Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A Picture and a Story #2 - Magic at Bhakola

For me, this will always be 'The Sighting'.

My first tiger in the wild was in Ranthambhore in March 2002, a tigress known as the Bhakola female, after the area where she resided. The first time, it was just a glimpse and a few ordinary photos. Later that summer, I made another trip, this time with my best friends in tow. Alighting from the train, we were met by a fresh-faced naturalist named Hemraj Meena. It was our first meeting with this amazing person, and that relationship would grow from strength to strength over the next (almost) two decades.

Back to the tigers, and Hemraj led us straight to the Bhakola area where we caught a brief glimpse of the tigress. That evening, she and her little cubs played hide and seek with us through the thick vegetation that surrounds the Bhakola stream. They would come out and pose for a bit, before disappearing into the shrubbery. We loved it, but it wasn't 'all there' as a sighting. Yearning for more the next morning, we headed back to Bhakola. Only to find it completely deserted. Not a stripe or pug-mark to be seen or an alarm call to be heard. It was almost like the entire family had disappeared into thin air overnight!

Disappointed, we drove a bit further before Hemraj asked the driver to stop at one spot. 'We'll wait', he said. And we did for a while, before the driver's patience started to wear thin. 'Kahin aur chalte hain (Let's go elsewhere)', he said. But Hemraj was unyielding. Ten more minutes and the driver started to get agitated. 'Yahan tiger nahi hai (There's no tiger here)' he proclaimed to which Hemraj replied 'Tiger yahin hai. Vo rahi' (The tiger is very much here. There she is) And as if by magic, the tigress walked out of the bushes ten metres behind our jeep!

And she walked with us for nearly half an hour. It was just us and her. She then reached the Bhakola valley, sat in the middle of the road and started calling her cubs. At first her calls were soft and gentle, but when no cubs appeared, they got increasingly urgent and agitated. Not to mention louder. Her angry roars were reverberating all over the rocky valley when finally, four little bundles of fur bounded out of the shrubbery and hurtled towards their mother. We could almost sense the relief in her as she saw her cubs. But as they neared her, she turned away from them and started to walk away, as if in a show of temper. Two of them ran up to her, nuzzled against her, almost in apology and gambolled around her till she slowed down. 

The other two cubs lingered behind, busily sniffing at some bushes. Best to let the first two bear the brunt of mom's anger! Finally assuaged, Mom walked for a bit with the first two cubs (which is when I got this picture) while the other two caught up. The whole family then descended into a waterhole for a drink and a dip. Mom got out first and then made one little call; this time the cubs stopped their splashing were now out in a flash! The whole family quickly disappeared into the bush right behind the water, leaving six new-found fans absolutely spellbound! This was one of the most magical sightings of my life then, and nearly two decades on, it remains as magical. And all thanks to the incredible skills of Hemraj... how he conjured up the tigress is still beyond me!

Every single year after that, every time I pass through the beautiful Bhakola valley, I always play out that sighting in my mind. I've seen a few tigers in Bhakola over the years, but that sighting remains top of the list. And something tells me that's not going to change for a while. Surprise me, Bhakola!


  1. Yes thanks to you we discovered this gem - ranthambore and the is obsession for wild life safaris and we are very grateful for that sriks!!!!

    1. It's the most wonderful obsession ever! Pleasure is all mine, to be able to see these wonderful animals with you all.

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