My Journey with the Tiger
How one experience reignited my interest in wildlife
Greetings from Ashoka University, India!
The tiger, India’s national animal, has awed humanity for generations. Regarded as the vehicle of God in Hindu lore, it's an icon of the natural world.
My first encounter with a tiger was tantalisingly close—serendipity at its very best.
From my childhood, I had an intense fascination for wildlife and nature. I spent countless nights watching National Geographic shows in awe—a pride of lions bringing down a wildebeest in Kenya or a great white shark leaping out of the water to catch a seal.
As is the character of childhood fascinations, this passion faded as the years went by. As I indulged in other activities, this took a back seat. But like a dormant brood of cicadas, it remained in my mind, just waiting for the right moment to resurface.
My father had to travel to Bandipur Tiger Reserve to meet a friend and asked if I’d accompany him. Attempting to appeal to my old passion for wildlife, he said we’d go on a safari afterwards. I agreed, seeing I could skip some days of school.
It was January when the trees shed their leaves and prepared for the long, dry summer. The forest turns golden brown, and the wildlife congregates around waterholes.
After the 5 hour drive from Bangalore, we pulled into the forest department’s quarters and waited for the safari vehicle. I looked around at the dense vegetation, wondering what lay in store for us.
As we climbed into the jeep, the guides told us they had sighted a tiger on their earlier safari. But I didn’t give it much thought. For the tiger always shows up for them. It is us tourists, to whom they remain elusive.
We spent a few hours scouring the forest, seeing spotted deer and the odd elephant—nothing I hadn’t seen before. A tiny flame of excitement, reminiscent of the old passion growing in me, was extinguished.
Dejected, we turned back. The guide raved about
all the times he had encountered tigers, all the marvellous sights he had come across. I had already zoned out; I was thinking about what school work I’d need to catch up on.
The first time he cried, “tiger”, I didn’t register it. Seeing my father leaping out of his seat, it dawned on me. Looking over the bonnet, I saw a golden coated beast striding away from us.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, because the feline in front of me was too big for all the tigers I had imagined in my head. I felt a deluge of emotions I couldn’t fully comprehend.
We watched him with our hearts in our mouths. I still remember reaching for my phone to record it when my father said, “Look at it with your eyes”. I am so glad he said that.
The guide drove the jeep in front of the tiger, and what happened next changed me forever.
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He was limping forward when he raised his head and looked me directly in my eyes. Time slowed as we stared at one another, his gaze penetrating to the back of my skull.
Then, in a blur of dappled gold, he turned and vanished into the undergrowth. I sat there transfixed, staring into the space where he once stood. It was a vision of wild India at its most inspiring.
When we headed back, celebrating the encounter we had, I knew deep down that what I had felt while staring at the tiger was unlike anything I had ever felt. At that moment, I knew I was inspired.
Even as they lean precariously over the cliff of extinction, the tigers symbolise all that’s beautiful in the natural world.
This Week’s Links
25 Years with Tigers: This documentary is on Ullas Karanth, a scientist on the forefront of tiger conservation. He is an icon for all those who are interested in saving this big cat.
Valparai Elephants: In this small town in rural India, people have come up with a way of safely co-existing with elephants. Read about it.
I took this shot on a recent trip to Nizamuddin Dargah, Delhi. A friend (and subscriber to this newsletter :D) had gone there a week earlier and told me that it was worth a visit. I went the shrine of the great sufi poetry Amir Khusrau, and I sat in for the world famous “Qawwali”. It is an evening where people gather in front of the tomb and sing Sufi songs with full gusto, attracting tourists from all over. I had a blast seeing how passionately the singers belted out these top-class songs. If you get the chance to visit, take it.
Taken on my mobile phone.
The world I learned about at school seemed fraudulent compared to the world I lived in. - Daya Pawar
Have a great week!
If you’re new, welcome to The Owlet! My name is Ishan Shanavas, and here I talk about my work, along with curating the most interesting ideas on the internet. I confine them to topics like Nature, Culture, Photography, and Art but often fall prey to other genres.