Mayank Pandey is a photo blogger with a sensitive viewfinder. He captures the mood, the feelings and the ethos of his subjects, so much so that they each tell a story. He keeps the text to the minimum, letting his images speak for him. In this guest post, he makes an exception, talking about the jungle, sharing his feelings about its awesomeness, moods and ethos. The sighting of the big cats seems almost incidental in the scheme of things! Behold the lovely pictures of the jungle and you will know what I mean. Read on…
As I walked into the reception area of the Jungle Lodge at Kabini, I was greeted by the jaw dropping-awesome photographs of the big cats. I couldn’t take off my eyes of the photographs, and I surreptitiously noted down the names of the photographers in the frame.
My friend meanwhile had completed the short check-in formalities and was discussing about the last significant sightings. ‘If the jungle is kind, you should see a leopard in the next three days of your stay, sir,’ said the staff. I did not fail to notice the reverence that these people had for the forest and the animals there, though at that time I did not give it much thought. My focus was on my primary interest of photography. If only I could manage some good shots similar to these — they could be my modern day equivalent of wildlife trophies I thought wistfully.
However, at that time I didn’t realize that the next six days in the wild across the dense forests of Nagarhole, Bandipur & BR Hills were going to be so much more, an experience which was way more expansive than what I could view through my viewfinder. It was to become a virtual lesson about the orderliness and aesthetics of the jungle.
Is it a different sun out there?
Those of you who are into photography would agree that light is the most crucial thing for the craft, and here in wild the forest is washed in a beautiful golden light filtering through the trees — almost creating a surreal environment, morning or evening. It makes one think that the sun is indeed different there! The warm hues filled my heart and soul in a way no digital sensor can ever capture. Photographs do not do justice to the magnificence of the forest and yet that is the only way to share it.
The jungle is not chaotic as believed; on the contrary, it almost always follows its own rules:
One can never take nature for granted, it never ceases to surprise us. And yet, I was quickly convinced that there is nothing chaotic or unruly about it.
It is amazing to see how those who have spent years in the jungles can hear and interpret the noises of the jungle as our guide Afsar, a local lad could. He could hear the alarm calls of the monkey and confidently announce that a leopard had just stopped moving and was sitting down. I believed him when he explained that there are different calls that monkeys, deers and other animals use to announce when the predator is moving and when it is not. It appears that with experience it is even possible to tell if it is a leopard or a tiger!
As I said earlier, the jungle is very predictable. For instance a brown fish owl was spotted at same spot every day for three days and we all became familiar with how the big cats mark their territories in the wild and do not stray in another cat’s territory unlike humans who invade each other’s space!
On the second day, our guides were convinced of the presence of leopards in one part of the jungle. One of the guides told us that the animal was attempting to cross the road but ran away after hearing the sound of the vehicles. For 40 minutes, six jeeps waited for the shy leopard to come out. I learnt the value of patience during that wait. Just 10 minutes after we moved on, we got to know that a pair of leopards crossed the roads at the very same place where we had kept vigil.
This largely predictable behaviour of the jungle and its wild inhabitants is one of the reasons why it is easy for human beings to get close and study them. And sadly also one of the primary reasons why animals, especially the big cats are such easy targets for poachers.
The jungle rewards you at its will — there is little you can do, except maybe pray!
Even with best of guides, sighting of big cats in wild is rare and therefor special simply because they are shy animals. And if the true blue enthusiasts are to be believed it is also a matter of one’s good karma and the general attitude to the wild.
Hard to digest? Well, one such brash young guy who was boasting about how good he was at sighting animals and how he hated dense Indian forests was instantly dubbed as an outcast by the others in the bar one evening at Kabini. That he and all the members in his group failed to have any sighting thereafter was probably only a coincidence but became a topic of conversation later as to how the jungle only favors those who treat it with reverence.
One evening on our way back after a hard and dusty and fruitless safari, we were discussing how hard it is to sight a leopard. ‘I have had 100 tiger sightings and yet not seen a single leopard in my last 6 years of safari’, Sandeep, a fellow enthusiast told us. My friend had seen none in his 10 years of forays into wildlife either!
And so as we were heading back to the lodge around 6.15 pm, when my friend cried sharply, ‘Stop!’ The jeep screeched to a halt. And guess what? We see this beautiful male leopard on a tree by the roadside! It was a dream come true, too good to believe. Imagine, just when we were discussing about the improbability of sighting a leopard!
None of us spoke a word for the next three minutes till the magnificent animal dashed off.
The mood in the evening was ecstatic with a lot of back slapping, and stories shared over drinks and food. The jungle had rewarded our patience! Funny how one sighting could lift the mood of the whole team in the jungle lodge. I was ready to believe the theory that it was indeed some good karma that had got us this treat.
There is more to the jungle than big cats
Indeed there is more to the jungle than big cats and sightings. That I was treated to a tiger sighting within a day of leopard sighting is a story I would keep for some other day.
Yet every time I step into the forest, the fresh air, the sound of forest and the thrill of unknown would be enough to keep the adrenaline flowing.
When I look at the picture above I am reminded of this Zen saying :
The jungle does not rush, yet it accomplishes everything – Tzu
The thoughts of my first leopard and tiger sighting in wild still gives me goosebumps, something I will never forget all my life and I know will keep pulling me to the wild again and again.
And to sum up, as aptly said by a good friend – there are two types of people in the world, one who have seen a tiger in wild and others who have not.
Do share your stories and experiences!