The Traveler's Guilt

Posted by: Seema Khinnavar on

A new place is explored; its beauty touched, its charm disturbed and its virginity lost. I belong to the tribe of travelers. Those who wander, explore, discover, admire and unfortunately also disturb.

I had recently been to Ranthambhore National Park. I was going to journey by train. For hours on an end I had listened to ‘tiger tales' from more experienced travelers. I had always been attracted to the ‘King of the Jungle' since childhood. I had sincerely hoped that I would be able to have at least one glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

We went on our first Safari - into the forest. The jungles of Ranthambhore are thick and full of forest noises. The trees rustle, the monkeys chatter, birds chirp. I see the treepies and the drongos zooming in and out of the greens. I spot an occasional kingfisher near a pool of water. I get the opportunity of seeing the nest of a White Rumped Vulture. Our gypsy comes to a halt near a water body when our driver suddenly hears the deer's tiger calls - it is faint but persistent. We wait silently in the hope that the tiger might come for a drink. I see a monkey hiding inside a cool stone enclosure protecting itself from the heat. A pond Heron is nearby. The deer's calls are now even more faint and soon we can't hear them anymore. We drive away; perhaps we weren't so lucky.

The next day we again set off to try our luck. This time we see a group of gypsies crowding around a small water body - a tiger had been sitting there in the cool waters. But we had missed it. It had already gone away. After a little more searching, we finally find a huge star male sitting inside a water body. Its head resting upon its front paws. Excitement sparked in me as I reached for my camera. It was the first time I had seen the mighty beast. Its golden colour reflected off in the sun, thick black stripes on its body with the king's mark on its forehead. I saw the rippling muscles of its front legs they were bursting with strength. A single blow with its front paws could kill a Sambar I had heard. I clicked a few pictures and my attention turned to the 20 other gypsies and canters that had gathered around the Tiger.

My initial spark of excitement suddenly died. I felt guilty to be there. What was I but an intruder? I had done nothing but disturbed the king himself. I kept watching as more and more gypsies and canters gathered around the beast, vying to get a little closer than before to get better pictures. Competing for more space and time with the king. The tiger is a solitary animal I had heard. I was disgusted at mankind. We had not only pushed the tiger to the brink of extinction but now we had made it a celebrity. The tiger was now probably used to human beings, it had also been named after all. I understand that naming the tiger and wildlife tourism is necessary to protect the beast. But yet even today, I sincerely wish that I hadn't been there.

Whatever his intentions maybe, a traveler is always after all an intruder.