Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rendezvous with Royalty

Pinks are Links

The pull of Bandipur had become unbearable.

Our last trip there, was in January of this year and it was a disaster of sorts because my favourite lens, the 300mm f2.8, had broken at the mount. It was a devastating experience and I had just about recovered from it. I had been keeping off Bandipur because some painful memories would flood back if I reached the anti-poaching camp within the tiger reserve, the location of the breakage incident!

In the intervening months, I had been to Kabini, B.R Hills and Chinnar but Bandipur refused to relent and I finally gave in. Pooja holidays provided me an opportunity and with a friend's family for company, we went back our favourite corner in the world.

27th August, 2015
An encounter with a bull elephant in musth at the start of our first safari, seemed to be the highlight of the day and we were on the last half hour of the evening safari when the call came. There was a tiger at a waterhole! Without wasting valuable time we headed towards where the action was, Moolapura. Tigers would not be comfortable in the presence of humans so we were not really expecting it to wait for us. However, when we reached the spot, we were greeted by the sight of the big cat soaking itself in the muddy water.

It seemed that it had fed well and was cooling off its systems in the water. We weren't sure if it was a male or female but the tiger (or tigress) was not looking disturbed by our presence. Cameras were clicking away furiously on all sides but the rattle of the shutters didn't seem to annoy the beast. Then, suddenly, it came to life.

It lifted it's big head and folded its rear legs as if to get up. Perhaps all the noise from our vehicles and excited visitors had annoyed it.

Then after a moment's hesitation it laid its head on its paws and lay down again. It seemed it was too full to move.

 With a great deal of effort it lifted it's head and turned its gaze towards us. I gasped! It was instant recognition. 

I was in the presence of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Bandipur! He fixed us with a baleful glare, as if he was saying, "Why can't you leave me in peace?" I recognized him, Prince; the most photographed tiger in Bandipur and the King of all he surveyed. The unmistakable feature was the cleft in his upper lip on his right side. Possibly a legacy of some fight for territorial rights.

After a momentary exchange of glances, which literally left me with jellied knees, he dropped his head again.

Then for another brief moment he lifted his head, looked up, sweeping all the parked vehicles with heavy lidded gaze before slumping down again to catch up with a disturbed dream!

For a full 20 minutes we were all transfixed by the sight of the Prince. I forgot my gear, and kept clicking away without changing any setting. Occasionally he would lift up his head and look at us, as if asking, "Why are you still hanging around?"

Then finally, maybe in disgust, he turned away and put his head down on his massive paws and resumed his slumber. Only the occasional twitch of his tail betraying his irritation with us and the flies buzzing around him!

It was past 6.30, time for the park gates to close. When we left him, he was still facing away soaking in the brown water.

It was the best encounter I had with a tiger in the wild, and the longest. It seemed that the new Zuiko 90-250mm f2.8 was proving lucky for me!