Updated: Jun 29, 2020
©Dr. Digbijoy Choudhury
"It has been a long day! I'm already tired, dont know how long I can keep my eyes open", said the young man.
A little bit further, sir", begged on, Shibu, the forest guide
. This was his first tiger sighting tour, since the sundarbans opened for tourists after the prolonged lockdown forced upon them by a tiny virus.
Shibu did not want to disappoint his tourists. Tourism was key to their livelihood in this part of the land.
The sun was almost setting down. It would be dark soon and they would have to return as was the instructions. Even Shibu was losing his patience.
Where did the big cat go? Just a small glimpse, is what he wanted. That would be enough to satisfy this group of hungry tourists, out on the trail for the last few days, hanging on to his every word, always on the edge, never losing interest.
"Look, a tiger footprint", Shibu almost shouted out. Talking in loud voices was a strict no-no, if you were on the trial. It could scare away the tiger or even attract the attention of the big cat and bring doom to the tourists.
The excitement in the group increased. "It cant have crossed here more than 5 minutes back.
Lets go to the next point, and we may catch a glimpse of it", edged on Shibu. His words worked like magic. Even the tired young man stood up. In not more than 10 minutes, they were on the next point.
'There is no tiger tracks, here. We are early. Lets wait quietly. It maybe our lucky day", said the seasoned guide. Cameras ready for the click, everyone was ready, not moving a muscle. You could sense the palpable tension. It was afterall, a royal bengal tiger. No matter how many you have seen in the zoo or on paper, seeing it open in the wild, a few metres away, can be quite unnerving and scary.
Time ticked away. You could hear the ticking of your own watch, such was the deafening silence both in the forest and in the boat.
Finally something appeared in the distant river bank. In the faint light of the setting sun, it was difficult to discern it at first. But slowly as it came forward, you could see the yellow and the black stripes. The big cat just stood there, looking intently at the boat, almost posing for a picture. And then it slowly disappeared.
"Wow", said the young man, almost waking up from his trance. Shibu smiled for the first time in the day.
He knew what it was like to come face to face with a tiger.
It can be a quite unnerving, and humbling moment, causing you to freeze.
Having seen the royal bengal tiger many times during his tours, Shibu's heart, still skips a beat, when his eyes suddenly meets that of the beast that he had been searching for days.
The people in the sundarbans have an intimate bond, with this mighty beast, the king of the jungle and the mangrove forests.