saw a striped tail, jumping here and there in the tall grass, scaring the deer away. The tigress was using the rainstorm to cover her deadly assault. The deer were also unable to smell the tigress, and taking advantage, she was trying to get closer to the herd and launch an unexpected attack!

Kaleem exclaimed "Ye ab phir try karegi, abhi energy baaki hei!". The tigress now headed towards the grasslands on our side. A head popped out of the grass, looking for her prey. The tigress looked different; her coat wasn't bright orange but a shade of brown instead. She was eager to make a kill, her visibly tight belly was enough to tell why she was making her repeated attempts on the deer. I noticed that my equipment was all wet.... still I kissed my camera, and asked him to help me and not fail under the moist conditions. I heard him whispering, "yes". I saw a dry tree log lying in the grassland, even before I could wish that the tigress came up, she had climbed the log. I smiled and took some burst shots. Just like cheetahs climb the jeeps in Africa to look for their prey, the tigress looked out for her prey too.

A head pops out of the grass

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

It’s a young tigress

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

She seeks a vantage point on a fallen log

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

In the cover of rain, she makes an approach towards a nearby deer herd

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

She is determined, and hungry

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

Target was locked on a hog deer, the gentle creature was quite unaware of the feline presence and, enjoying the rain, he climbed up the hill. Now the real action began- the tigress began chasing it at full throttle, she covered a huge distance in no time. Keeping the tigress in frame was getting difficult as she kept disappearing in the tall grasses. As both the tigress and the deer reached the slope we spotted them again. We saw the tigress pouncing on the deer, but she missed her prey!

The chase begins

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

A tiger at full speed is a sight to behold

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

Her attack is an explosion of furious energy…

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

… and some desperation

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

A few more meters…

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

I was about to review my picture when the tigress jumped on the deer herd again... Waiting for her to come out with a kill in her mouth, I cleaned my lens.... She came out! But she had not made a successful hunt, and trying to avoid me, she disappeared in the grassland. As the queen departed the clouds rumbled again...

There is serenity in rain

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

Now that I am wet, there’s no point trying not to be!

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

But there will not always be another chance. She knows that.

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

That is the law of the jungle

Photo of Preying for Rain by Syed Ali Husain

It doesn't take too many unsuccessful hunts to bring a tiger into a downward spiral that ends with starvation and death, but with my best wishes for the Grassland Queen, I left her in her own world. As I came back to the FRH, all were waiting for the last gypsy to come back. The cheerful smile on my face answered their unasked questions....and my camera passed from one hand to another.....

This blog was originally published on Ali Husain.

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