Tiger, Tiger: Caught by Surprise (Video) in India

Some people think I lead a charmed life, because I'm often on the road. I seldom write of biting insects, brutal heat, Verizon overcharges, boredom, dust, homesickness, insults, personal slights. I am not charmed. I've learned patience. The most powerful moments happen when you abandon hope. A Royal Benghal tiger in India taught me that.

When I was invited to explore Bhopal (in Madya Paresh), the center of this vast, churning country last fall,  I entered the sub-continent for the first time. I would go back again just to hang out with the warm-hearted, fascinating people and eat the fabulous cuisine (idlis, rice cakes with sambar being a favorite). But the big draw was the chance to see tigers in nearby Bandhavgarh National Park. Like many American children, I'd been brought up on adventure books by Kipling and studied William Blake's immortal lines: "Tiger, tiger burning bright/in the forests of the night."

Alas, tigers are elusive. Kipling spoke of "night" for good reason. Tigers are nocturnal. When I hopped into a giant safari vehicle in Bandhavgarh, I was warned that the tigers were savvy. They seemed to know that the park gates close at five p.m. and that humans must get out. In other words: Tigers, too, are patient. We knew they were somewhere in the park, because we could see their tracks in the road.

So we drove for hours through a dusty forest of drab trees and burned grass,  in a giant safari vehicle, very wide, filled with charming tourists from India. We had a lot of fun. But as the light started to dim in late afternoon, we wearied of our safari vehicle. Welost faith in our guide. We didn't believe him when he told us that the tigers would be out soon. He said he was sure, because they'd want to eat the spotted deer that suddenly seemed to be everywhere.

Another 45 minutes crawled by. I took a photo of a dead scorpion. I asked the women sitting next to me to teach me how to tie an Indian scarf.

"I wish I was in South Africa," she said. "I was there last year. They know how to do safaris!"

By this time, we had turned around and were racing toward the gates. Suddenly, we ground to a halt. "Tiger!" I heard our guide say. And there he was, watching us, from the center of the road. A huge, vibrant, gorgeous animal, blocking our way to the gate. He yawned. He got up and slowly, yes, like royalty, strolled around our vehicle. I felt like I could reach out my hand and touch him. It was worth the long flight from my home in Seattle, the heat, the dust, the insect bits. Check out this tiger. He will not disappoint:

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