The signs are all for the taking.
The smell of a fresh kill at a particular spot as you drive by in a Jeep Safari.
The guide suddenly asking the driver to stop, followed by 5 minutes of intense quietness and eventually nothingness.
The abundance of pug marks everywhere, including outside the gate of our resort. Tiger scrap lying around nonchalantly on the ground.
The hushed-up conversations between guides and the hotel staff, of sightings that have happened, just the other day, or better yet, only a few hours before. Loud enough for the guests to hear and be inquisitive about.
It’s all fascinating. It’s all very exciting. It’s all incredibly entertaining.
But, is it true?
The tiger has become a myth for many in places like Corbett National Park. During my four-day visit, at a time when there should have been abundant animal sightings, all I spotted was the aptly named Spotted Deer and a variety of birds.
I did see a lot of pug marks. I also skipped over heaps of tiger and elephant poop during my nature walks.
But, in the end, I came back disappointed… or so you would think.
I really want the sightings to be real. I want to believe that a tiger walked so close to our resort gate at night. Still, there is a small, slight doubt that continues to linger on in the back of my mind.
One of the primary reasons for this doubt is that everyone – okay, most people I know – seem to have had the same experience.
Most people come across pug marks, but not the tiger. The whole jeep stopping incidence happens with almost all vehicles. In fact, the only tiger and elephant sightings that occurred during our stay was by guests who were friends of the owner.
I know I am being overly critical and maybe even a tad jealous. It is after all a National Park and not a zoo.
The entire reason for going to Corbett is to experience wildlife in its natural habitat. Whether the animals grace you with their presence is entirely up to them.
It’s a gamble that each visitor takes.
Some hit the jackpot, while others return home with photographs of monkeys, deer, leaves and flowers. If the whole thing is a facade, then I do find it hard to believe that there are people all over Corbett National Park going around stamping pug marks or dropping animal scrap.
If they are, I think they deserve a standing ovation for doing this day in and day out.
Let’s look at some facts.
A Jeep Safari lasts roughly two hours, during which if you are like my four-year-old daughter, you will take a pleasant 30-minute nap. If you are among the chosen few, eventually at some point, you will get a peek at a tiger (or a herd of elephants).
If you do happen to see one, there is a good chance you will forget about the other hour and a half that you spent wandering around the Park. The entire trip will boil down to those few minutes of actually seeing the Tiger.
But, if you did not see anything, then the doubts begin to emerge.
What I am getting at is whether a trip to a National Park is really worth it if you haven’t spotted a tiger?
YES! Being one with nature should NEVER be just about spotting a tiger or any particular animal. It’s about having a new experience. It is about appreciating nature, and why all types of plants and animals are so vital for our ecosystem. It’s about learning interesting facts like how termites are extremely important for the preservation of forests.
It’s also about enjoying the beauty of nature; the fantastic sunsets, the loud buzzing of the bees at the start of their mating season – fascinating yet scary – the different bird calls, even the crumpling sound of dry leaves as one walks through the jungle.
As I talk about this “myth of the tiger” with people, I often get conflicting opinions. Some believe the pug marks are man-made – certainly not all, but those that are found around resorts. While others fall into the romance of the jungle and like I want to believe that the sightings are genuine.
I’ll probably find it hard to go one way or another till the time I actually come across a tiger in the wild.
Unfortunately, how that encounter will end, I do not know. But, if you hear about me going to a National Park and never read another post from me, know this; I met a tiger, and while it did not end well for me, the tiger had one hell of a feast that night.