In Search of the Mighty Tiger

How else to describe these graceful and elegant creatures but to call them "tiger food"?

As a kid I was enchanted with the larger than life, real life British hero, Jim Corbett. A big game hunter, Sahib Corbett stalked and killed a number of Indian tigers that had begun to kill the people of the region during the 1920s. I devoured his book, "The Man-Eaters of Kumaon" with the zeal of one of his killer tigers, and fantasized living his style of life.

And, as a kid, Cassidy has been equally passionate about her love and study of tigers. In fact, one of her wishes for our journey was to see a tiger in the wild. So on our way into the heart of Rajasthan we decided to spend a few days near one of the main tiger reserves, Sariska National Park, located about 120 miles southwest of Delhi in the dry countryside of the Aravalli hills.

Alwar, the closest town, is one of the oldest cities in Rajasthan. Driving the rugged road there we passed large fields of mustard, endless walls of rock, hundreds of wild camels, and thousands of people and monkeys, both squatting along the roads, on the walls, in the ravines. This was the land that gave birth to hundreds of kingdoms over the millennia.

Thirty miles southwest of Alwar is the Sariska National Park. Here animals have the protection of the rules of civilization as written on paper. However, rules being rules, and due to the encroachments on land and the cruel and stupid Chinese poacher's trade, the primary reason for this park, the tiger, is in danger. The wild population of tigers in India has seriously crashed. In 1973, The WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF) began Project Tiger in an effort to protect this magnificent predator from the malignant demands of a much worse predator--man. Within a decade the tiger preserves had more than doubled the number of tigers, from an estimated 1800 to over 4000 located in 19 reserves throughout the country. Sariska joined Project Tiger in 1979, and has an estimated 25 tigers roaming free over its 500 square miles.

We stayed just outside the Park gates at the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Council) hotel, Tiger Den. At night jackals would stand outside our room howling, and in the mornings we'd open the doors to find a pack of monkeys waiting to get in and raid our stuff. On three occasions we hired a jeep and driver to take us into the back trails of the park on our search.

At the guarded gate entrance to the park, this woman and child waved hello

We each took turns standing in the back of the jeep clutching the roll bar and scanning the surrounding brush and forest. For five hours we roamed, stopping and holding our breath at a watering hole and watching as dozens of animals wearily approached for their evening drink. Of the deer family we saw the sambar, chital, nilgai, four-horned antelope and spotted deer. Also joining the troop were wild boars and jackals. Perched in the trees were the acrobatic langurs (monkeys) with their long tales and graceful leaps. But we saw no tigers--except that I may have. In the distant forest I spotted a fleeting, slinking image that seemed to be the right color. Buy who knows? Perhaps I just wanted to see one so bad that I made it happen.

Each trip into the park we took different routes, but no luck. Other than finding tiger prints in the dust (they're almost as large as our black bear paw prints in Alaska), and droppings, the elusive and rare tiger was just that for us. One of the other guest families from Calcutta had better luck. On their last day they went back into the park in the morning, and witnessed two tigers manage a game kill only a few meters from their jeep. When we went in later in the day we found the site by the vultures circling overhead, but still no tiger. However, on that trip we did meet up with a black cobra languidly sliding across our trail.

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