While Bhattsaab (Harish Bhatt) was @ Gular Kui trying to accommodate himself in his nest, Shivraj Singh, the guide who was assigned with me @ Rajbagh Hunting Lodge-1 and the nature guide assigned with Vishal Raina colluded and asked us to stay together @ Rajbagh Hunting Lodge-1. Two of us reached Raj Bagh hunting lodge @ 10 AM with a pitcher full of water, packets of roasted Chanas and Misri. (Raj Bagh fort ruins lie between Padam Talao (lake) and the Raj Bagh Talao. These ancient structures, palace outhouses with arches, broken down rooms, partly standing walls and domes is surrounded by the jungles – Raj Bagh Lodge was especially constructed to facilitate tiger hunting for the royal families)
We broomed the place under the tomb with a make shift Jhadoo and sat down; it gave us fantastic view of partly dried lake with deer grazing in the marsh. Amazingly there was no Machaan, to tell you the truth we forgot that it was a must at all the locations. Hours passed and we documented the deer and small carnivorous animals. At sunset, the wind direction changed and I could smell very strong tiger urine as and when the wind blew. It began to worry me a bit due to my experience in jungles watching and spotting tigers; I knew we were in the tiger territory for sure. We heard people talking and some people walking towards us; it was the guide accompanied by another forest official; they had come with water and to check on us. The person who accompanied the guide asked where our Machan was; and what he said next confirmed my fears – We had been sitting in the same place for more than five hours now where the tigress (T17) used to rest; it was an obvious choice in the peak Rajasthan summers.
My immediate concern as soon as they left was to find high ground to spend the night, so the closest and safest high ground was the top of the tomb itself where we had been for few hours now. I asked Vishal if he could help shoulder my weight to reach the tomb top, he immediately agreed, so the plan was that he would bend against the tomb wall and stand straight when I climbed on his shoulders and I would pull him up when I reached the roof. The plan seemed to work for a while, but as soon as I reached the tomb and tried to find something to hold on to, to pull myself up, God knows what happened to Vishal and he couldn’t take my weight and I came down crashing on the ground landing on my left palm. Vishal had forgotten to tell me that he had a steel rod in one of his hands I was trying to find footing on. Too bad! It was too late to know that.
Two of us in the middle of no where with no means of communication, nothing to defend ourselves in case of a tiger attack…Helpless! The excitement had just started and kept building.
Vishal helped me identify the extent of injury by asking me to move joints; soon my left hand had swelled like a balloon, so Vishal made a sling out of the Gamcha that I was carrying in my bag. The situation had worsened in the sense that Vishal had no prior experience of jungles and the potential danger lurking in the bushes, and now I didn’t want to tell him the gravity of the situation till we had made arrangements to face this potentially dangerous situation we were in. So, we collected timber, dry grass, bushes and leaves to lay at the entry points, our early warning system if you like.
We also cut four sticks to make two spears and two torches with timber and dry grass tied with rope made out of bark. With everything set and no machaan or high ground to take refuge onto, we sat in that tomb. It was full a moon night, the swamp was full of activity with Sambhar, spotted deer and strange noises coming from all around in the jungle.
We had almost lost track of time, suddenly we heard some one call us from the distance, it was the forest ranger accompanied by forest officials on patrol to see how things were and everyone was okay. Vishal and I walked towards the entrance of the ruins, some 100 meters from where we were, using the iphone flash light as torch. The ranger asked if we were accompanied by the forest official and had a machaan to spend the night, we told him we had none. Upon learning that we were sitting under the tomb, they asked us to leave the place immediately and accompany them outside of jungle. I assured them that this wasn’t my first time in the jungle, so he agreed to allow us to spend the night there but asked that we immediately vacated the place where we had been all through and moved a few meters ahead under another tomb post on the north; this indeed was the place where the tigress rested during the summer season.
We moved to our new location with the essentials – a bag, water, binoculars, the torches and spears we had made, the good part of this location was it was in the corner and had only one approach, so we blocked the entrance with dry branches and pieces of rock we could find close by, but the bad part was that it was only two feet above the ground and was only 10-15 meters away from the pathway re-enforced by the movement of wild animals including the tiger. Within minutes after we had moved, the tigress moved into the tomb, the strong smell of urine became stronger, we could hear the heavy breathing till early in the morning. I was at least sure of one thing, that we would certainly have the tiger sighting, it was just a matter of time…It was a strange feeling of excitement and fear; to tell you the truth, such a feeling could never possibly be expressed….There was no time to focus on my fractured wrist; not until my dear friend Vishal decided to sleep, he slept like Kumkaran, like he hadn’t slept for ages – Great! Here I was in the middle of jungle with one fractured hand, a few feet from the tigress, no where to run if attacked, the only way to go was 20 feet down into the dry lake, can’t climb the tree next to this small tomb because of the injury. To add insult to the injury, I had to be more vigilant now because Vishal had fallen asleep and wouldn’t wake-up, no matter what; I couldn’t go no where, never been so helpless and angry; “He is not to go to jungle with us ever again, I kept telling myself….
The morning came, we cautiously moved to the tomb, the idea of catching some sleep had just crossed my mind, I heard distress call of sambhar deer, I was certain that the tiger was in the territory, I ran with my binoculars and asked Vishal to rush to the outpost where we had spent the night (right, where Vishal had slept the whole night) and told him the tiger was close.
We had just started to scan the area, suddenly this huge tigress came with her tail raised, stood only a few feet away from us, it couldn’t get closer than this on foot…WOW!! Fantastic!!! I closed Vishal’s mouth and asked him to look in that direction and be absolutely quiet! Everything I had gone through had paid-off!!!!
We spent some time on one of the branches of the banyan tree and moved to another watch tower, in another corner of the ruins, after a while. I was sure the tigress would come again. Sure enough, she didn’t disappoint us, and came walking through the same door we used a night before to collect dinner that the forest officials had come to deliver. I was wondering what would happen to us if we had not decided to change the spot to spend the night. Seeing T17 from a distance of just a few feet on foot froze us completely. The feeling was just out of the world and cannot be explained. I just don’t have the words to explain what kind of thoughts were running in my mind. We were both sitting on the watch tower absolutely motionless for about half an hour watching the queen marking the territory with her huge claws on tree…Finaly the Queen left. Soon the forest vehicle came to pick us up and they dropped us at point where I could see Harish waiting for us… I guess you know what happened after that if you have read Harish Bhai’s post…
And here’s one last wonder: