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"But...we got the caracal !"

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite. Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

- Dr. Seuss


I gingerly stretched out my left leg and rotated my foot, trying to coax some life back into it, careful not to make any sound by hitting my boot against any object.


I stared out into the inky darkness. Nothing.


There was deathly silence all around us, even the locusts seemed to have finally given in to the heat and decided to call it an early night.


A small bead of sweat behind my ear seemed to have woken up and was groggily making its way down my neck. I absently, flicked it off, and, readjusted myself on the chair, a chair that was not exactly an advertisement for comfort. The stiffness in my left hip was again acting up a little, my neck was tired of looking straight, I was exhausted and I was terribly sleepy.


Yup, one has to be patient in wildlife photography.


Yup, with the wild, you can’t ever predict.


I am aware of all that, but this was the third and last night at the hide and so far, we have had zero luck.


Zilch.


Nada.


*****

We were in that man made structure, our lenses peeping through that dark gap...at ground level


We were at Shompole at their night hides and to say that I was excited about our trip would be a gross understatement.


Both Shompole and Lentorre ( where we were headed next ) had underground hides where we can sit hidden with our cameras at ground level and a water hole just in front of us. If an animal comes up, we will be shooting them from ground level, which is always the best level to shoot from. The lights are strategically placed with the controls inside the hide, so we can decide if we need to have the subject front lit, backlit or sidelit or whatever.

When the front lights are on

When the side lights are on


The Shompole hide is excellently located.


Its in the middle of a hot, dry area and there is no other water source close by. The soil is very loose and a puff of dust is willing to fly up at the hint of a whisper of a breeze, so when even a tiny bird trots up, you see dust. At night, with lighting, and a lot of dust, one can make spectacular photos when the animals come. On top of all this, Shompole didn’t have any glass separating the hide from the world outside, so we would be able to listen to the slurping of the water as they drank. It just sounded magical.


IF the animals come.


The day before we reached, there was a short spell of unusually heavy rain.


The result ?


There were puddles everywhere…and I mean everywhere , with the result that no animal really had to come all the way upto our waterhole for a drink.


Yup, for sure, with the wild, you can’t predict.


*****


On the first night, I had seen the outline of an elephant suddenly looming up.

‘Elephant, elephant…” I whispered hoarsely, an unusual level of excitement rising in me. In just a matter of minutes, everyone was in place, huddled over their cameras, eyes trying to pierce the darkness.


Flick !


One of the side lights was switched on.


And there was an immediate response.


The elephant most certainly didn’t like it. She – for it was a she – immediately stepped back, away from the waterhole and moved away.


We immediately switched the lights off.


In that brief moment, we could see that there were two of them – a mother and her calf. That could be the reason she was so skittish.


As our eyes started becoming accustomed to the darkness, we could make out that another adult elephant had also joined the two.


We tried twice more.


On both occasions, we could sense the mother’s nervousness and we decided to let them be and kept our cameras aside and simply listened to the sounds and stared glumly at the outlines of these giants as they sloshed around.


*****

The whole experience at Shompole was rather interesting. Every trip to the hide begins with a walk through the forest to the river and then we cross the river in a boat though, in a slightly different manner. And then a drive through more wild areas to reach the hide.


We were expected to be quite careful and zip up our tents as we leave them, else it is quite possible that when we return, we might have to negotiate with a baboon to get our bed back.


The lack of sleep, the heat and the frustrations can all lead to a slight dip in energy levels. Watching the malachite kingfisher as it relentlessly fished, proved to be strangely invigorating.


If only the animals came.


*****

Beat that for a morning view


It really was ethereal.


We were at Lentorre. A small waterhole lay spread out in front of us. The tree on the right stretched languidly to one side. Branches from the trees opposite, spread out like ink spreading on blotting paper.


In front of us, another typical African dawn was breaking. The skies had exploded in excitement at the thought of another day coming up and had painted the horizon in a deep shade of orange which dissolved into a hue of violet as it met the clouds a little way up.


One could sit there and watch this scene for an eternity.


However, hardly any animal had come through the night.


*****


It was getting to be challenging. I was possibly sleeping a max of a couple of hours at night, and was unable to sleep for more than an hour during the day.


Which was really shame, since the cottages at Lentorre were luxurious and simply screamed to be used.


However, the devil of these times is the thirst for an internet connection and despite having an extremely engrossing book ( Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar…you must read it, btw ), the lure of staying connected often took me away to the dining area.


Terrible, really,…this addiction to the wifi.


By the way, will the animals come tonight ?


*****

Through the still darkness of the night, stepped out a...


“It’s a caracal !!”


I sat up. Alert. Tense. Nervous.


Our luck so far hadn’t been great…but a caracal…really ?


I could sense frenzied activity around me as people tumbled out of their beds into the ( comfortable ) seats and I could vaguely hear anguished whispers admonishing everyone to keep quiet.


The notoriously shy cat stepped up cautiously. I am pretty sure by now everyone in the hide had stopped breathing, lest that should scare this one away. It paused for what seemed like an eternity before it listened to our fervent prayers and decided to settle down for a sip.


A caracal showing up is terrific.


A caracal acting completely at ease and spending long minutes in front of you, is beyond adjectives.


I tried underexposing when the front lights were on. I tried different compositions with the back lights and the sidelights. We came back to the front lights. I zoomed in. I zoomed out.

Boy, such an elegant creature...look at those ears

That precise moment when the light hits the tongue and to make it a 'different' image


And possibly, just as we were wondering what else we could try, the caracal lazily stood up and melted away into the darkness.


Phew !


Yeah, the leopard didn’t come. The elephants didn’t come. The male lions didn’t come.


But we got the caracal.


We also got a lioness with two cubs. And a hyena. And a porcupine. And a giraffe.


But…on top of all that…


We got the caracal.


For more info about these hides :



 

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