Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Encounter with the King of the Beasts !!

I couldn't imagine we were there - the Lion Sanctuary at Gir (Gujarat)- Only Asiatic Lion Forest reserve. The idea of visiting this place, when I first saw the hoarding at a traffic signal "We offer a unique and stimulating wildlife adventure - The “Walking with Lions” Safari. The lions are unrestrained and roam free as you join them on a walk through the vegetation on the banks of the river. The safari is fully supervised and professionally managed by an experienced and qualified team

During the safari inside the jungle, our guide elaborated Lions' behavior towards human intervention, within "their" territory. During the daytime the lion seldom attacks man, and sometimes even when meeting a traveler, he is said to pass by him unnoticed; but when the shades of evening descend, his mood undergoes a change. After sunset it is dangerous to venture out of camp, for the lion lies in wait. It was already 5 PM and I could sense the humid tropical climate. After an hour or so, near the so-called 'spotting area', I decided to take a little walk around the thick vegetation to calm my nerves and overcome his dreadful narration my guide gave. I was transformed into a different world, clicking photos of Mother Nature.

The pleasant sound of rushing water coming from the small river, a few hundred feet from the place where we were standing in a group, made me realize that I was indeed very thirsty for a draught of that cool sparkling water. I looked carefully around the peaceful dusk scene and listened intently for any strange sounds before venturing cautiously towards the river. Having assured myself that 'all was well', I went close the river, which was hidden by the rocks. A small herd of deers were also watering a little further downstream.

However, my enjoyment was cut short in an instant, when I spied out of the corner of my eye an unexpected ominous sight......Less than twenty feet from me, posing on the rocks, was a huge majestic Lion.

Terrified at the unexpected sight of such a beast, that seemed to have its eyes fixed elsewhere, I instantly took my camera. The moment I clicked it (the photo above), I see the lion stand up and stretch itself. Breathless and half dead with fear, I remained silent and motionless for a length of time. To my great terror and astonishment, my eyes met those of the animal, which flashed fire at me.

I do not have words to describe the feelings I experienced at that high-pressure moment. My hands are still shaking as I type these words on my computer. All of a sudden, I hear my group calling out my name aloud. I walk back, step-by-step, not showing my back to the King, thinking it might upset him and end up in a futile catch-me-if-you-can game. After I presented myself in the vicinity of my safari group, we hear the King give a loud roar and everyone was shocked to see me emerge out of the thick vegetation, white as marble !!

P.S: I am sure you enjoyed reading my encounter experience with the King of the Beasts !! Now for the climax… this was just 'spine-tingling' narration I tried to create, after remembering a fascinating piece in my eighth grade. This was about experiences of hunting Royal Bengal tigers in the Indian Himalaya by Jim Corbett, an expert in the pursuit of man-eating big cats, in his book titled "Man-Eaters of Kumaon". The above photo was shot by me at Hyderabad's Nehru Zoological Park :-)