We rush past herds of panicked Chittal Deer and speed through scattered regiments of teak towards the boundaries of the tourism zone. My eyes scan the gaps in the underbrush that broadside our vehicle left and right. We’ve just gotten a call for another vehicle that alarm calls have been heard near some power lines about a kilometre in front. A small dip in the road sends my camera flying, and through some heroic acrobatic act, I manage to catch it before both the camera and I fall out of the vehicle. No time to recover. Bursting through our ears come the high-pitched squeaks of the deer. They’re tantalizingly close. Eyes scan all sides, yearning for that flash of orange, the telltale sign of a tiger’s presence.
Is that it? Yes it is: a brazen flash in a sea of green. It has to be him! ‘Tiger,’ I yell, and everyone whirls round to where my timid finger points.
The brakes slam, and send me flying for a second time, but again, there’s no time to recover. Before me, a snarling jaw and magisterial gaze burst through the foremost reeds and transfix me.
He turns, and I, regaining control of my body, lurch out the vehicle’s window and start clicking away. My hands are shaking. So are everyone else’s. Such is the awe this majestic predator instills in us. This gleaming hulk of bronze strolls down the road ahead, sending the deer in front sprinting away from his terrifying gait. Narendran, our friendly naturalist, turns to us and shares our expressions of bewilderment and amazement. Silence takes hold of the cabin, and for a moment, all is still until the cries of the deer in front and the scattering of fawn and stag alike reach our van, and we rush once more in pursuit of the elusive predator.
It was only my second day, yet that very morning I witnessed the speckled gold of a leopard’s coat basking in radiant sunshine. Such remarkable luck has been been stalking me like the stealthy tiger himself throughout my stay here at Orange County: indeed I have been fortunate enough to lay eyes on 5 leopards, a wild dog and 4 tigers across 14 separate sightings. However, for me, Nagarhole’s biggest selling point is not her predators, but the domain over which they roam. The rosy sun shines though rows of imperial teaks and clustered bunches of underbrush, through which blurs of spots and stripes seem to move and jump, taunting your eyes.
Overwhelmed by an orchestra of bird chimes and animal calls, most noisy of all being the “Brain fever Bird” or Common Hawk Cuckoo – don’t even get me started on the fragrance of the forest. The most impressive aspect of the predators’ kingdom is their abundance of subjects: over 100 prey animals occupy every square kilometre, providing a staggering 20,900 pounds of meat! To put that into perspective, that’s enough prey to fully satisfy two 250+ kg male tigers for a year! Multiply that number by around 650, and you get an idea of the sheer magnitude of Nagarhole’s wildlife – how alive, active, and exhilarating her jungles are.