By Shivang Mehta and Kahini Ghosh Mehta
Deep inside the heavily wooded forest of Corbett National Park rests a Machaan that gives shelter to hundreds of photographers, naturalists and tourists visiting Corbett every year. Approximately 30 feet in height, this old machaan gives a panoramic view of the picturesque Dhikala grasslands and the Ramganga river that supports a multitude of life forms in Corbett National Park. “The forest is always buzzing with activity,” I realized this when I spent my 3 hours on this watchtower for the first time in early 2003. Since then the watchtower has been my popular hotspot and has played an instrumental role in helping me witness some of my most memorable wild moments in Corbett National Park.
It was the month of June when I along with Kahini and my dear friend Ankur (who has always been a great support during most of my wildlife expeditions) set off from the Gairal forest rest house in Corbett early in the morning in search of the dominant male tiger in the Khinnauli belt. We had been tracking the 9 feet beauty for the last 2 days and our chances were becoming brighter as we saw fresh tracks early that morning along with frantic alarm calls of spotted deer. However luck was not in our favor again as after waiting for over 2 hours near the river side (where we were expecting the arrival of the tiger) the beast still eluded me and my camera.
As we continued our journey by heading towards the Dhikala grasslands the passing vehicles informed us about tiger movements on the Sambhar Road and we rushed towards our beloved Sambhar Road watchtower which gives the perfect view of the area in which the tiger was prowling. We boarded the machchan at 8:30 am and strained our ears to listen to the faintest of sounds of the alarm calls that would announce the arrival of the king. In the next couple of hours the forest went silent and the cool breeze put our dear friend Ankur to sleep. A watchtower can be a wonderful place for catching some sleep as the calmness and tranquility of the forest is very relaxing indeed.
The silence was broken by a black jungle crow that woke us up with his hoarse calls and to our surprise we sighted a beautiful collared falconet right in front of us. The rare collared falconet is a beautiful little bird and it was thrilling to see the little creature after 2 long years. The atmosphere was filled with excitement yet again as a pair of pallas fishing eagle took off from inside the forest and stormed past the watchtower making a screeching sound giving us a great shot of the flight of the eagle. Following this Kahini spotted a pair of pied kingfishers hovering over the river in search of their lunch. Their close cousins – the white throated kingfishers – followed them and looked stunning with their colorful wings wide open.
Amidst the birding action, a small herd of spotted deer inched closure to the river and boosted our chances of tracking the tiger. The weather was perfect for a tiger to approach a water body as it was getting hotter and humid as the clock ticked. And then the spotted deers in front of us made a low alarm call. We could see that all the deers were pointing in one direction and stamping their feet in the water in nervousness.
The excitement was at its peak as this is what tiger tracking is all about. This is why the tiger sends shivers down the spines of the jungle folk when it moves fearlessly in forests of India. It was only a matter of time now and we were anxiously waiting as everything was falling into place… 10 minutes went by and by now the alarm calls became louder. Kahini’s trained eyes were glued to a patch of lantana from where we were expecting the tiger to come. Ankur’s sleep had vanished and I was ready to shoot with my fingers half pressed on my camera shutter. It was 4 pm and with a slight disturbance in the lantana, out walked the tiger. Those magical stripes were shining brightly in the sun and the tiger walked past the deer herd majestically to choose his preferred spot in the river.
It was a big male and he rested royally in the middle of the sparkling Ramganga for the next 20 minutes!
(Shivang Mehta and Kahini Ghosh Mehta are wildlife photographers and film makers and also run a camp in Corbett National Park in Uttrakhand, India. Learn more about them by visiting www.naturewanderers.com)