Once upon a time, Maya, the Queen of Tadoba National Park, used to be my favourite tigress. She had blessed me with some unforgettable encounters and many a catwalk when I would do those 2500-3000 km roadtrips from Bangalore to Tadoba and back.
But in the last few years, we have become distant, and there is now some new favourite lady in my life 😉 – Noori, a beautiful tigress who usually hangs around in Zone 2 of Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. She is the daughter of the famous Noor, and the sister of Sultana, another famous Ranthambore tigress who can sometimes be seen on the main road beside Zone 1 or around Jhoomar Baori, the Rajasthan Tourism property in the jungle.
The first time I saw Noori was when I had gone on a wildlife roadtrip with a few friends. She was almost grown up then, and had killed a cheetal fawn a couple of minutes before we encountered her. She ambled down to a stream, and ate it right in front of us. Gruesome, yes, but that is nature. Circle of life and all that. Then she shook herself, came out, and lay down right in front of our safari vehicle, licking her paws and giving an occasional glance at the humans and a cheetal herd far away. It was interesting to notice how she would drop the fawn in the middle of the water for a few seconds, and then again lift it up and hold it in her jaws. I have seen this in other videos also, not sure why tigers do that. No, I do not think that it is to give the fawn a kinder death by drowning. Such sentimental anthropomorphism seldom holds true in nature.
Fresh kill. See the drop of blood.
Portrait of Noori
Since then, I have seen her many times. And she has given me some special moments and photos. I keep driving to Ranthambore, and given that I spend a lot of my time in North India, I guess luck has favoured me a little.
One such encounter. I had driven to Ranthambore, and was staying at some tent resort, with a lawn in front (which was lit up by lanterns in the night), doing two safaris every day. Every morning I would wake up at 5 am, get ready for the safari and head out to the main road outside the resort to wait for the safari vehicle.
There was this 6-7 month old pup, who stayed in a house close-by. Every morning the owner would tie him up beside the road for whatever reason. The poor guy would keep barking, and go hysterical when he saw the local gang out for a morning stroll. That gang comprised all the local dada doggies, a few big ones, and a few followers. This fella would howl and whine, I could feel his desperation to become member of that gang. Usually the gang members would give him a condescending glance and then go scavenge or chase some hyena who was also in the scavenging mood in some undergrowth half a kilometre away. Anyway, once he managed to get free, and immediately ran and joined the gang. There was the usual snarling and nipping and all that, to ensure that this newcomer understood his place – which was right at the bottom. But I have never seen a happier pup than him, when the gang came back, with this fella proudly strutting at the back and smiling at everyone. Unfortunately, his owners discovered that he was missing, so nabbed him when he got close. Oh well. C’est la vie.
Anyway. It was a cold February morning, and the light was still soft and warm as I headed back after a fruitful morning safari, after encountering a tigress and her three-month old cub. Suddenly we saw that a canter had stopped in the middle of the road. When we asked the driver, he and a few tourists said that a tiger had been walking in the nalla (which was 20 feet below the road) some 10-15 minutes earlier. I was skeptical, given that it was past 9 am, but asked the driver to go forward for 100 metres and stop. Imagine my surprise when I saw the canter folks getting excited (they were higher up, so could see what was happening in that dry nalla), and then after a few seconds, a tigress parting the undergrowth, marking her territory on a tree, and coming on the road between the canter and our vehicle.
Black and white portrait from Ranthambore
She decided to walk towards us! That rare head-on sighting, when yours is the only vehicle in front of her, so you can keep reversing, wait for a few special moments, shoot, then again go back. This went on for 10-12 minutes, till she decided to head back into the nalla, climb a rocky hill and go out of sight.
As I keep saying, it is not the quantity of sightings but the quality of sightings that matter!
Some of the photos look best when printed large, but you need to be a big cat lover 😛 . They do change one’s room! Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable feeling the presence of a tiger all the time. Oh well.
Approaching tigress, black and white
Black and white fine art portrait of Noori, Ranthambore National Park.