Our trip started on 20th February, and we were unable to see even the footmarks or claw marks of a tiger. Just the day before, there were people who were treated with beautiful images of a tiger holding a fawn in his mouth and walking through the river stream (the river's tributary wasn't very deep).
On21st February, in the late afternoon, after a heavy downpour, our eyes were treated to 3 sub-adult cubs of the tigress Parwali at 300+ feet distant from a spot but even after zooming in 200%, they appeared like tiny blobs on the camera screen/display.
Apart from this sighting, the whole morning it rained heavily, and we were able to just see a Crested Kingfisher (which is the biggest kingfisher in Asia) and a jackal hunting a fawn (right outside the Forest Rest House fencing at a distance of 20 meters when we off boarded the gypsy at the Forest Rest House post the morning safari). I was all wet and was shivering in the cold so much that I couldn’t shoot this amazing sight on the canvas of my camera. Nature is very regarding and will never make you lose hope. After returning from the morning safari and the much-needed breakfast, we were sitting on the balcony which faces the forest below and Nature gifted us with some beautiful shots of a family of the gentle giants, the elephants.
That day the afternoon safari was quite a dull one with just a glimpse of a Pallas’s Eagle’s nest with her chick, hog deers and Pied Bush Chat in the evening.
22nd February 2020, It was a quite bright sunny morning preceded by a stormy and rainy day!! Our gypsy driver Mouseen was a young man in his 30s full of energy and enthusiasm. We all started with high hopes of watching the star attraction of Corbett, the Tigress Parwali, and her cubs. The guide, Vijay who accompanied us had a great rapport with Mouseen. In Corbett, you can hire a guide that can be hired only on a first serve first-come basis. So, we went to the gypsy stand and hired a guide named Vijay. Little did we know the literal meaning of his name was our lucky charm that day. We went and waited at all places in search of the big cats, but to our utmost disappointment, we had to satisfy ourselves with some nice snaps of a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle Pale Morph.
With only 45 minutes remaining, we finally returned to the grasslands just behind the Dhikala Forest Rest House. Mark my words, if there is a watchtower in there, and is equipped with a handy binocular or thermal one, at night a lot of activity can be seen just outside the boundary of the Forest Rest House in the grasslands. Herds of Sambars, Hog Deer, Barking Deer, and Spotted Deer could be seen just beside the Forest Rest House. Tigers have been known to hunt them in these grasslands. Well please do not yet panic, as the FRH is always surrounded by live electric fencing. No way a tiger can come inside. Some years ago, when there were no concrete boundaries or any such electric fencing, a tiger entered and hunted a rest house staff down. Since then the electric fences have been installed.
Well Well Well…look at me; I started going haywire. So, it was 10 AM when we returned to the FRH. We were to again leave at 2:00 PM. We freshened up, had some breakfast of bread jam, mixtures, and butter (brought from the market by our tour guide) and went for some bird photography within the forest rest house boundaries. There were some White Browed Fantails, a Collared Falconet, Canary Flycatchers, Fulvous Breasted Woodpecker, Oriental White Eye, Himalayan Bulbul, a vulture flying towards the jungle followed by 4 Indian Grey Hornbills.
Down below from the FRH, was a common sight of crocodiles (muggers) basking in the sun, egrets, cormorants, ruddy shelducks, river terns, river lapwings, and several others such waders could be seen sitting/standing/swimming around.
Another interesting sight was of the Jackals wandering among the bushes and shrubs to search for Lapwings' eggs. A pair of Lapwings tried hard to protect their eggs but in vain. It’s Nature’s way of controlling the wildlife population.
Finally, it was time for us to have our lunch at around 12PM. Post Lunch we reached our gypsy by 1:40 PM (actually I ran to the gypsy stand where the guides wait and hired the guide Vijay again, as I had noticed He had developed a good rapport with the driver) and hired Vijay. This time we had high hopes, because in view of the fact that since the last 2-3 days, the tigers were not seen to hunt anywhere. So, the chances of seeing one of them wandering in the jungle in search of food was quite high.
As soon as our gypsy came upon the Sambar road, we were greeted by a Mahout riding an elephant (this elephant is used by the Forest dept for surveys and for special tourist rides too) who informed that a male tiger was seen under the big tree located beside the Ramganga river which was visible from the mid of the Sambhar road.
Our excitement grew, the heart started beating faster in excitement, eager eyes started looking out on the left for any movement among the grasses. Finally, after waiting and relocating the gypsy for about half an hour, at about half-past 3 PM, we saw a movement among the grasses behind a bush. It was a tiger for sure, but if it was an adult or sub-adult or male or female was difficult to guess.
About 15-20 more minutes, we witnessed the appearance of another tiger. This new development brought in all the gypsies in that area. Vijay confirmed that those were the female sub-adult cubs of Parwali tigress that roamed in that area (the mahout mistook the tiger to be a male).
My eyes witnessed a drama that I shall remember throughout my life, as at least for me it's my first tour to Corbett and such exciting adrenaline-filled experience. This drama continued for about 45 minutes.
The script of the highly interesting and delightful drama: one of the sub-adult tigress cubs was seen hiding in a small bush with the other one on the edge of the long grasses. Within a few minutes, the third one appeared just beside the second one which was hidden along the edge of the long grasses. Herds of Spotted deers were grazing at a distance of 50 meters from the tigers’ location. Another herd was seen approaching the tigers from the backside, who were able to identify the threat sitting in front gave alarm calls, and ran away. Now, the cubs were getting impatient and as they started emerging from their hides, a bird flock flew away alerting the herd of spotted deer grazing just at a distance of 50 meters. Some of the adults who were now aware of the threat were on high alert and surveyed the area with their keen sense of hearing and smell.
(to the left a small yellowish blob can be seen stalking, it is one of the cubs)
As the 3 tigers now were completely out of their hiding places and started approaching the herd in open terrain, all the spotted deers sensing the approaching predators alerted the rest of the deers who were still grazing unconscious of the approaching danger. Deers stomp a front foot and raise their tail perfectly erect to alert other deers about the presence of the predator around. Once they are confirmed that the predator is on hunting mode, they sprint away.
And the scene was the same here, as soon as the 3 cubs emerged from the bushes out of impatience, the herd sprinted away. Later we were convinced that this was just a bluff by the three cubs so that the mother tigress Parwali could attack from behind and get themselves a good meal. But more probability is that the mother tigress gave them a task of hunting on their own and will come into the field only when things might get out of control. Tigers live solitary lives and the litters are forced to leave the home territory as soon as they are old enough (around 2-3 years of age). Sometimes the new young tigers kick out the siblings along with their own mother from the territory to secure the home turf for themselves. Or the mother herself kicks out the litter to be available for mating again and raise a new litter. A female tiger can raise 3-4 litters in her lifetime, with 3-4 individuals on an average in each litter. Tigers live up to an average of 19-20 years. Tigress Machli being the oldest with 21 yrs of age.
Coming back to the scene unfolding in front of us, all the tigresses disappeared into the long grasses within the next 5-10 minutes. Inferencing from the movement and bending of the long grasses, we could see quite a violent struggle and run between the predator and the prey that finally was concluded by a sudden scream of a spotted deer in agonizing pain.
It was high time for us to leave (since entering the Forest Rest House by 5:45 PM is mandatory as per forest rules and it was already around 4:10 PM) the astonishing and breathtaking scenes of stalking and hunting by the tigresses of a herd of spotted deer that made the air filled with alarm calls (In animal communication, an alarm signal is an anti-predator adaptation in the form of signals emitted by social animals in response to danger. Many primates and birds have elaborate alarm calls for warning conspecifics of approaching predators). But the ongoing drama had us infix, it’s like in childhood we used to beg the teachers for one more minute during exams, similarly, we had to request the driver and the guide to stay for some more time. Thanks to Mouseen, the driver and Vijay, the guide for staying there, else, we would have missed some great activities by the cubs.
After exhaustion from the hunting, bathing in the pure and cool water of the Ramganga river was need of the hour for the exhausted cubs. it was like having a glass of water in a desert. It’s quite rare to see tigers playing in the waters for more than 10 minutes during winters. The 3 sub-adult cubs entered the water and started cooling off themselves, while the mother tigress Parwali was relaxing among the grassland just above the riverbank.
As usually happens in most of the families, one of the cubs always has the habit of nagging its sibling/s. Likewise, one of the cubs was constantly messing with the other two and when finally, both the others managed to suppress her mischief, she finally climbed back to mama.
Finally, the tigers bid us adieu with one of them sticking her tongue out as if asking us to go away as they had already given enough poses?? Time: 16:50
‘Corbett’ - the name itself makes us visualize the biggest feline member, the Royal Bengal Tigers roaring and moving majestically in the dense jungles of the formerly known as Ramnagar National Park. It was later renamed to Corbett National Park after the naturalist Jim Corbett, who initially was a Hunter, later became a man-eater hunter and finally a Nature enthusiast and photographer post his prime years. The book of Jim Corbett Omnibus best describes his journey. However, apart from the Tigers, Corbett National Park is also well known for the gentle giants - The Asian Elephant and the Leopards (the wild ghosts of the night). Apart from these, various birds are also found here ranging from raptors, scavengers, kingfishers, chats, waders, hornbills, etc. You could also see muggers lying on the banks of the river Ramganga, basking in the sun.
The river Ramganga and her tributaries are the sources of life here fertilizing the land with essential nutrients for various flora that play an important role in the sustenance of the ecosystem here. Corbett has five tourism zones for five exclusive tourism zones namely Bijrani, Jhirna, Durgadevi, Dhikala, and Sitabani. The forest department has opened a new tourism zone named Dhela.
It was Dhikala, the kingdom of Parwali, where we stayed for 4 days. The rest house was so situated that one can just walk 4-5 meters and can see a large part of the core area down. Maybe if luck is on your side, you can see the tigers from the rest house itself. On a moonless and clear sky night, you can even try out shooting the Milky Way or Star Trails. After the afternoon safari, one can spend the evening and the night hearing to the music of the jungle which is comprised of calls of the birds like the River Terns, River Lapwings, brown hawk owls, alarm calls of the herbivores or maybe if your luck favors you the roar or growl of a Tiger. Yes, you read it right, the Tiger. However, please carry your own medicines, torches, and other such essential items, as there is no shop there. And it’s always better to carry some dry snacks with you.