A flash of yellow streaked through the lush greenery that enveloped us. I strained my neck to get a glimpse of the unlikely episode unfolding in front of our jeep. It was a tiger, walking nonchalantly along the thick woods of Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary situated in BR Hills of Karnataka, 86 km from Mysore. Neither is BR Hills the best place for a tiger sighting nor is monsoon the best time. But the forest gods had finally relented, allowing me my first glimpse of a tiger in the wild.
This little-known wildlife sanctuary is home to at least 44 tigers, 75 leopards, 600 elephants but it’s not easy to get a glimpse of the fauna because of the limited safari tracks and hilly landscape. Thanks to the lack of fame, the sanctuary remains a pristine place, without any unwanted commercialisation.
I had been drawn to BR Hills only because I had heard that the Eastern Ghats meets the Western Ghats here. I arrived at K Gudi Jungle Lodge, set in the fringes of the tiger reserve, one afternoon and fell in love with the swaying trees and rustling leaves that surrounded it.
Reluctant to leave the comforts of a pleasing forest view from the balcony, I dragged myself to the jeep as we prepared for a late afternoon jaunt into the sanctuary, convinced I wouldn’t see a single wild thing in the impenetrable forest. I lifted my gaze up to the sky when a thick swirl of mist rolled over the hills upon us. The sudden chill sent a shiver down my spine, reminding me that this is why we go to forests, not just for the wildlife but also to feel the immense power of wilderness.
Sitting on a tree trunk high up, a changeable hawk-eagle looked down upon us in silent, majestic beauty. A barking deer ran away into the bushes to escape the prying eyes of visitors. A stripe-necked mongoose flitted around a fresh water pond in the open glades of the forest. The rare nightjar stopped us in our tracks and a serpent eagle ignored us from its vantage point. Apart from plenty of avian beauties, gaur, sambars, spotted deer, wild boars also showed up. For such a dense forest, it was surprisingly easy to spot wildlife.
Returning back to the jungle lodge, we would eagerly compare notes and update the “Sightings of the Day” board. One thing that struck me was the consistent tiger sightings recorded over the past two-three days. They had got lucky, would we?
A glimmer of hope resurfaced every time we ventured into the forest but the beauty of the wilderness always drowned the disappointment of not spotting the big cat. One morning, however, it was time. The sighting lasted less than 10 seconds but for around 10 minutes, we could hear a pair of cats move around us. Less than five feet away from us, the tiger teased us with a hint of yellow and its loud grunts pierced the silence of the forest. It was a feast for the senses.
Driving back to the lodge for the last time, I couldn’t help but reflect that over the years, I had chasing the striped cat in the best-known tiger reserves of the country — with little luck. I had not given up hope but I chose to believe no matter when it’d be my turn, the sighting would be special. There are few things that can surpass the thrill of seeing a tiger — and in BR Hills, I had experienced it.
Naturally, the first thing I did after arriving at the lodge was to update the “Sighting of the Day” board.
The writer is a Bangalore-based travel writer and photographer.