In India’s famous national parks and sanctuaries (e.g. Corbett, Ranthambore, Tadoba), wildlife lovers and tourists can easily catch sight of the most charismatic and emblematic animal, the Bengal Tiger – India’s national animal. But the truly wild ones are found in North-east India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh). With very limited interaction with humans, tigers in north-east India are actually elusive in true sense.
In my blog “Mesmerizing Manas – A True EDEN Of Natural Biodiversity” I have already shared my experience about the encounter with different exotic and rare species in Manas National Park. But somehow, deep in my soul I was searching for something special, unexpected; needless to say I wanted to try my luck to witness the amazing feline, the evergreen royal beauty, the endangered Bengal Tiger. As they say, sighting of big cats in Manas National Park, unlike other celeb national parks in India is altogether a different ball game. But my lady luck had something special for me under her sleeves.
It was the penultimate day evening safari of my 3 days short stay at Manas, I asked my guide Martin about the chance of getting big cats in Manas. I got a prompt reply – "very rare". In Manas National Park, there are only 30 Bengal tigers left. Keeping the numbers in mind and considering the vastness of the jungle, you cannot expect a possible encounter with the big cats easily while riding the winding and bumpy paths into the park. Also, as I mentioned earlier the tigers in Assam are really elusive and they generally avoid human encounter. However he also mentioned that we should stick to the main road which leads to Mothanguri FRH. According to his vast experience, if at all there could be a slight chance of sighting, the road would be the place. Hence we planned to move to and fro on that route through out the whole evening safari.
It was around 4.00PM. So far the safari went ‘dry’ from photographing perspective. I knew that we had only an hour left. I was about to take a tea-break at the ‘Moragati Watch Tower’. However Martin told me not to take the break there, instead he suggested to go to the Jongrong river bridge which was few minutes from the check-post; and we headed to the bridge. We found only one Gypsy car standing there.
Our driver Robin stopped the Maruti Gypsy on the middle of the bridge. Martin walked to the car standing in front of us to have a small chat with their guide. We got to know that there were some movements in the far grassland. The jungle was unexpectedly dead silent. I tried to scan the jungle with my long tele-lens but didn’t find any movement. With a bit of disappointment, I put my camera beside me and asked Robin to serve the evening tea. I was about to sip the tea and then it was
T.. H.. E M.. O.. M.. E.. N.. T.
Suddenly Martin ran towards me whispering “बाघ” (Tiger)…
The tea cup almost slipped out from my hand.
“Where” – was my reply while putting the tea-cup beside me and taking the camera.
“उधर देखो” (See there) – “grassland से बाहर आ रहा है” (Coming out of the grassland).
The sudden Adrenalin rush in my blood forced me to stand on my toe on the seat. And I saw the royal black strips on the golden yellow fur strolled out of the grassland.
First few second I stood flabbergasted but Martin’s voice pulled me back to my sense.
“Frame him, he will disappear in the grassland shortly!!!”
I went berserk clicking the photos. The sound of my camera’s shutter somehow broke the silence of the jungle (I was using Canon 7D, and with high burst mode it really sounds like a machine-gun firing continuously ???? :D). The king also seemed to be a bit distracted and stared at us with all his menacing elegance, just for few seconds and disappeared into the deep bhabar grassland.
Encountering a Royal Walk in the earth of Manas was “the experience” of my journey nutshell. Just imagine how surreal the moment was when all of a sudden, your guide and the forest guard started yelling: "Tiger!, Tiger!". Talks say Bengal Tigers are amongst the rarest version of animal that can be chanced upon from the entire “Manas animal fraternity” and my fortunate sight had been an evidence to its erratic glimpse.