A Wild Rendezvous

A Wild Rendezvous 

(Original date of events: Apr 30 - May 1st, 2017)



It was April 30th, 2017, a Sunday afternoon. Aashish (my brother) and I took off to our favorite holiday destination - Masinagudi. We had not booked an accommodation in advance as it was an unplanned getaway, and being an extended weekend - for May 1st is observed as Labour Day in India - our first priority was to find a stay upon reaching the town. After enquiring with a handful of resorts and lodges, we found one that had a room to spare and checked-in immediately. 

Relieved to have found a stay for the night, we freshened up a bit and ventured out on our safari drive. One can rent a guide and jeep from the town centre for the purpose, but as we are well-familiar with the safari routes and know how to spot wildlife, we usually go on the drive by ourselves. We saw lots of deer and peacock, and one sambar deer up close! Since there were no elephants and bison about, we decided to wait until after 7 PM and try again along the same road. Not surprisingly, we were rewarded with a sighting shortly after - what would otherwise seem to be a boulder behind a bush to the less familiar eye, was clear to us that we were looking at an elephant!

I should mention here that the forest is very dynamic and ever-changing. Just because you don't see any animals along a route during your onward drive doesn't necessarily mean you won't see anything on your way back. The same applies to the time of day as well. While in the summers there's not much movement during the day, the whole jungle is on the move just before sunset, a majority of animals approaching their frequented waterholes to quench their thirst. A few hours later when it's dark is also a good time for animal sightings, provided you are good at spotting. Sometimes your car headlights will show a deer or small animals crossing from one side to the other on the path ahead without any effort other than to drive noiselessly and at a slow pace, while elephants and bison are more cautious and require a trained eye to notice movement in the dark within bushes, and an equally keen ear to pick up on the sound of a bamboo or tree branch cracking from an elephant tugging at it to reach the fresh and tender leaves. 

As it approached 9 pm, we started back for the hotel as vehicular movement is now prohibited within the forest beyond that time. Here are some images from our drive that evening:  



peacock masinagudi april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(Peacock at dusk)

sambar deer masinagudi april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(a Sambar deer keeping a close watch as we approach)

elephant at night masinagudi april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(An interesting expression when the elephant realised its cover was blown)


(the excitement that followed when we sighted the elephant)

Full album posted here: Masinagudi April-May 2017

Back at the hotel we had our dinner, that was comprised of homely and simple food cooked by the staff. An assessment of the property and its location revealed it wasn't likely to be visited by wild animals during the night, and so after an hour of stargazing we called it a night, as it wouldn't be worthwhile to stay awake. 

The next morning we went on another short drive, this time seeing a variety of birds - Stork, eagle, egret, black drongo, and more peacock. Seeing a bear was the highlight of the drive, though I managed to only capture a glimpse of it rushing into the dry bushes. 

peacock masinagudi india april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria


bear masinagudi india april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(BEAR with me for the so-so pic!)

eagle masinagudi india april 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(this was shot at very long-range zoom hence the poor picture quality)

While we ate breakfast, the most important task at hand was to look for a nice place to stay for the day. Although most places now had vacancy due to checkouts on account of the extended weekend coming to an end, we wanted to find a new place that we hadn't stayed at in the past, and hopefully something inside the jungle than in the town. Aashish had an idea - he got his phone out, opened the map and looked for accommodation towards the end of each trail. We found one we liked, called and spoke with the manager and having satisfied ourselves decided to book it.

I'm not disclosing the name of the place for reasons that may seem selfish, but I have witnessed a great many resorts deteriorating in both hospitality and overall experience due to becoming popular - they start off as a simple jungle stay with a couple of rooms and mostly all-natural sprawling landscapes, jungle all around and wildlife at your doorstep. Over a period of time as they become popular and frequented by more tourists, they build more rooms to accommodate more guests and add modern facilities for want of getting good online reviews, but in the process losing the rustic feel to urbanization. Even the tourists who visit aren't always nature-lovers; they are loud and litter the place with plastics, tobacco and alcohol, harming the environment and driving away the wildlife. 

We drove till the point instructed by the manager, where he had a Maruti Gypsy waiting to pick us up. Leaving our car parked there, we proceeded in the Gypsy, and after a very adventurous 30-minute drive inside the forest we reached the homestay. Upon our arrival we were briefed about the house rules, made aware of our surroundings and shown to our rooms. Ours being a tree-top room, it was away from the main dining and reception area and opening out to the forest. As this was not a fenced property, wildlife roamed around freely and so we were advised not to venture out on foot post 6 pm, but call the reception for the car if we needed to move about. As we feasted on the lavish lunch served by the friendly and courteous staff, it started to pour, causing great concern to us as it cast doubts on any chances of spotting wildlife. 

anuj hissaria wildlife enthusiast
(The drive to our jungle stay)

Anyway, since we were going to be here for the next 24 hours, we decided to make the most of it and walked to the machaan (watch tower) overlooking a waterhole in the hope of observing animals coming by. We silently sat there, listening to the sounds of the birds, watching peacocks as they trotted about in the drizzle, and herds of deer slowly and watchfully approaching the waterhole. As we were relishing these moments, a distant but clear "aaauunngghhh...." caught my ear.

Aashish heard it too, for we immediately exchanged glances. He had a questioning look on his face as he turned to me, only to find me looking at him for the same confirmation. Almost together we blurted out "tiger's mating call!" and his curious expression changed to that of uncontrollable excitement in an instant. We chose opposite sides of the machaan so as to cover all angles from our vantage point in the event a tiger were to show up, and sat motionless, now listening intently for the call to repeat...

After what must have been 15 minutes we heard the call again - our faces lit up with a broad smile and we exchanged glances yet again. We noticed something strange this time - the call seemed to have come from the opposite direction than the first. Attributing this to the wind carrying the sound about, we dismissed the thought while waiting for the next call. In the meanwhile, I pointed out a most beautiful peacock perched on a nearby tree, and Aashish spotted a malabar squirrel (or the Giant Indian Squirrel) on another. I took snaps without moving about much, and am including the images below - 

malabar giant indian squirrel masinagudi india may 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(Malabar Squirrel / Giant Indian Squirrel)


peacock on tree - masinagudi india may 2017 safari by anuj hissaria
(Peacock - the unintended out-of-focus picture almost gives the image a 3-dimensional look)

Aashish and I were in the machaan for two more hours, hearing the tiger's call periodically, though alternately seeming to come from different directions. With no other development beside the regular calls, we decided to go and check with the reception if they'd heard or seen anything. Midway from the machaan to the reception was our room, so we stopped by to freshen up a bit. Just as we were climbing back down, the call came again, very loud and much closer than we had heard from the machaan. This was a point of no return for us for we had monitored the call for hours and could not let it go in vain, while on the other hand it would be foolish to walk about by ourselves with a tiger so dangerously close.

(view from our room)

We were contemplating on our next move when we saw the housekeeping boy coming towards us from the other tree-top room. We stopped him (lets call him R), explained the situation and asked for advice. We needed someone familiar with the place to be with us while we tried to locate the tiger, even if it were just for moral support and reassurance if nothing else. He, on the other hand, dismissed our excitement claiming we must have imagined it and that it may have been the sound of a boar or buffalo. I should say here that he wasn't wrong to doubt us - for it is not uncommon for first-timers to hallucinate in the wild, where every sound seems exaggerated and every tree stump appears to be a crouched beast waiting to leap at you. Even so, we weren't first timers and we hadn't imagined the calls, so we convinced him to give it some time and listen for the sound. Sure enough, the call was heard again, and he immediately acknowledged it. Below is the conversation that ensued:

Aashish: "ab kya karen?" (what next/ what do we do?)
R: "aapka room hi safe rahega sir" ("your room will be safest to be at", thinking we're asking him how do we avoid trouble)
Clarifying Aashish's question, I said "arrey, nahi... tiger dekhne ke liye kya karen?" ("that's not what we meant, what do we do to see the tiger"), to which he replied that the machaan would be our best bet.

Coughing up some courage, the three of us walked toward the machaan, this time very cautiously treading, making sure no sound was made. As we were almost at the other tree-room from where R was walking towards us earlier, we saw a full grown tiger jump from lower ground to our level straight ahead, facing us and at about a hundred feet away, paused for a moment as it landed on all fours, astonished to see us. All of us froze for a moment, Aashish and I took a step back without turning around while still looking directly into its eyes, while I pressed the record button on the camera and the tiger turned to the side and started bolting into the thicket. Though the tiger was far away, R jumped back behind us as soon as we saw it, and I caught his arm trying to prevent any form of provocation, while at the same time I noticed in the viewfinder that the camera wasn't focused and the video was being taped blurry, so I stopped recording.

We stood there stunned, looking at each other, trying to digest what had just occurred. This was Aashish's first ever tiger sighting in the wild and how! We had run into a tiger, on foot, with no chance of escaping had it decided to attack us. The guest staying at this other tree room noticed us, came out, asked what the matter was, and upon being informed of what had happened went back in to try and see from his window if he could see the tiger. We now weighed our options. The tiger had gone in the direction of our room, so heading back to the room or the reception was ruled out. We could go to the machaan and call the reception for a vehicle to come pick us up. R was suggesting the same when something struck me - I turned to Aashish and whispered: "Calls from 2 directions... meaning 2 tigers, male and female??!!!" He immediately knew what I was implying. We told R, we should circle our way to the machaan and not walk to it along the path, as there was another tiger in the vicinity. Not having understood, he ridiculed the idea of 2 tigers being in the same area, and suggested that since we saw the tiger go towards the reception, there was no further danger from the beast and it was safe to go to the machaan. After some moments of protests from me he finally gave in and we started walking away from the place to circle around the area and reach the machaan.

In the meanwhile, Aashish had picked up a solid-looking branch by way of precaution. Halfway to the machaan from the previous point, I raised my hand and motioned them to stop, while another tiger stood not 50 feet from us, watching us as we were approaching unaware of its presence. It stood sideways along the path we avoided a few moments ago, with its head turned and looking at us as we were nearing it. As soon as I brought their attention to the tiger R pointed in that direction, and Aashish held the stick now pointing towards the tiger as a safety measure. Once again, I clicked the record button while taking the camera strap off my neck with the only thought that came to my mind being "if it attacks, I'm going to shove the camera into its mouth and then run like there's no tomorrow". At this point the tiger started strolling along the path in the direction it was facing, and noticing this video too was out of focus, I stopped, took a snap, and started recording again. This last time the video was clear and after a few seconds of giving me a good recording the tiger disappeared into the bush, in the same direction as the first one. We took some more time letting it all sink in. Aashish tried calling the reception but there was no network on our phones. We asked R to guide us back to the reception but in a bigger circle, avoiding this whole area by as large a radius as was possible. He did not protest this time and readily complied.

We reached the reception in some time, divulged the events to the manager as they had unfolded, and called home to tell our family all about it. At first Dad did not believe when i told him over the phone what had just occurred, but when he did, he became very regretful,  for originally he were to accompany us on this trip but had cancelled at the last minute. By this time the couple staying at the other tree-top room had also followed us to the reception to join in the excitement, and were listening to our narration. The manager sent for his wife from the quarters nearby, and they went on a drive trying to locate the tigers for she had never seen one. They returned victorious a half hour later, having managed to catch a glimpse of both tigers at a nearby estate where the tigers were lounging at the base of a tree and leapt away when their vehicle approached.

tiger sighting masinagudi mudumalai nilgiris april may 2017 by anuj hissaria



(The second tiger)

After dinner we were back at our rooms, laying on the bed reflecting on the happenings of the day. Judging by their size, we agreed the first tiger was the male and the second one the female. They were calling and responding to each other throughout the afternoon when we were at the machaan, which explained why we heard calls coming from the two directions alternately. The swamp at the waterhole had been their rendezvous point while we were back at our room, where-from they proceeded to the nearby forest while we were walking to the machaan and ran into them. We discussed on all possible ways the events could have turned out differently...  We ran into two tigers, on foot, with no defenses against this accomplished predator... A few minutes earlier and we may have run into the male while walking to our room, when he was on his way to the waterhole. Or, if we had continued to the reception from our room, we may have missed the sightings altogether. Same outcome if we had given in to R's scepticism of our claims and resorted to our room like he had suggested. And then when we saw the male and it decided to turn around and bolt, it could just as easily have attacked us instead. Even after, had we not thought about circling our way to the machaan and walked right along the path towards it, we would have encountered the female head-on, in which case we would be trapped between two tigers, should the male turn around to investigate. And then there's R turning around and jumping back on seeing the tiger which could have provoked it to chase and attack..... I dozed off at some point while we were discussing these thoughts...

When we awoke the next day, we spent most of our morning at the machaan while still letting all of the previous day's events sink in. It all felt like a dream. I clicked a few pictures of a kingfisher or two, while it was very obvious both Aashish and I were intently listening for that one final call before it was time to head back to Bangalore. It was around 11 AM when we saw a jeep approaching - the driver informed us it was time for checkout, that he had come to our room to help with the luggage, and not having found us there, knew we would be at the watch-tower. We checked-out, were dropped at our vehicle and left the jungle fully content and knowing the next few days would be spent narrating the same incident over and over to our friends, family and colleagues...

................................................

PS: The events described in this particular narration were the inspiration for the website name :)


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Comments

  1. Very nice write up and awesome experience and very lucky...i have been regular visitor of masinagudi as well as for the resort described by you...keep writing your experiences

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much :) Do check our my other posts from this blog as well. Also, i post videos of my wildlife sightings here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5AL8DvSi5sgNpblAEA2lnA

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  2. Fantastic, though unbelievablely lucky.keep writing as it surely encourages people to save our wildlife and its natural habitat for our future generations too to be able to enjoy and appreciate it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you :) And I agree! I write to not only share these unforgettable moments but also to create awareness, as mentioned in my first blog which is available here: http://www.thetigercalls.com/2017/05/that-time-of-year.html

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