The strange case of Kathmandu’s phantom tigers

I was driving to work at the airport early one morning a few weekends back when I glimpsed the strangest thing out of the corner of my eye: a tiger at the side of the road, eyeballing one of the many street hawkers who ply their trade at the dusty bus stop.

By the time I had got my sleepy brain to formulate the words to get the driver to stop the car we had already zipped around the corner.

The next morning I kept both eyes peeled on the same spot but saw nothing. Heading back from the airport a few hours later I explained to my driver what I had seen the day before.

“I’m looking for a dog painted like a tiger,” I told him.

“Tiger? Dog?” he asked, confused.

“Yes, brown dog … painted … looks like tiger,” I explained even slower and more deliberately. (Isn’t it funny how, when speaking to people who aren’t proficient in our language, we so often dumb it down and speak as if to an imbecile.)

For the next few days my dear driver took our quest most seriously, pointing at every common, brown street dog we passed. “Tiger?” he would ask hopefully. I’m sure he was just humouring me, convinced I would be better served in the loony bin.

IMG_0670“No, just a dog,” I would answer, smiling.

On about day three, as we exited the airport, his tone changed.

“Tiger! Tiger!” he started shouting enthusiastically, before screeching to a halt with buses, motorbikes and other scary modes of transport bearing down on our position. “You take photo now,” he ordered. And so I jumped out, almost being hit by a passing cyclist, ran over, and shot the sad-looking tiger-dog with my cellphone.

I was disappointed I didn’t have my DSLR, but was happy we had eventually tracked down the elusive tiger-dog of Kathmandu …



Later that day I had to visit a government department downtown. When I was done, I walked out to be met at the gate by my very animated driver, pointing down the road.

“Tiger!” was all I got from the grinning guy.

It turns out that the dog had wandered by earlier and that my chauffeur had been feeding it titbits to keep it there for me to shoot. I imagine its creator got bored half way through painting it, but it was worth shooting, if only to make my diligent driver happy. I snapped a shot or two, and then, with no more snacks to keep it there, it wandered off down the road and around the corner.


And that was the last time I saw a tiger of any sort – dog, or otherwise – in Kathmandu. Perhaps it was all a dream. Or perhaps just something God knew I needed to lighten up my week …



  1. Maybe when you do the loincloth and body paint thing you could paint tiger stripes on yourself in solidarity with these poor mutts?! Hahahaha….

  2. Haha … you’re always good for a laugh, Robin! You should ask the locals what the meaning is of painting their dogs like tigers. I’m curious …

    • I’m sure it’s just some conservation-conscious kid experimenting with a new art form, or perhaps deciding to replace the dwindling number of tigers in the wild with a hybrid, domesticated species.

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