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Me and Tigers

Author: Warada Bhide
 In my mind, these lines are synonymous with even just the thought of tigers.

Machli the legendary tigress from Ranthambore

Legendary Tigress Machli

The obsession with tigers so to speak, not to photograph or document, but just to watch, feel and experience their might, stems from a video that was shown to me maybe 16-18 years ago at boarding school. Strangely the name Machli got stuck in my head. (It was a documentary on T-16’s mother Machli). It seemed odd then to know wild tigers with names and even worse than a huge giant of a tigress was called “FISH”.

Years later some friends organized a trip to Corbett, and I went along, that is when I had my very 1st tiger sighting. She was sitting on a dry river bed, basking in the sun on a cold winter morning. I remember staring at her in awe for eternity till she got up, stretched and walked away from us. That is when I knew I had to have more. A lot more of these magnificent creatures.
Last year in January by default my family planned a trip to Ranthambhore and despite a fracture, I just had to go, so I did, and that is when my love affair with Ranthambhore began. My 1st sighting in RTR was of T-39, and she gave us everything, from her catwalk to a snarl, markings etc. She was with us for about 25 mins and it just wasn’t enough. The next morning, we saw T-17(Sundari) and it still wasn’t enough.
But apart from these glorious tigers, I fell head over heels in love with the forest. The lakes, the varied terrains, the old palace ruins, the vast number of herbivores, birds, and even the foliage. In the winter morning fog, it is mystical, absolutely magical. I just had to come back.
I was back in April, and had some phenomenal sightings, topping the charts was my very 1st sighting of the infamous Machli. Following her resonating roar, as fast as the jeep could go, we reached her just in time to see her roar (and see that the canines were missing), she walked slowly towards us. Spray-marking a few trees, and continuing to walk right in between the only 2 jeeps there, and slowly, confidence personified she walked away into the thicket of the jungle. On this same safari, we had already seen T-6 with T-41 for about an hour, But the feeling of NOT ENOUGH just wasn’t going away. Turns out my family felt the same.
Between last year and this March, my sister n bro in law discovered Nature Wanderers. ‘NW’ organizes jungle trips primarily for wildlife photographers. Since my sister and bro in law are into photography ‘NW’ was their discovery, totally to my advantage, you’ll see. I felt a bit apprehensive and thought I might be out of place amid all these photographers, but it was an opportunity for me to see more tigers in more forests so I went along with them to Bandhavgarh. Another beautiful forest, bursting with cubs. With a strong lineage and even more prominent tigers, Bandhavgarh too has a story to tell.

But RTR was calling again, so in May this year with ‘NW’ and my sister and bro in law, I went for a 10 days long trip. With much excitement and geared for the May heat we hit Ranthambhore. Strangely we had a dry spell on the 1st two safaris only to be broken by T-39(Noor). We were with her for about an hour and a half, people going crazy to get the perfect shots and yet she just lounged before us. Since T-17’s disappearance earlier this year, her sister T-19 has been ruling the lakes and the hunting palace area. The obsession of photographers to capture a tiger crossing the ‘island’ caused us to park our jeep in position, next to the lake under the blistering May sun from 3.30 pm till about 5 pm, roasting us till well done. Despite the discomfort, this is worth a mention, purely for the passion of the photographers. Unfortunately, Unnis decided to not grace us with her presence.
The next evening, we saw Machli (now the toothless wonder), with her large sambhar kill, and it was heartwarming.

Noor & Sultan

The Duo: Noor & Sultan

After this wonderful Machli sighting, I for the life of me cannot remember the chronology of sightings, because there were just so many. We finally saw T-39 with her son Sultan one morning. Fact apart from that I think T-39 is the prettiest tigress I’ve seen. Sultan seems to take after his father T-24. T-24 is a huge robust tiger, with big claws and even bigger canines, big yellow eyes and a roar that almost causes tremors, the only tiger I saw and felt fear. The most amazing evening was also our last, where in a span of 200-300 mts we saw Noor-sultan and T-22 and T24. 3 generations for over 2 and a half hours. The dynamics between a cub and his mother and an adult and his mother were just so surreal. I’ll be lucky if I see something like this again.

After 3 wonderful RTR trips and after having seen almost all the tigers in the tourism zones, I still haven’t had enough. Hence my itinerary for next year is already planned, to continue my love affair with Ranthambhore.


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