The most sought after ‘thing’ for any tourist visiting Dudhwa national park or for that matter any other forest national park, is undoubtedly to sight a tiger in its natural surroundings. The park may have a wide range of flora and fauna and some of which may be even rarer to sight than a tiger. But what all eyes yearn for most, is the direct sight of the Jungle king, the Royal Bengal Tiger(Panthera Tigris Tigris) undoubtedly the most handsome, the most beautiful and the most graceful animal of the jungle. But it is also the most deadly of them all and if it decides to give you back a stare, you will know what is fear actually. Tiger being a shy animal, not many visitors to a national park can claim to have an audience with the king and out of those who had the luck of life time to sight a tiger outside zoos, not all have enjoyed it. In fact many have cursed themselves on being ‘lucky’ to see the tiger and few of them have had the embarrassment of the lifetime. Being posted as a SDM in the area of Dudhwa National Park, I have been privy to few such stories.
Dudhwa National Park spread over 490 sq km and located on Indo-Nepal border in district Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh is one of the prominent habitat of Royal Bengal Tiger in India. It is also famous for its one horned rhinoceros, swamp deer, crocodiles, Bengal Florican. It was declared as a national park in 1987, but the area around park is inhabited with no fenced boundaries. This leads to frequent man-animal conflicts. The tiger naturally being a shy animal avoids the humans, but over the years the tigers have been lesser shy and some times don’t think twice before giving a charge to those who crossed its way. It is said that after tigers of Sundarbans, the Dudhwa tiger is most ferocious and unforgiving.
This story is about a lovely and innocent Sardar ji who had come to Dudhwa with desperate hopes of seeing nothing but a tiger. This gentleman from Delhi was on a three day trip to the park with his family. He had been here earlier too and had heard all sort of stories about ferocious tigers of Dudhwa, but his luck had eluded him at least as far as sighting of tiger was concerned. He had tried all sorts of means including elephant rides and jeep safaris in his umpteen efforts to see the tigers. In his desperation to see the tiger, he had followed the clues provided by nature guides and mahawats and even cooks of the park. In this visit too, on the penultimate day he was still without success. On one such evening returning after a jungle safari without seeing any tiger, he became aggressive and loud mouthed. He yelled at everybody and claimed that the park officials were misleading everybody and he was dead sure that there was no tiger in the park. He was furious and blamed every body of misleading the country and the nature lovers without actually having a single tiger inside the park.
The park officials were embarrassed by his outburst but they knew that the disappointment for the Sardar ji was too much and he was over reacting as his only focus in that vast rich jungle was on a tiger and that he could enjoy nothing else. Out of frustration and embarrassment, the park officials present at the place decided to help him see the tiger next morning so that unwanted and baseless negative publicity of the park could be avoided. So using the information of kills by the tiger previous night they asked the mahawat in next morning safari with the family to try searching for tiger close to the kill. It’s a common knowledge that tiger takes time to completely devour its kill and returns back to kill to finish it off. This lovely sardarji was still not very hopeful, but decided to give it a last try before vowing to never come back to Dudhwa or in fact any tiger park in India.
It was an early morning and sun was still not out. There was a chill in this month of November in the morning. The family of sardar ji covered in jackets and mufflers and even monkey caps was at it again. The mahawat working on the insider information decided to follow the clue. The search continued and the mahawat inched closer to the area where the kill was supposed to be. The sardar ji meanwhile continued to rue his decision to search for the tiger once more and continued to ridicule all and particularly the forest officials of Dudhwa for allegedly misleading every body. In the midst of this ridicule and disbelief and the subsequent travel program of the family by going back to Delhi, no body except mahawat was focusing on the area around and even Mahawat was getting irritated by the continuous chatter of the family on issues of chola-bhatura and Delhi’s traffic etc. The elephant though continued to walk with elan.
Just on the corner of one of the kutcha jungle road, the elephant stopped suddenly and moved its trunk to one side. Mahawat was alerted, but before anybody could guess anything there was a huge roar, as the tiger was sitting pretty on the corner of the road and had got disturbed by the activities of the elephant and its riders. It roared and roared well. This sound in jungle could freeze the blood of every living thing who is in close proximity of the wild beast.The sardar family was actually frozen, as they could not believe what was happening around them. They were actually shocked and their jaws were half open. They did not move even a nano mili-meter and even there eyes were stoned as they failed to drop their eyelids against all norms of reflex actions of the body. The tiger was in a bad mood with the turn of events and actually took a retreat of few stops seeing the elephant. But the very next moment he charged towards elephant. The elephant dug its heel and raised its trunk and trumpted loudly. The tiger had leaped almost up to the right shoulder blades of the elephant legs and just below the feet of sardar ji. This sight and the turn of events in last 10 seconds was too much to handle for the awestruck family and everybody except Sardar on the elephant started screaming. The Mahawat without removing his gaze from the eyes of the tiger whispered them to remain silent. The burly Sardar actually was silent or perhaps had forgotten to scream! He said nothing and with his jaws half open continued to watch the tiger with a stony silence. The tiger seeing a confident elephant and feeling the noise created by sudden turn of events decided to beat a retreat. It vanished soon in the jungle bushes nearby.
But there was a different sort of silence around Elephant. Nobody was speaking anything and Sardar ji had not spoken a word for many minutes. Seeing the entire family panicking, Mahawat decided to go back. There was a pin drop silence and nobody in that deep jungle was there to disturb that either. While minutes ago every body was chirping and ridiculing the department for falsification on tiger census, now suddenly no body was saying any thing. Mahawat had been exposed to tiger charges earler and regained his calm and composure soon, but for the family it was a hell lot of experience. The elephanat trudged back to the rest house in about 20 minutes and stood beside the stepping platform for passengers to alight.
The family members alighted one by one but Sardarji did not budge. His wife little flummoxed by the body language of his husband asked him to get down from elephant, but he still did not move. He then gestured to his wife to come closer. She was confused but decided to listen to him. Sardar told his wife to get a big towel there only as he needed one to cover him. But why the towel? Sardar ji refused to say any more explanation and repeated his demand. Sardar ji looked around too just to confirm that no one around had listened to his hushed request. Finally wife frustrated by inscrutable things walked over to rest house and came back with a towel.
Sardar ji now using that towel rose from the elephant and covered his derriere quickly and after stepping on the platform virtually ran towards the room. Mahawat waiting for Sardar to get down was perplexed. Then he looked back at the mattresses for the elephant where Sardar ji was sitting. He almost shouted in disbelief as the wily Sardar had actually spoiled his mat placed on the elephant. Sardar ji had pissed on the elephant in fear and it was too much as the thick layer of duri and the mattress had got soaked in the urine of this adult Sardar ji. He turned his head to scream at the Sardar but he was no where to see. What a turn of event?. The Sardar ji who was cursing every body for last three days, for falsification of tiger census and misleading every body, had pissed on the sight of a charging tiger! Mahawat was shocked. The family too which earlier had echoed the criticism of Sardar was clueless. They did not have a word to say and wanted to run vanish like Sardar ji. They too, took a slower retreat and vanished into the rooms. The Mahawat was now cursing his luck for hosting such nature lovers. He was also cursing himself as he would have to now get the mattress washed and dried up in winters. Every body who was around took sometime to understand, but when they did, the chuckle and the laughter was then incessant. The loudest laugh finally was from the jungle staff. The tiger too must be smiling somewhere for sure!