I travelled to Hampi recently and was blown away by the palace and temple ruins, and the fascinating landscape it was set in. To make it even more interesting, I stayed in a wildlife resort nearby. When I was asked to sign the visitor book, I peeked at what everyone else had to say. You know how these things are. No matter how good the place, there is always someone complaining about there being too many insects in the jungle, or the fact that there were only fourteen items for breakfast. But I was shocked when I saw reviews suggesting that the Hampi wildlife resort should add a badminton court and a swimming pool because there was “nothing else to do”. Nothing to do? In Hampi? In a wildlife resort? If I had my way, such people would be forced to live on a desert island for the rest of their lives.
Speaking of wildlife, is it just me or is everyone suddenly interested in wildlife now? Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts are no longer the eccentric minority they used to be. Or rather, they are still eccentric, but no longer a minority. In Bangalore, every other yuppie that you meet is a wildlife photographer (the others are runners, bakers or published authors). I too own a DSLR and it only took me a few months of study to be able to impersonate a real photographer. Others do it in even less time. Burly men who look like they misspent their youth post pictures of dainty little birds with intriguing captions like “Zitting Cisticola in eclipse plumage feeding on fresh termites”. They rise at dawn to take pictures of “Intermediate Egrets hanging at the lake with Sociable Lapwings”, and add that “Some Common Chiff-Chaffs and Hairy Thicknees tried to gatecrash the party but were driven away.”
Tigers, of course, are the biggest draw, despite the fact that spotting one is all down to luck. Some professional photographer friends were rueing the fact that they hadn’t seen a tiger in a particular Karnataka sanctuary despite multiple trips. “You know who does see tigers though?”, they said, ”First-time visitors, all carrying point-and-shoots. They’ll all get clear pictures and go post it on Facebook.” It wasn’t clear what offended them more—the fact that the first-time visitors got lucky, or the fact they would get good pictures even with a point-and-shoot camera.
We too visited Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary this year in the hope of spotting tigers. We were joined in the safari bus by two other groups. One was a group of about six young people kitted out in camouflage gear from head to toe. They had long-barrelled cameras slung across their chests, and quickly took up combat positions right at the front of the bus. They had uniformly unsmiling faces and pursed lips. It was like we were going to war.
The other group was a standard-issue Indian family with a few extra relatives for effect. The children all seemed quiet and well-mannered but the mother persisted in warning them anyway. “CHILDREN, NO SHOUTING, OK? NO SHOUTING!”, she screamed at the top of her voice while the extras ate out of rustling Haldirams packets. She proceeded to maintain this high pitch throughout the safari. “KARTHIK-KARTHIK, SEE. ELEPHANTS ARE THERE. NO, NOT THAT SIDE. LEFT-U! LEFT-U!” She also rushed to and fro and pressed her iPad against the window at the sight of the smallest living being, thereby obstructing the view of most of her family. And then, she suddenly started spotting tigers at an alarming rate. “U-TURN U-TURN! TIGER IS ON THE TREE.”, she cried out loudly as we passed a barren patch of land. The bus-driver paid her no attention.
A naturalist told me that many tourists consider a tiger-sighting as part of the package deal, like complimentary breakfast or something. For example, they might tell him, “Today we’d like to see one female tiger, two cubs, and at least one jackal. Oh, and please serve chips on the side.”
And then there are amateur photographers like my friend Shekhar. Last month he posted this update: “A difficult time of life. Tripurasundari is not keeping well.” “Oh, sorry to hear about your wife”, I commented, “Do you have a good doctor?”. I got a rude reply, “I posted one hundred and fifty three photos of Tripurasundari last year, but you didn’t even put one like. She’s a tiger, you idiot.”