It is said the first thing to hit you when a tiger strikes is the roar, and the roar of a tiger is so loud and full and elemental that it has the effect of separating your soul from your body. There had been an attack a couple of months earlier, in the village of Sunderkhal on the edge of Corbett Tiger Reserve. A young Indian man of 22 was visiting the girl with whom his marriage had been arranged, and during the afternoon he went for a walk alone in the scrub of trees and bushes nearby. Akshay Kumar, a villager, told me how he had disappeared and only his remains had been found. Now we were inside the tiger reserve, a
520sq km area within a larger national park in the Himalayan foothills, in Uttarakhand, northern India.
I was travelling slowly in a 4x4 with Ritish Suri, who runs an outdoor camp on the reserve's periphery. He has an
extraordinary ability to decode the vibrations of the forest, and it was only after days of listening that my ears adjusted to the noises he could hear — the chirrup of insects, the wittering sound of lapwings, the alarm calls of monkeys, the barking of muntjac deer — and I started to register the individual signals. Seeing the movement of a flock of pinkish doves in the sky, Ritish figured a tiger might be near a watering hole. 'They love water,' he said. 'They love to sit in water.'
As we drove down a hill, a peacock ran across the track with its tail pointing down, making a miaowing sound, like a cat. Around a bend, we came face to face with an elephant. It had a dappled, intelligent face, and on top of the elephant sat a mahout, holding a little axe. The beast was multitasking, pulling down a green sapling while eating another and strolling along. It moved in slow motion, swaying as it went. Most of the elephants here were wild, living in herds, but this one had been tamed so it could be used for forest clearance.