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The word spreads through the camp like wildfire. Visitors, drivers and guides alike drop everything as everybody rushes to their vehicles to get to the site of the latest tiger sighting just received by our group. A tiger has been spotted not half an hour ago at one of the major river crossings in the park, and as we near our destination my heart races. Will we be on time? Will I get to see this beautiful big cat? Alas – when we reach the spot only a few tracks left in the muddy bank are all we have to prove that a tiger has passed by at all. The elusive tiger has disappeared back into the camouflage of the jungle.
We are in the tiny hamlet of Tala, deep inside Bandavgarh National Park in Northern India, and with the first rays of the morning sun penetrating the forest floor and the swirling mist rising around us, we are on the road again. Suddenly the signs we were hoping for: fresh pugmarks on the track. ‘It’s a big female’, our guide informs us. Tigers use these soft sand tracks as an easy way of patrolling their territories. I’m starting to feel the excitement brewing again, but will my luck hold? Is this going to be the time I spot my first tiger in the wild?
I can barely sit still in my seat with excitement and the bumping up and down of the jeep along the rugged road is not helping! And then as abruptly as they appeared, the tracks stop. Instantaneously my spirits sink, disappointed that our quarry escaped us. I feel like I’m chasing ghosts – there are plenty of signs that they are there but actually spotting one seems to be a lot harder.
Then just as we turn a curve and slow down to cross a small stream I look up straight into the cold grey eyes of a young male tiger watching us from the opposite bank. Finally! Being so close to this majestic animal is an experience that is hard to put into words. With its big foreboding eyes, beautiful pelt and shear size it’s no surprise this animal has been revered throughout the ages. And then just when I thought the moment couldn’t get any better, I catch a glimpse of a slight movement to my right and there in amongst the high grass is his brother, sitting quietly observing us.
As we drive back to our accommodation all the frustration of the past two days melts away and the time we spend observing these majestic animals suddenly makes it all so worthwhile. That night I drift to sleep deeply contented by the majestic experiences of the day and lulled by the comforting sounds of the jungle.