Looking back at 2014 in last week of December, one picture that haunts me still is that of a man squatting with folded hands in front of a white tiger at a Delhi zoo. This over inquisitive man had fallen accidentally in the tiger’s enclosure or moat and in last few minutes of his life was begging literally for his life. The face off ended in with the death of the man. It reminds me of few stories of tigers vs man confrontations at Dudhwa, during the course of my tenure as SDM in Palia sub division, though not all of them ended as pathetically as that at the Delhi zoo.
The king of the jungle-Tiger (Panthera Tigris Tigris), is at its dreaded most at the sal tree forested, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve on Indo-Nepal Border in state of Uttar Pradesh. The tigers at Dudhwa are so ferocious that they don’t think twice even before charging at elephants and rhinoceros. The otherwise shy jungle king of many forest reserves of India, has therefore given birth to many stories at Dudhwa, centering around the hapless tourists who were outsmarted and frightened to their last bone by the charging tigers.
This story, in continuation of my earlier blog on Dudhwa tigers titled-The Tiger and Sardar, is about one agnostic Mianji, who had come to Dudhwa to see a tiger with his wife. The Mian ji too, was frustrated after his many sojourns to jungle ended without even a faint glimpse of the tiger in its natural surroundings. He expressed his doubts about tiger ‘actually being’ at Dudhwa, the difference being only in expressing it in a subtle manner in chaste Urdu rather than in sarcastic manner of Sardar ji. The forest officials at Dudhwa though actually peeved at comparisons with other forest reserves, somehow kept their calm.
One fine morning, in course of safari in jungle atop an elephant, Mian ji was sitting nonchalantly to witness the end of the safari. His wife dressed in traditional attire was also sitting besides him. Mian ji had teased mahout about the live tigers in Dudhwa jungles but he was doing his best to facilitate the sighting of a tiger. Trudging slowly from the start up point, they reached the high grass-lands of forest around Sonaripur, where rhinoceros are bred and nurtured in a quarantined area. This area though marked by electrified wires is part of the jungle and is huge. The tigers too are there and attack even young calves of the rhino. Mahout was optimistic about sighting a tiger there. Mian ji was not so optimistic though.
Suddenly, mahout felt some movement behind the huge elephant grass. The grass in the month of February had grown beyond 12 feet or so and could hide even an elephant. Reaching at a sensitive point, the mahout asked Mia ji to be alert. But that had happened few times earlier too and was taken lightly by Mia ji. He had seen his hopes dashed too many times in this trip, after some very clear jungle calls and pug mark trails. So, he kept on sitting carelessly and was reclining on one side of makeshift sitting area at the elephant back. The mahout going by his huge experience in trailing the tigers was serious about the hints of his senses and asked the Mian ji again to be alert, as the opportunity to see a tiger may be too precious to be missed.
Mian ji continuing with his experience backed agnosticism in seeing an actual tiger just straightened his posture and glanced through the surrounding, perhaps to only satisfy the mahout who was really alert and was looking around with his penetrating eyes. Suddenly the mahout raised his hand and pointed his index figure nervously towards a thick grassed corner. He did not speak a word and nodded Mian ji and his wife to see closely. Mian ji did not believe that he was so close to a tiger, but still straightened his neck a little more and stretched himself upwards to have a better look at the grass area. The elephant by now had moved little more closer to the grass. There was something which had made even the elephant cautious in his moves. Mia ji too now got anxious, and almost stood atop the elephant to get a top shot view of the surrounding. The elephant inched even closer and negotiated its way deeper into the elephant grass. The tiger was just there. But before anything could settle, the roar of the tiger unsettled everything. The tiger got disturbed in his territory, and that too while taking rest. The tiger, true to the pedigree of Dudhwa, charged towards the elephant and its occupants with ferocity. Mian ji who was almost standing by now on his knees and was leaning towards the hauda ( a makeshift sitting arrangement atop an elephant). He was least prepared for this. He saw the tiger charging towards him and panicked. He virtually saw the death in front of him. The tiger was too close to elephant and Mian ji in panic lost his body control and fell on the ground! A loud sound of thud reverberated through the silent jungle. The way Mia ji fell on the ground was unexpected for everyone. His wife almost froze and gaped in disbelief. Mahout too screamed at the ultimate horror. The sight and the sound created by an 80 to 90 odd kg man falling from a height of 10 feet or more had shocked everybody out there. The inevitable was only few seconds away. But the tiger too was not prepared for this turn of event and the sound created by screams and by the fall of a healthy Mian ji was too unexpected. The tiger in his entire life would not have seen such a sceen, where a disbelieving tourist had fallen from the elephant, right in front of him. The tiger really got flummoxed, and from his perspective, saw this fallen man as a challenger to him or worse, a trained wily hunter!. Mian ji had closed his eyes and almost fainted but tiger was not knowing this and after freezing for a second decided to beat a hasty retreat. He ran away to the other side of the grassland.
The Mian ji was lying shocked and unconscious and was not knowing that the poor tiger had actually ran away. The mahout after scourging the forest with his experienced eyes for any other potential danger, nudged the elephant to place his trunk as a ladder to step down. Mian ji was still unconscious and mahout used water from the water bottle carried by tourists to sprinkle some on Mian ji and he opened his eyes after some efforts. He was still shaking with fear. While the tiger ran away to its safety after failing to face the impact of a huge fall, Mian ji could not believe that he was still alive!. The folly of him to see it closely and clearly had almost cost his life, but the situations as turned out to be, saved the day for everybody, practically and peacefully. The ferocious tiger too learned a new lesson of his life that it may be too counterproductive to frighten a 80 kg man like this!
I only wish if that man at Delhi zoo could have been as lucky and the white tiger could have been as flummoxed as the one at Dudhwa!.