I vividly recall the moment: perched atop the last row of the safari vehicle, the highest vantage point, I scrutinized the bushline, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything that might unsettle the jungle. A flock of birds chirping, a warning signal perhaps, or the wild dogs sprinting fiercely through the bushes. My binoculars pressed firmly against my face, my eyes moved with a ferocity I had never experienced before.
What were these keen eyes searching for? Perhaps the most majestic creature in the world. It's not a title the tiger earned in a beauty pageant, but rather through their enigmatic ways of functioning and existing. Their movements, techniques for marking territories, predatory attacks, and the fact that the forest must be at its best for these wild cats to thrive.
They sit atop the pyramid, surpassing humans in terms of stealth maneuver skills and hunting prowess. However, not long ago, most tigers teetered on the brink of extinction. History tells us that maharajas and British emperors hunted them for leisure, in excessive numbers to assert dominance. There was a time when showcasing wealth meant wearing tiger skin, fueled by myths about their organs and blood having miraculous health benefits, resulting in a drastic decline in their numbers.
But things have turned around for the better, as I realized stepping into the jungle safari vehicle. We ventured into Bandipur, an 874-square-kilometer forested reserve in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, renowned for its small tiger population. Once the private hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Mysore, the park now houses Indian elephants, spotted deer, gaurs, antelopes, and numerous other native species. As we drove towards the heart of the forest in the Exter, a group of elephants with trunks pointed skyward and 200 deer grazing by the roadsides welcomed us. We slowed down significantly, savoring the beauty of nature.
The truest form of luxury, they say, is enjoyed in the peaceful lap of nature. If you're unsure what I'm talking about, picture yourself on a boat safari, asking the wheelman to cut the engine in the middle of the river, allowing the sounds of nature and water to envelop you. If this isn't bliss, I'm not sure what is. Fifteen minutes of this spa treatment, and your mind, body, and soul will be thoroughly relaxed.
However, this tranquil moment was eventually pierced by the anticipation and anxiety of spotting a tiger. So many stories and visuals on my screen; I truly wanted to meet this creature in person but was also a little afraid—what if it pounced on me? I'm sure it's capable. It hunts massive buffalos and even attempts to attack elephants.
But tigers aren't as extroverted as one might imagine. They are incredibly shy, revealing themselves only at night when their hunting game is on. During the day, they find a secluded water hole to relax in. Are they living the king-size life? Trust me, they do.
Over three different jungle safaris, the tigers eluded us at that time of day. However, what I realized on this trip, sitting in the safari vehicle gazing at the forest, is that the tiger moment isn't just about finding the tiger. It's about the wait. It's about entering the reserve, knowing you're in their territory. There's fear, excitement, and that glimmer of hope to spot one of the fiercest yet most magnificent animals in the wild.
Every moment within the safari trail is a tiger moment waiting to be embraced. Across 55 tiger reserves in India, you have the chance to experience this thrill. And when you do, that Hyundai parked in your driveway will transport you to these beautiful natural reserves.
Photography: Harmanpreet Singh / Shanmuga Kumar