Ravi Shastri & Ameya Tardeove

Sharmilee – The Queen Of Bijrani Zone, Corbett National park

“The book of nature has no beginning, as it has no end. Open this book where you will, and at any period of your life, and if you have the desire to acquire knowledge you will find it of intense interest, and no matter how long or how intently you study the pages, your interest will not flag, for in nature there is no finality.”

Taking these words of the famous hunter and tracker turned conservationist Sir Edward James “Jim” Corbett as Gospel I began planning for my maiden trip to Jim Corbett National Park. With some research over the internet I got a gist of what Mother Nature had planned for me. Her blessings for us are sort of a treasure hunt which we have to unravel as she holds our hands and takes us along with her.

The park has a core area of almost 821.99 Square Kilometres and a buffer area of 466.32 Square Kms located along the foothills of Himalayas in Uttarakhand spread over 2 districts Pauri, Nainital & Almora. River Ramganga, Sonanadi and Pallaen flow through the reserve giving life to more than 110 species of trees, 58 mammal species, and 580 species of birds with over 25 species of reptiles.

Corbett National park is divided into 6 main zones; Dhikala, Bijrani, Sonanadi, Jhirna, Dhela and Durgadevi. Bijrani zone was my choice of zone for obvious reasons. I wanted to see India’s national animal in its full glory in its own domain.

Amdanda Gate where it all starts is roughly 3 kms from Ramnagar Railway Station. To come to the official government guest house in Bijrani zone you have to cross 7 kms of buffer area from the Amdanda Gate.

The village folk in this buffer area gave me a feeling that life can be so very simple and yet so happy and fulfilling in these parts; man and animal live is such close corners yet there are hardly any clashes between them. Comparing the lives of these village folks with mine gave me a gloomy feeling of what an illusion I was living in – The man-made concrete jungle.

But Mother Nature holds your hand at every step. “Our happiness, I believe, resulted from the fact that all wildlife is happy in its natural surroundings. In nature there is no sorrow, and no repining.

A bird from a flock, or an animal from a herd, is taken by hawk or carnivorous beast and those that are left rejoice that their time had not come today, and have no thought of tomorrow”.

These words by Jim Corbett echoed in my mind which uplifted my spirits and thence I started enjoying every single moment of my stay in the core area of Bijrani Zone.

On the first day of the safari on the crispy cold winter morning the cold draft of air was the first to welcome me in mystical world of jungle as I opened the doors of my room. Being a typical Mumbai bloke from childhood, this sudden surge of cold draft combined with dew drops made me numb. A feeling of why the heck did I come in such cold climate brushed my mind; but this was a short lived feeling which disappeared when the orange ball of fire came out of its hiding from the east. This for any photographer is a dream to capture all that beauty in the camera. I for one did not miss it and kept on capturing these moments in my camera until it was time to start for the jeep safari.

Jeep safaris are one of the most popular means to see the jungles; though it can never beat the experience of an Elephant Safari. But it was better to follow my group in the comparatively cosy jeep in such cold weather. Sometimes common sense in unknown territories is helpful than rush of blood.

Our guide; a local lad, named Waseem; was our man for the tour. He made sure that we accustom ourselves with different elements of the jungle. These local guides might not be highly educated; but they have one thing which we urbanites lack. And that is sense of immense pride for nature which they call it theirs. Nature teaches them so much that they can take on any educated chap and beat them hands on. Ours was no exception to that. He had a sharp ear and was quick to spot any bird & animal by their sound.

We saw a herd of elephants merrily chomping the grass. We saw birds that were high on their metabolism and were busy searching for food and were merrily singing from branch to branch. I don’t know where they get the strength and courage to battle such cold weather. For me I was still numb after gulping down 2-3 cups of freshly brewed hot tea by the prompt and ever helping staff at the guest house.

Somehow I managed to capture a few shots.

It was a tough task but all my pain was forgotten when I saw what I managed to capture.

After the initial familiarisation with the jungle; my eyes were looking out for the Orange & Black Stripes. My anxiety to see a tiger was quiet clear to Waseem as well. He promised me that he will make sure I see the “Queen of Bijrani” on this maiden tour of mine. Queen of Bijrani: Sharmilee – Waseem said she was the most bold and beautiful tigress to have ever walked Bijrani.

Waseem was feeding me with information about Sharmilee when suddenly there was a call from the Spotted Deer.

Waseem knew instantly where it was from and followed our jeep from where the call was originating from. We stationed ourselves and I was getting more anxious when suddenly there was noise from the thicket and all I could see were the Orange & Black stripes passing by. Disappointed I thought this is it. I might end up in some sort of Jungle Jinx. But Waseem was sure where she would come out in the open.

We moved from our spot trying to track her and after a ride of almost 5-10 minutes stationed ourselves where Waseem thought Sharmilee might be spotted. Waiting some more time, getting more and more anxious was not helping me or my fellow passengers.

I must admit that this kind of silence with the sounds of birds, animals and for that matter the air humming in your ears is a meditative experience in spite of any sort of frustration that you are facing.

Suddenly out of nowhere the silence was broken when the Langur’s started making a hullabaloo and my meditative phase was broken.

Waseem was sure that the Sharmilee was on the move and will cross our path anytime. Yes, he was correct she was on the move but was walking parallel to us through the thicket and all we could see was the stripes and tail at times. Waseem was driving slowly; following her cautiously. I was now sure that the Jungle Jinx has tightened its grips on me. But then I heard a voice from within to be positive and be ready with my camera. I kept myself ready to capture the action should she come out of the thicket. Sometimes one has to listen to the inner self.

We kept on following the stripes for quiet sometime; Waseem stopped the car and asked us to be ready. These blokes who are raised in the lap of Mother Nature have some sixth sense I presume.

They are raised in such surroundings that give them this extra edge over us urbanites. We kept on waiting for some more time in anticipation of the Queen. A lone Robin meanwhile was keeping us company with his merry songs. I was trying to understand what that Robin might be saying and to whom; just when Waseem patted on my hand and said “There she comes Sir!”.

That was THE MOMENT for me or for that matter any wild life lover; The Undisputed Queen of Bijrani came out of the thicket to cross the road hardly 3 meters away from us, paused for a moment looked at us, and kept walking. This was a jaw dropping moment for me. Thanks to my Canon 7D and its ability to take 8 frames per second. I don’t know how many times or how long I might have pressed the button in order to capture her in my camera forever; I don’t remember. I don’t remember how many times I might have thanked Waseem after that. Now I frequent Corbett National Park and all its zones. But my favourite till date is Bijrani Zone for it is ruled by Queen Sharmilee. To call her BOLD & BEAUTIFUL won’t be any exaggeration. She is somehow not a shy tigress; she makes her presence felt to one and all. One such incidence was when we were driving in front for as long as 1 km. The Queen was busy marking her territory making sure there are no tiger dares to enter what is her territory.

After so many years I have come to a  conclusion that Sharmilee represents the true spirit of Womanhood. She is proud mother of 4 cubs for whom she hunts tirelessly to make sure they are well fed. She is making sure that till they reach a stage to set up their own territories they are well protected from any predators. In keeping them safe and sound the Queen has had to sacrifice her 2 canines in half.

But this is what mothers are all about isn’t it? Making sure their kids get the best of conditions to grow into strong individuals.

Observing Sharmilee for so many years has got me more close to my mother who I am sure would have taken all necessary steps to make sure I was raised well. At times we don’t realise what our mother has done for us but watching and observing some mother like Sharmilee makes me feel it wouldn’t have been any different. The only difference being they are Animals and we are Humans.

In the end I would like to quote from Jim Corbett’s pearls of wisdom “Those who have never seen a tiger under favourable conditions in his natural surroundings can have no conception of the grace of movement, and beauty of colouring, of this the most graceful and the most beautiful of all animals in our Indian jungles.”

Ravi Shastri

Self-taught photographer.

Digital Marketing Consultant. Travel Freak. Wanderlust!

Founder Thrilltrail

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