As we neared a bumpy, dusty stretch of undulating road, somewhere near the middle of our journey, the driver suddenly stopped the car. The heat at this point was unbearable and the only relief was when the car was moving, with the wind blowing wildly over our faces and hair, making us look like we were having a bad hair day. But because of the breeze, we were able to bear this whole exercise of animal spotting. So why stop the car now. It made no sense.
On being asked, all we got in return were hushed tones and strange murmurings that I could not make out head or tail of, until the husband, definitely the more patient among the two of us, let me know in sign language that the driver and our know-all forest guide were looking out for a tiger, just across the area where we were waiting. It was probably camouflaged in the long grass that was brown and faded in colour.
And like me, if you want to laugh out loud at the whole melodrama, let me tell you, it would have been worth every bit of the money spent on this whole travesty of tiger spotting in the deep wilds. Instead, we were told that crouching low and keeping absolute silence was mandatory to seeing the ferocious animal glide out from the bushes in our presence. Were we lucky enough? Read on!
Being a safari virgin has its perils as I was unsure about how long I could keep silent, though I did try to toe the line. But when you have kids on board an open-air Gypsy car, it’s definitely a hard job. Somebody wanted to stand up, somebody wanted to sit down and somebody wanted to get out of the car! And yet somebody else demanded that the tiger come out of the bushes, immediately as we had been waiting too long.
In front of us, there were two more cars also waiting in silence as the jungle guide informed us that he absolutely, positively knew that a tiger was nearby. Otherwise, why would the deer run helter-skelter and the birds make noises like they were being threatened? We nodded that we didn’t know. Of course, we didn’t! It was his job to know, he triumphantly told us.
So in silence, we stood, waiting with bated breath for that tiger for whom all of us, touristy types had made this trip. As for the children who had been coached, not to scream when they saw the real tiger; they were actually looking forward to screaming their guts out.
But despite the presence of ‘fresh’ pug marks and I wonder how those remained intact despite so many cars driving on the dusty roads…alas…no tiger came. Then with a flourish, and a practised glum look, our guide and the driver sadly informed us that they better start the car and go because we the unlucky people had actually, missed the tiger, by a whisker.
Probably, he offered, the tiger was still crouching there looking at us but we were not to be honoured by the presence of the big cat as he was smarter than us. Besides, he countered we had indeed made a lot of noise. So we didn’t deserve this miracle. But hadn’t we seen the deer, elephants, baboons, wild fowls, peacocks and peahens and even rare birds and insects? We could be happy with that.
As we drove back into civilisation, after the detour into the jungle, we were a little sad but we were definitely wiser after the experience. And our driver, a safari veteran regaled us with ghastly tales of a tiger appearing when a car had broken down and everybody was terrified; till the beast made a meal out of them. So, he smilingly told us that maybe we weren’t that unlucky at having missed it.
Now, perhaps we wanted to take a few photos with a dummy tiger near the hotel..? We politely declined and decided to call it a day after the dust and grime and thirst made us crash out the moment we landed back in the safety of the hotel.
That night, post-dinner with some fellow travellers, we heard the real tiger tale. Apparently, nobody had seen a tiger on a safari in the forest area where we had been. But if they claimed that they had, it was just a bit of fantasy and wishful thinking. The mysterious tigers had never appeared in this area, to date, they informed us.
So much for tiger spotting,eh?