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Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

What the hand dare seize the fire

India’s population has crossed the billionth milestone. In this teeming milieu, Corbett National Park’s 525 square kilometres of priceless virgin forest and grassland are a blessing to the tiger. Mercifully, its numbers are now imperceptibly rising, despite poaching. It is also a windfall for all the other wild creatures that dwell in Uttaranchal’s lush and abundant ecosystem. The incredible variety of wildlife and beauty of Corbett Park is difficult to match, and here I was in this wonderland, to see, experience, photograph and write about its most renowned denizen, the tiger. The possibility of spotting one in the middle of the day is not impossible, but it is rare as the beast generally hunts during the dark hours. However, two fruitless, wasted weeks later, I was advised that my best bet to photograph wild tigers was to go deep into the parkland or the heavily wooded groves, on elephant back. So the next morning I hired yet another guide, and mounted on an old elephant, we delicately picked our way through the thick underbrush. The mahout assiduously prodded the beast with a metal instrument to nudge and direct the pachyderm.

Several hours later, we had seen no signs of a tiger. Then unexpectedly, the warning bark of a sambar ― an animal of the deer family, splashed in all directions. His warning silenced the denizens of the grassland and the few trees it sported. A palpable pall of silence abruptly spread over the land as all creatures within hearing knew that a tiger was in the vicinity.  The sambar is at the top of this predator’s menu along with the chital, and the stag directed its warning at his female harem, foraging in drifting groups. A few fleeting moments of nervous tension shrouded the shrubbery, and the creatures now frozen and hiding in the tall grass. Birds, beasts and even our tiny group of humans remained stock still, listening with thumping hearts to the slightest sign of danger.

Suddenly my guide grabbed my shoulder and pointed. My eyes followed the silent direction of his index finger, searching desperately as I waited with bated breath, thrilled at the faint hope of spotting a tiger. One moment there was motionless silence in the undergrowth, and then, abracadabra, a single magnificent male tiger stood there in all his glory. An iconic symbol of raw, brute power. In the next instant, his mate joined him. Today was indeed my lucky day. However, the tiger was not looking for prey. He nuzzled the tigress and then, in a single, soft, smooth, silken motion of affection, he stroked his arching body against hers. Armed with a long lens, the motor drive on my camera purred in empathy with the purring of the majestic beasts. My cup of joy filled to overflowing, as the regal pair moved out of sight, and every hidden creature of the grass jungle drew its first deep breath, as it realized that the king had already fed and was not hunting, today.

The male tiger (c) 2010 Don Alney

The Tiger Couple (c) 2010 Don Alney

by Don Alney

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*The title of the piece is a line taken from William Blake’s “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

Don Portrait

Don Alney is a freelance travel writer and photographer, seeking the ‘forever moment.’ Email don d at vsnl.com. Check out this stuff here.