Nature gives signals… there are many times we ignore it but on that warm day of June it was hard to overlook them. As I was sipping a cup of tea in my camp in Corbett Tiger Reserve, a pair of white-backed vultures was displaying an extraordinary aerial combat. Moments later, a brown headed barbet perched itself on a tree next to me and was tossing small seeds and flower buds in the air as the food was landing straight in its mouth. As I was observing this pleasing moment, a crested serpent eagle flew and rested itself on a branch right over my head. I changed position to save my tea and saw that the magnificent raptor was feeding on a rat as the filtered sunrays were lighting up its fiery eyes.
“Seems to be a lucky day,” I thought and headed off for a short drive in the buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve. For years, I had dreamt of a close encounter with one of the most ferocious and supreme rulers of the forest. Not a tiger, not an elephant but a reptile that rules the waters of Corbett. A reptile that on any given day can even give a tiger a run for its money when it comes to power. These seemingly lazy monsters can surprise you with their agility and their powerful jaws can crush the heaviest of preys like Sambhars in split seconds.
The mugger crocodiles and gharials have been ruling the sparkling waters of the Ramganga and can be frequently seen resting in the cosy banks of the river from various vantage points inside the national park. However, on multiple occasions, I tried my luck with them by visiting stretches of the Ramganga outside the national park. My attempts were to approach them carefully so as to get a close shot of these aquatic beauties. Most of these attempts failed as crocs are extremely sensitive to sound and they tend to disappear in the river with the slightest of disturbance.
As I was heading towards Marchula crossing the dense saal cover, I was wondering if the luck I was enjoying since morning would favour me. Forest superstitions plague your mind at times. “If I sight a cheetal somewhere in the next 2 minutes, this is certainly my day,” I told myself. I had hardly made this statement when a slight movement on the road bend caught my attention. A full grown cheetal stag walked out on the road looked straight at my vehicle and sprinted towards the other side. I was thrilled and marvelled at the signals that nature was giving me.
On reaching Marchula, I approached the river with anxiety and apprehensions. As I was descending from the hill, I saw something that seemed to be a log of wood. I inspected the area closely using my binoculars and the mighty jaws were wide open. A giant mugger croc was lying on the bank of the river… and luckily the bank was the same area I was approaching. I noticed that the beast was almost 20 meters away from the river.
Today was the chance for be face to face the monster of Ramganga – was the though as the distance was reducing while I was approaching the croc with steady and soft steps ensuring that I do not make a single sound. The slightest movement from his side and I would stop and stay still till I felt that the animal was comfortable with my presence.
I was now 20 meters away from the beautiful crocodile which was nearly of the same size as the distance I was maintaining. Sweat was dripping down my face and I could feel a cold shiver down my spine as those intoxicating green eyes were checking my every move. I don’t know whether it was because of fear or excitement… but I guess it was a mixture of feelings.
The handsome croc with its fiery eyes had now started give me the most nerve chilling experience in the wild as it started advancing towards me. I guess nature was now signalling that the time had come for the retreat and I slowly started backing off leaving behind the croc in that pristine valley that draws me back every time in search of the river prince!