In three weeks time, I’ll be on the other side of the planet—traveling through India with three companions, my second visit to that part of the world. Just like the first time I went there, I don’t know what to expect and I’m excited for a new adventure. Even though we’re headed to many of the same places I visited before, four years have passed since that trip. During that time, I’ve written a book, moved across country and turned fifty. The world has changed and so have I, so I’m not heading to Delhi assuming I’ll love India the same way I did last time.
Who’s to say how well I’ll be able to handle the colorful chaos that is India this time around? Who’s to say I won’t love it more?
I traveled with my friend Barb on 2014 visit, and we went to Ranthambore National Park, a wildlife preserve in Rajasthan best known for its tiger population. As we both got situated with the guided jeep tour our first morning there, we were told not to get our hopes up with regard to seeing a tiger. None had been spotted for days, so expectations were tempered right away.
Over the next few hours, we were driven all over the park, observing sambar deer, monkeys and all kinds of birds. While we weren’t finding any tigers, it was fascinating to watch our guides try to track them. After pulling up near the edge of a dramatic vista and turning the engine off, they listened for the telltale signs of smaller animals’ sounds and movements that might signal the presence of a predator. Sure enough, there seemed to be a bit of commotion, and the guides immediately headed in a new direction. After checking in with another guide down the road, following tracks and taking a few more detours, it eventually came time to wrap up our tour with nary a tiger in sight.
On the route back to the entrance of the park, ours was the only jeep in sight that morning, and it was a small one compared to the twenty-person caravans we saw on our way in. All the other vehicles that had entered the park the same time we did at the beginning of the day were in search of tigers in other areas, so our small band of less than a dozen tourists had the road in front of us all to ourselves.
We’d passed a small body of water on our way into the park, and stopped on our return to see if we might spot a crocodile. While scanning the shoreline, something unexpected came into view, and once my brain caught up with my eyes, I realized what I was looking at: a full grown tiger, walking straight toward us, eyes locked, it seemed, on mine. My eyes went wide, my jaw dropped, and I immediately started crying. Even the guides were freaking out, exclaiming, “THIS is magic moment!” with a hand raised in the air as if in an exalted prayer. Looking at him with tearful eyes, I knew, body and soul, he was right. This was a magic moment.
I know people see wild animals all the time, all over the world. Whether on a jeep tour similar to ours, a safari in Africa or a fishing trip in Alaska, I’ve heard countless stories of encounters with creatures big and small in their native habitat. Seeing an animal in the wild isn’t terribly unique or even difficult. But for whatever reason, on that particular day, the rush of excitement upon seeing the tiger poured through me like a meteor shower—all stars and light and, yes, magic.
As the tiger walked toward us, our driver backed up and pulled up to a small hill just off the road. For a blissful ten minutes or so, we had front row seats to the tiger’s quiet meanderings. We watched him walk toward the water and sprawl out on the ground before offering us a big, gaping yawn, perhaps to let us know our presence in his home couldn’t possibly bore him more. We were guests in his domain, so we all sat quietly and watched him, the most audible sounds being the click-click-click of all the cameras. After taking a few photos myself, I set mine down, wanting to watch him with my own eyes for as long as possible rather than through a viewfinder. When I turned around to look at Barb, sitting behind me, I saw she had been crying too.
We cried quite a few times on that trip—at the sight of other animals, at the kindness of strangers, out of exhaustion and overwhelm. We laughed and sobbed and whooped and prayed, letting all the emotions flow through us day by day, moment by moment. In order to fully experience all the beauty and wonder India had to offer, we had to be open to all of its challenges too—the poverty, the crowds, the constant noise and movement. We came home filled in ways we hadn’t expected, having been pushed far out of our comfort zones and given gifts we didn’t see coming, like the tiger that emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, right in front of our jeep on that cold, misty morning in Ranthambore.
I am returning to India in a few weeks with Barb again, along with two other first-time visitors. While we aren’t visiting Ranthambore this time, there are, no doubt, many magic moments ahead of us. I don’t know what they will look or feel like and am not going to try to predict where they’ll happen, but I know they’re there—waiting for us all like unopened, beautifully wrapped presents. As I prepare for the journey ahead, I’m already saying thank you for everything that is to come.
About the Author: Christine Mason Miller
Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995.
Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.