The Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan is one of the most popular reserves in India, famous for tiger spotting. The following is a travelogue written describing my first ever Ranthambore experience.
The engine roars as we enter Zone 3 of the Ranthambore Tiger National Reserve. Excited, everyone gazes into the foliage, armed with cameras and binoculars. Devraj Singh, our guide seems more enthusiastic than we are. Thrilled, he points out the paw marks of a tiger stating there has been recent movement.
Animatedly he gestures at the guide of the gypsy behind us, sharing this piece of news with him.
The driver speeds up and we reach a spot where jeeps and canters are lined up for a view of the tiger.
Alas! The cub seems in no mood to give a good view. I tilt left and right. All I see is a pair of yellow ears sticking out of the bushes.
“What was I thinking!” “How could I sight a tiger in my first safari?” I think aloud.
My enthusiasm dies down a tad bit. But not Devraj’s. He is all pumped up and decides to stop and point at every bird and deer he finds. Full post on “Birds of Ranthambore” coming soon.
In a little less than five minutes, he tells us to hold on tight. The canter is now at full speed.
Devraj has spotted Krishna, the tigress basking in full glory by the Raj Bagh lake. My heart races as we reach the lake where close to ten jeeps are lined up.
Krishna, a fully grown tigress is sprawled on the banks after her recent meal of a wild boar.
I pray silently. “Please get up! wake up! For God’s sake stop being so lazy!”
She doesn’t stir.
“Patience!” Devraj tells me. We wait. The engine of the nearby jeep roars as they decide to leave. I do not lower my lens.
She finally stirs.
My heart does a happy dance as I capture her while she struts past the line of jeeps.
I am in awe. Her gait and her biceps!
“I have seen the first tiger of my life in the wild” I gush to Rajani aunty. She smiles saying ” I see me in you, The me that saw the first tiger of my life!”
We then head out to see the flora and fauna of the majestic park.
We move to watch the sunset at Lake Malik.
The sky is now outcast and birds are swarming all across the lake creating a picturesque scene.
Within a few minutes, the rains arrive in full splendor.
I duck over my equipment to protect it from the downpour. The camera, my cell, my valuables are at stake. But here I am, a rain-detester, enjoying the forest rain. The raindrops fall like pellets on my face and for once I am in love with the rain.
We see the sun peeping out of the clouds, a magical golden lining, marking a new morning. Mukesh, our guide for today announces we have been allotted Zone 2 today.
The forest air is thick, cold, yet comforting. Our first encounter is with a dancing peacock, who doesn’t disappoint our lenses.
A little ahead we are now intruding upon a forest fight. A pair of spotted deer are locked in a fight, unaware of 20 people quietly witnessing the spectacle.
As we traverse past the rocky terrain, across the deciduous Dhonk trees, the birds sing their own wild song.
The forest welcomes us just for a while because after all, we are intruders!
The next fifteen minutes are spent by the lakeside watching the Ghariyal crocodiles slither in the waters to catch their prey.
The tiger is nowhere in sight. But we do spot a rat snake coiling on the tree, a mongoose, and some beautiful birds.
Suddenly Mukesh receives a message: Two tigers spotted at the gate. We are now shuttling towards the main gate at a neck-breaking speed. Only to realize that the tigers had departed minutes before we arrived.
“There’s always the next safari,” I tell myself as I reach the resort. I am now dreaming of clicking a tiger’s front profile. I wonder if that will ever happen as I drift back to sleep.
Cocooned within the mighty Aravallis, lies this beautiful section of the park called Naalghati.
The road is precarious but the views are totally worth the bumpy ride.
We spot a mongoose scurrying away. Jagdish, our guide tells us how lucky it is to spot a mongoose. (I roll my eyes! Well, we did spot two today, but where is the tiger?”
Of course, the jungle ride is exhilarating with all the deer, dancing peacocks, and the magnificent flora, but Jagdish is optimistic. “Nothing can be said until we reach the exit.” he quips.
We are now ten minutes away from the exit gate. And we see close to ten jeeps lined ahead of us. My heart skips a beat. This traffic has to be for a tiger. There is a lot of chaos. Jeeps are being reversed. The din of the engines is unbearable. Suddenly Jagdish signals me to get my cam ready. I spot a blurry figure in the bushes.
Cedric asks me to join him right in front of the canter. My heartbeat stops for a second. The tiger is now clearly visible.
I thank my stars there isn’t any space on our right for any jeep to slide through and obstruct my view. 30 feet…25 feet… 20 feet… 15 feet.
” Look at me! ” I plead. “Look up please. Look straight up to me!” and there! It looks up. Straight into my eye. A piercing glare.
My fingers keep clicking in a frenzy. It now bends down and scourges through a pile of trash ( gifts of tourists to the forests).
My heart aches as it pulls a plastic shoe into its mouth.
The jeeps behind us and ahead of us are in a frenzy. I feel I am in a zoo. No, a circus! The ruckus is beyond imagination. The tiger wants to cross the road, but whenever it does attempt, the paparazzi is in no mood to let it. People are shouting, using flashes straight into its eye, and breaking all the rules of the Jungle. Welcome to the world of educated Idiots. At last the poor tiger couldn’t cross the road and found its way back to where it had appeared from.
This day comes to an end with mixed feelings. On one hand a deep stinging ache that some of us have intruded the sanctity of the wild beyond limits and without any guilt. On the other hand, the inexplicable joy of an afternoon dream coming true!
It is the last safari before I leave this absolutely scenic place. We have been allotted Zone 3 again, a few zones are now closed on account of being marshy.
The forest is at its prettiest best in the wee hours of the morning.
I spot a group of deer by the lake and the scene looks akin to Bambi.
We then spot a beautiful pair of woodpeckers as we head towards the lake.
The sky is dramatic today, almost surreal. We wait by the lakeside in silence.
The scene is nothing short of a poem. A beautifully penned, well-crafted nature’s poem. Suddenly I don’t want to go back at all. The forest has its own secrets. And the trees seem to witness to them all. I look at them, immobile and incapable to let out the secrets. Swaying slightly in the breeze as if mocking us. “You have been here just for a while, you sure don’t know what happened a while ago”.
Satish is absolutely unhopeful of finding a tiger today.
“The tiger is on a holiday today!” he says.
There hasn’t been any movement at all. As we take the winding roads back towards the gate, we stop suddenly. Krishna’s cub is right in front of us. Crossing the road.
Suparna excitedly stands up on my seat for a view. “My iPhone! My iPhone!” I gasp. My eyes flitting from the iPhone to the tiger.
And suddenly my jaw drops. Another 14-month-old cub follows suit. There are just three jeeps and complete silence.
The cub walks straight past us, appears as if it is sniffing something on the bark of the tree, and then crosses the road and settles lazily on the other side.
I can’t get enough of them, clicking insanely. And as if this wasn’t enough, the third cub made its way out.
The rendezvous lasted for twenty minutes. More than the photographs, the proximity to these wild cats was a beyond-words experience. The best part was a cute cub fight we witnessed.
Yesterday I was so happy that I could articulate it in words. Today I am so happy that I have great difficulty in articulating it. I am just flashing this 1000 watt grin to whomever I am meeting. Looks like they all know I have spotted three tigers today!
A big thank you to :
1. Doreen: For this awesome trip!
2. Vanaja aunty and Vasu uncle: Much much love for introducing me to Doreen!
3. The entire gang for making each moment worth it.
4. Dharmendra Khandal, Tiger watch for a great conversation about the park.
5. Padmini Singh Rathore, for all the stories and of course the Badas and the mithai!
6. All the staff at Hammir resorts, our wonderful guides and drivers!
How to reach:
Travel information and distances can be found on the Ranthambore Website. http://www.ranthamborenationalpark.com/travel-information.html
Best season for Tiger spotting: Summer months of April to Early June