I saw the blood trail on the tar road a short distance from Gairal. At first I thought it was gathered rainwater, except that there had been no sign of rain for days. I followed the drag mark, which ran parallel to the shoulder of the road for 10 or 12 metres and then veered off into the sal forest and vanished. We waited, but there was no sign of the tiger. But I knew it had to be there somewhere. It was probably watching us. In my vehicle were four young persons who had never seen a tiger before and I thought I could hear their hearts beat when I motioned them to keep totally silent as I drove 50 metres further up, away from the kill location.
We waited here for five minutes, listening to the calls of barbets, a Whitebreasted Kingfisher and a particularly persistent Goldenbacked Woodpecker. When I thought enough time had gone by, I turned the vehicle around and inched forward, hoping the tiger would have thought it had seen the last of us.
True enough, we caught the cat in the act of dragging the kill across the tar road again, this time deep into the forest. The cat did not hurry. Within three minutes the forest had swallowed the predator again. This time we did not wait and drove off instead at a leisurely pace towards Dhikala where we were camping for the night.
Such are the moments I live for. Apart from the joy of seeing the occasional tiger, what I love about the jungle is its rough and ready order, its functional design, its smells and sounds and the sense of eternity they convey.
I was born in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, but know the Kashmir and Uttarakhand Himalaya much better. I have trekked here, birdwatched, bathed in wild rivers and (with Bikram Grewal) sat frozen as a bull elephant in musth pursued our riding elephant with amorous intent in the Rajaji National Park!
Bikram is a birder. Tigers, elephants, king cobras and the like are interesting interludes as far as he is concerned and since most of my Uttarakhand adventures have been in his company I have slowly acquired both the skill and the interest that qualifies me to be that most curious of naturalists — a birdwatcher.
Birding in Uttarakhand
As it came up for air, the bird shook its head and released a spray of water, which formed an ephemeral halo around its handsome, backlit, head. This done, it looked around momentarily and then dived below the surface again. This time it came up with a silver mouthful, which it swallowed whole. It was not quite summertime in early March, but the fishing was, nevertheless, easy.