My eyes fluttered open to the darkness around me and my heart skipped a beat as I heard something jump and scuttle on the tin roof above my head. I smiled as I remembered where I was. It was 2 a.m. and I was in the forest guest house at the Dhela Zone in Corbett National Park.
I was lying awake listening to the racket caused by all night animals. Their voices merged together to give the forest its voice. Now that I was awake the events of the last day, evening safari flashed in my mind.
We started off in our Gypsy in full spirits. Wearing hats, goggles and carrying our binoculars and water bottles and switching on our ‘Dora the explorer’ mode we started our journey.
Our guide cum driver started to brief up on the history of the park and current wildlife available here. “The reserve is divided into four zones and you will get a chance to visit at least 3 of them'', he said, “Corbett is the home to four big cats: The Tiger, Jungle Cat, Leopard and the Fishing Cat. The Tiger is the king of this region and the other felines crouch in tree tops away from his sharp eyes.”
I let my ears listen to him and allowed my eyes to take in the beautiful scenery. Tall trees towered on both sides of the narrow road. Below them a blanket of yellow orange dried leaves covered the ground. Sunlight pierced through the thicket occasionally.
I saw a wild rooster run in the trees and then the driver called our attention. “There are few rules of the forest.” He began, “the first being you all need to be really quiet (this earned a groan from my younger brother) and the second being you need to listen to the forest because it's impossible to see every creature in it but it's easier to follow their unique calls.”
So, as we plunged deeper into the reserve and I powered up my ears to take in frequencies as low as 20 Hz also. That’s when I realized that listening to the forest was even better than seeing. So many birds were shrieking and calling out through the treetops. The sudden loud chatter of monkeys or the sharp bark of the barking deer. The rustle and crunching of leaves as a random animal crossed by were musical in their own way.
Then our guide shut off the engine of our Gypsy and whispered, “Can you hear it?” all that I can hear now were fat honey bees buzzing about my head and not being a big fan of them anymore I tried to shoo them off.
The guide continued, “These monkeys on that tree are chattering incessantly. This is a call.” I asked, “Call?”
He replied, “Tiger is the key predator when he sets foot in any area animals like monkeys, langurs, peacock climb on tree tops and give call to caution the prey. The tiger is hidden somewhere here only.”
I excitedly started to scan every bush for a blur of orange. My father said, “Better sharpen your ears kids.” Our guide said, “You won’t hear anything sir, a tiger’s padded feet don’t make any noise even on dried leaves.”
Now using all my eye power, I gazed avidly. I saw something yellow so I gazed back at that spot after searching once again I found a pair of two yellow eyes staring at me.
It had to be the tiger or was it just the sun playing tricks. I called the driver and asked him to look there. He glanced but denied my speculation. Having nowhere to look at I returned to gazing at that spot. Finally, after waiting for a long time and seeing the other Gypsies arrive, we decided to move on.
Our guide tried to cheer us up and said, “Out of a100 times, you see the tiger only once but it sees you 99 times.”
This sent a shiver down my spine, the entire forest reminded me of the movie ‘Kaal’. With tall trees looming on either side and the sinister noises from the foliage. Indeed, forests are ideal places for horror movie shoots.
We then reached a pond and had fun watching the elephants take a bath and even saw a few tuskers crossing the road up close.