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A Glimpse into the Life of Chambalgarh’s Famed Tigress, Mallika

Step into the heart of the wild with Gargi Rawat in her latest book, Tiger Season. Join the suspenseful journey as the jeep navigates the wilderness, heartbeats racing, in search of the elusive tiger. Then, a breathtaking moment unfolds — Mallika, Chambalgarh’s iconic tigress, comes into view, embodying the essence of India’s majestic wildlife.

Read this excerpt to get a glimpse of the life of Tigress Mallika.

Tiger Season
Tiger Season || Gargi Rawat

***

The jeep lunged forward to reposition itself and my breathing accentuated with the change in gears. Jaya too was desperately checking her camera settings as our guide and driver moved the jeep for a more panoramic view.

 

I felt on edge and the constant shift of the gearbox, the braking of pedals and the sound of an ageing chassis was adding to my stress. The monkeys continued their chattering and occasional hooting, but they had stopped the alarm call. The sambar had stopped calling as well. Maybe the tiger had settled down? Not a good sign as I couldn’t spot it!

 

The vines on the banyan tree to our left suddenly moved and I jerked my head around for a closer look. It was only a peacock dislocating a broken shoot that dropped on its way down to those grey thick roots.

Everything was silent again and my heart sank. Time was running out. We had been filming for three days in this vast expanse of green with not so much as a sighting of even a sliver of tiger stripes.

 

I looked back to see Jaya scowl at me, her mouth pursed forlornly. In any case, we would have to be out of the park soon, and our team of driver and guide were becoming restless.

‘We have to leave soon,’ said the driver, Lakhan Singh. ‘I don’t want to lose my driving permit.’
I wish you would, I thought to myself unkindly but did not say it aloud. I was irritated and stressed. It also wasn’t the best-kept jeep in the world, and he hadn’t done much to help us in our quest anyway.

 

‘Chalo then, let’s go,’ I said resignedly after another few minutes.

He switched on the engine and, with one final look around, the jeep took off on the dirt road. Lakhan Singh had to swerve round the almost 180-degree bend in the track, only to brake suddenly. We nearly fell and just about managed to steady ourselves.

 

I was on the verge of scolding Lakhan but was rendered speechless.
There she was!

It was Mallika, sitting languidly, sprawled across the breadth of the road, barely metres away from where we were positioned. We hadn’t seen her because of the curve in the road and the tall grass had blocked our view. I gripped Jaya’s arm, only to realize she was already
filming.

 

The most overwhelming sensation at that moment was the hush of stillness that had descended around us. Here was perhaps the most famous tiger in the world, the greatest ambassador of her species. I felt a swell of emotion rising but suppressed it as it reached my throat.

Lakhan Singh and Faiz, our guide, appeared even more excited than I was. Relieved perhaps. I had to hold Lakhan Singh’s shoulder to calm him down as he took photos with his phone. Then I carefully took out my own phone to get some pictures as well.

 

For a tigress of her age, Mallika looked in good form. Her coat had yellowed with the onset of summer, and apart from a missing canine, there was little that suggested she was seventeen years old, by no means young for a species that seldom survives beyond fourteen years in the wild.

No other predator in the wild had been filmed, photographed or documented for as long and as much as Mallika. By observing her, scientists and writers, filmmakers and photographers had learnt much about the behaviour of tigers in the wild.

 

She had brought up no less than twelve tigers to adulthood, and her progeny now inhabited different parts of the Chambalgarh jungle in Rajasthan. According to some, even farther afield.

 

It was with good reason that Mallika had found such fame; India retained almost 70 per cent of the world’s wild tiger population, and within the country, Chambalgarh was considered the most accessible tiger reserve of them all. And its most famous inhabitant was Mallika, the grand dame of the park.

 

Tourists and journalists had flushed her with titles, each according to their experience of her behaviour. Some called her ‘the lady of the mountain’, basing their name on her frequent sightings atop the most prominent hill of Chambalgarh.

 

Others referred to her as ‘bear slayer’, following on her determined onslaughts against the formidable sloth bears that grant tigers only a cursory respect. One story claimed that a sloth bear had killed one of her cubs, sparking her lifelong, deadly feud against them. A particular video of her wounding and then killing a large sloth bear after a prolonged encounter had even gone viral on YouTube.

She was a photographer’s delight. Over the years, magazines had carried various prize-winning photographs of her, on a hilltop, looking down on the vast expanse of the forest, swimming across the lake with three cubs and fiercely facing down a bear.

 

Right now, she remained sitting on the road, licking a paw and casually looking about her, with a constant flicking of her tail.

***

Get your copy of Tiger Season by Gargi Rawat wherever books are sold.

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