Visitors to Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge have opportunities every day to go out in the jungle in jeeps or on elephants to view the abundant wildlife in Chitwan National Park. It is always a thrill to see the gaur (largest of the world's wild cattle) the chital (spotted deer) and the great one-horned rhinos , but deep down inside every visitor is hoping to see a tiger. Rarely do the visitors actually get such an opportunity. The tigers are not only shy, but they are chiefly nocturnal and tend to be snoozing while the humans are out looking for them.
On this afternoon, all of the Screwy Tuskers, along with Patty Locke, delightful friend of the Gurkhas, mounted three elephants, Madu Mala Kali, Durga Kali and Roop Kali, and embarked on an adventure they would never forget.
The Screwy Tuskers had issued a mandate this year. They wanted to see a tiger and they would see a tiger. They were assured as much by Chandra, the tiger tracker, who sat on the middle elephant, Roop Kali.
Yeah, sure thought the group as the elephants commenced their peaceful stroll through the jungle.
They strolled through the trees with langurs silently watching them from above, carefully choosing a few choice leaves to drop on their heads from time to time. They strolled across the Reu River, pausing to allow the elephants to sip some of the refreshing though muddy water. They strolled up the river bank and through the fields of elephant grass until they found three gaur grazing and staring ambivalently at the party. The jungle was peaceful and quiet, except for the songs of the birds and the chittering of the insects and the munching of the gaur and the gentle swaying of the jumbos in the grass.
As the group proceeded leisurely through the grass, Chandra stopped Roop Kali and closely examined some dark spots on the ground and then explained that those spots were blood from a fresh deer kill. Uh huh, thought the skeptics in the group, Ill bet he says that to all the tourists. Looks like mud to me.
Before the skepticism had time to take hold, three chital went dashing through the grass - running fast, as though they either had somewhere very important to go or something very important to get away from. Running deer might not seem unusual in most places, but Chitwan is a wildlife refuge. The deer, although they dont particularly LIKE humans, dont generally seem to be afraid of them. These deer were running for a reason.
Without more warning than the flight of the chittal, Madu Mala Kalis mahout let out a long, sharp whistle. Madu Mala Kali let loose a muffled trumpet. Durga Kali and Roop Kali started breathing heavily and making a loud rumbling noise from deep inside. The mahouts and Chandra were whistling and chattering back and forth and slowly moving the elephants into a triangle formation.
As long as the elephants were rumbling and breathing heavily, the mahouts knew that they were smelling something that made them nervous. The mahouts trusted the elephants senses and instincts as they directed them cautiously in formation. The Screwy Tuskers were as silent and breathless during these moments as the elephants were rumbling and panting.
For what seemed like hours the group waited in absolute silence. A stillness fell over the entire jungle. Not a birdsong was to be heard; the gaur stopped munching; the monkeys suspended their leaf-dropping mission and held their breath; the chital had long since fled.
What seemed like an eternal wait actually only lasted a few moments when r-r-r-r-r-RRRRRRRarrgghhh!!!!!! roared Lucky Pothi, as she jumped out of the grass to announce her presence.
Mouths dropped and jaws popped and eyes bugged out like so many cartoon mice faced with imminent destruction by the household cat. The tigress was merely yards away from the Screwy Tuskers. Did the jumbos run? They did not. They held their ground like the brave and loyal beasts that they are.
Lucky Pothi was not interested in the humans. She was tired. She was stuffed. She had a belly full of fresh venison and wanted to go curl up somewhere and digest her meal. She turned from the group, giving the Screwy Tuskers a spectacularly full view of her huge, sleek body and long thick tail, and gracefully ran up the riverbank.
As the trembling humans watched in awe, the tigresss attention was drawn to something in the tall grass nearby. She made a sharp turn to the right, away from the river and dashed through grass instigating a huge commotion as a peacock and a peahen, screaming google google burble eek eek eek, went flying out of the grass and off to safety. Lucky Pothi didnt break stride. She turned back to the left, jumped in the river and swam away to peace and nighttime.
The Screwy Tuskers by then had both gained and lost some perspective on reality. After all, this was no labrador flushing a couple of pheasants out of the bush they had just seen. This was a tigress flushing two peacocks. The fact that they were sitting on elephants in the middle of the jungle had become almost mundane.
This day was a record day for tiger sightings during the WEPA tournament. Earlier in the day, Freddy and Tom Hunt had spotted a tiger from their jeep, and in the afternoon yet another tiger was seen by Jaya and Gurpal Singh while on a jeep safari.
Back at the lodge the group sat around the fire exchanging tiger tales, prompting a wistful Raj Kalaan to declare quietly I have been coming to elephant polo for eleven years and have never seen a tiger on safari. Maybe next year, Raj.
Guests at the lodge were treated to a distinctive aesthetic experience this evening. The oil painting seen above was unveiled in a brief ceremony, greatly enriching the atmosphere of the dining hall.
Arrangements for the painting were made by Sunny Kalaan (right). The artist is Usha Hooda, from New Dehli. Ms. Hooda paints as a hobby, although the professional quality of the tiger painting belies this fact. She loves to paint wildlife, from spiders to elephants. She also loves to sketch well toned human bodies. Perhaps in the future more of Usha Hoodas artwork will find its way to Tiger Tops.
The captivating image generated a great deal of attention from the guests throughout the week, as they lost themselves in the scene and speculated on the subject of the tigers focused gaze.
Painting copyright by Usha Hooda, 1997. All rights reserved.
December 7th / December 9th
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