We’d just returned from our third game drive and grabbed a drink and a cold towel. I’d had no tiger sightings so far. That’s when our guide, Dharmendra told us that a tiger had visited the lodge the night before, very close to our cottages. He offered to show us the pug marks so we readily agreed. Apparently tigers don’t respect fencing and regularly wander through the grounds on their way to visit the various waterholes scattered about the property...
Five minutes later we were stood in a sandy ravine looking at large footprints made by a male tiger. He had simply padded down to the waterhole for a drink but for me it was both unnerving and really exciting to think how close he’d come to where I was sleeping the night before.
That’s when we heard the first alarm call. “Sambar call. Tiger nearby!” shouts Dharmendra as he motions to be quiet. All five of us look at each other with wide eyes. We are on foot, wearing flip flops and it was nearly dark. What do we do now? How does this work?! I'm conscious that in contrast to African walking safaris I’ve been on, neither of our guides have a gun."
Dharmendra tells us to quietly move out of the ravine into the open meadow. "That way the tiger will see us”. None of us are convinced that we want to be seen by the tiger. However, we move, all eyeing each other nervously and jostling for position behind Dharmendra. We’re very very quiet as asked, all senses on red alert.
We move into the meadow area and stand still. Dharmndra points to a thicket of bamboo about 20 meters away and listens intently. We wait and strain both eyes and ears to see if we can make out a stripy shape in the twilight.
The alarm calls get nearer and more frequent. The atmosphere is intense. That’s when we’re told “not to run”! The tiger is apparently only 50 meters away and will hopefully walk past us on the way to the water hole. Hopefully? My heart is pumping. I'm on foot and about to meet a tiger. No one has anything to defend us. And all I can think is ‘will I want to run?’
“I can hear him walking” says Dharmendra. This is amazing. Somehow I am about to become face to face with a wild tiger. I’ve been lucky enough to see them from jeeps several times but this is different. This is on the ground. This is at their level. On their terms. Bring it on!
We wait and listen for about ten minutes. Every time someone shifts weight and a twig cracks we all tense.
Then just as quickly as it started, the calls die down.
“The tiger has changed direction” Dharmendra tells us. Oh the disappointment!
Whilst I'm partly relieved, I am gutted. What a story to tell everyone 'I’ve survived a one on one with a tiger’ (obviously it would become embellished by the time I get back to London…)
I hadn’t seen a tiger but amazingly, he’d seen me! As we started to walk back to the lodge and our well earned showers I pondered to myself. I’d come very close to a once in a lifetime experience and in fact, arguably it was very much just that, exactly as it was. What a privilege to be that close to such an endangered creature. He chose not to show himself and that was his right. I was there on his terms.
If you’re wondering, I didn’t end up seeing tigers on this trip. I came very close on several occasions but that experience on foot will stay with me for the rest of my life.
While tigers remained elusive on this trip, Carla did manage to have plenty of other wildlife encounters and managed to capture some great images of the inhabitants of Tadoba National Park.