Accordingly, my friend and I booked train tickets departing Ahmedabad at 2130 hrs and reaching Sawai Madhopur at 0830 hrs the next morning. Perfect!
We reached on time and there was a car to take us to our hotel, where we checked in, freshened up and had breakfast. Safari was at 1530 hrs and the sun was blazing away, with the mercury rising up till 45 C (113 F). The hotel is a comparatively new structure, made to look like an old fort/palace, but with concrete, cement and bricks (and some stone) and not stone and limestone, as was used in the olden times. The structure gets heated up and heat pretty much radiates all over the place. There is no greenery inside the walls and this accentuates the heat. We did not dare come out of our air-conditioned rooms, just braving the heat to go to the dining area for a spot of lunch. Promptly, at 1530 hrs, we set off for the forest in the blazing sun, with a thin safari cloth hat protecting me from the elements. The hot wind blew at our faces and now we understood why the locals covered their faces with a scarf. It was pretty grim, but the excitement of visiting the jungle overpowered our discomfort. Ranthambhor has 10 zones and the most visited (with better chances of sighting) are from 1 to 4. We were at zone 3 today.
There was still an hour left and we asked the driver to show us some scenic spots. He took us to Jogi Mahal which is very near the main gate. This was a forest guest house once, but now is not open to visitors anymore. Pity. It would have been wonderful to spend a night here.
The guest house overlooks a huge lake. We reached the property and were just enjoying the scene, when we saw this to our amazement:
One of the advantages of visiting the park during June is that there are comparatively lesser tourists. The Indian families keep away due to schools having reopened as well as the excessive heat and the overseas visitors also find the weather extremely inconvenient. The main advantage is that sightings are quite frequent since the tigers prefer to stay near the water bodies.Type your paragraph here. The park takes its name from Ranthambhor fort, said to have been built by Maharaja Jayantha during the fifth century AD. It is a beautiful fort and in good repair even after a millennium and a half. There is a Ganesh temple within the fort and many devotees walk from the nearby villages and visit the temple. Festival days are pretty crowded, I am told. (More about this later)
We proceeded ahead and turned the corner and came upon this magnificent sight:
By this time, a crowd had gathered on the road, with motorcyclists stopping too. Our driver tried to shoo them off, but every one wanted to see the sight. Tigers are known to be unpredictable when they see a human on foot or motor cycle. This becomes doubly dangerous when they have a kill to protect, just 5 feet from the road. Since all our efforts to make people understand were in vain, we sent word to the control room to send a guard so as to control the traffic, who came and the crowd dispersed, and so did we.
We reached the base of the fort and started climbing. Such a beautiful fort, built more than 1500 years back. They really built them to last. Today, with all our modern technology, a normal (cement, concrete and bricks) building's "life" is between 50-100 years. The view from the top is quite beautiful. Ranthambhor, it seems is a combination of Rann ( meaning battle field) and stamb ( meaning fort).
Jai Shree Ram
The Gods have indeed been kind.....
The tiger crossed our gypsy just 5 feet away. Naturally, i was pleased and forgot that just a minute back i was heartily cursing our driver!
Earlier this was known as Ranastamb. Water supply to the fort was earlier by a lake adjoining the fort, but this lake was bone dry now. Water is now pumped through a bore and supplies the needs of the temple and the visitors. We paid our respects to Trinetra Ganeshji. The time was nearly 0830 hrs and we got down and went back to our hotel. Yes, the tiger was still on the roadside and a forest jeep/guard was stationed there. We did not stop. Back at the hotel, had a shower, breakfast and made preparations to leave after a spot of lunch.
Thus ended our Ranthambhor trip. 10 sightings of tigers, out of which one could be a second sighting. Hence nine tigers sighted in all, out of a possible 48. My only regret is that we could not spend much time birding.
An hour into our safari, we saw a group of gypsies trailing behind a tiger. There was a water truck coming from the opposite side and quite fast too. Even though we all madly waved to him and shouted, he kept coming and stopped just a few meters from the tiger. This sighting was quite poor and there was no opportunity to get some good pictures. We moved on and chanced upon this tiger cooling off in this pool. New spreads fast in the forest, especially if there is a tiger sighting.
Within no time we were surrounded by gypsys. We reluctantly gave way and as we were moving back the tiger decided to move too. All our pleas to the driver to stop were in vain and he moved back quite a bit and parked about 50 meters away from the action. The tigress was marking the tree and if we had stayed at the same spot we would have had a grandstand view....however due to the pigheadedness of the driver, we were to lose that shot. I muttered about how adamant people could be and some other uncharitable comments under my breath and it was lucky for the driver that he did not turn around and see my face. If looks could kill.....
But I was to eat humble pie, and yes, crow about the intelligence of the driver just a few minutes later. This about turn, not unheard of amongst selfish, opinionated and headstrong primates, was due to the following:
Having visited quite a few National Parks and sanctuaries, i have realised that sighting a prized wildlife is a matter of luck, patience and perseveration. Getting a vantage point, if and when you are lucky to sight one, having the right lens, catching the right moment, light, angle, etc etc make getting a photograph a matter of divine intervention.
I had always wanted to visit Ranthambhor National park, but had never got around to do it. Ranthambhor is situated in Rajasthan, about 10 kms from Sawai Madhopur. RNP is about 685 kms away from my home, here at Ahmedabad and the choices were to either drive down or take a train, since flight connections were not convenient. (The nearest airport is Jaipur, about 200 kms from the park) June is hot and humid and driving down in the heat would be challenging.
This was it. All the poses that one would want. The last hour of the safari had delivered. Satisfied we started to leave when there was a commotion near the gate as we were leaving. Seems that a tiger had been sighted just next to the gate and the gates had been hurriedly closed. Later on , we would come to know that a sibling had joined the sister and they both could have been there in a single frame, should we have waited a bit longer!
We went back to the hotel for a much needed shower and celebrations. It can’t get better than this, we thought. But tomorrow was another day. We had no idea what was in store for us.....
We had a good night's sleep, since the belly and mind were both contended. To tell the truth, i think the liquid refreshments also helped a bit.
The next morning after a quick shower and a cup of tea, we set off at 6 am. Being the last safari of the trip, we decided to see the fort and other local sights since we had had a good sighting of tigers. Or so we thought. There is a saying in Hindi: "Uparwalla jab bhi deta hai, toh chapper phaad ke deta hai" meaning that when God decides to give (you); he gives (you) abundantly. We set off from the hotel at 6 am. The plan was to go to the base of Ranthambhor fort by jeep and them walk up some 500 meters or so to the top of the fort, visit the famous Ganesh temple and surroundings, come down and then do a quick safari round and go back. The trip up to the fort and down was to take about an hour.
"Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit"
The entrance to RNP is about 5 kms from our hotel and the last 2 kms or so is through small hillocks and forest area. The road is pretty busty with local jeeps ferrying people to the base of the Ranthambhor fort and plenty of motorcycles as well as people on foot. We were looking forward to to go up the fort and had just passed the first forest choky ( gate) when the guard on duty informed us that a tiger was just round the corner. On the road? Just on the side, he said. We cautiously rounded the corner and we saw a tiger sitting in the undergrowth, about 5 feet from the edge of the road. Mind you, this is a road open to the general public!
Just for SeriousAmateurPhotographerS
The heat, as previously stated, keeps away the crowds and we were the first to come upon this scene. There was no jostling, maneuvering, positioning or worming our way in, as normally happens in parks where a tiger gets sighted. We pretty much had the area to ourselves except for one more gypsy. I believe that the morning safaris are the preferred ones during this hot season. We proceeded down the trail and were informed that a tiger was sitting inside a step well. We gingerly went near the well and peeped in. There she was, cooling off, and not happy at the intrusion. Suddenly she got up and started coming up the steps. She caught us all unawares, especially me, since I had the 600mm lens attached to the camera (I have only one camera body. Meaning to get another one). Still I fired off for all it is worth...
The first day had given us magnificient sightings and our hopes had been high for a similar performance on the second day. . Zone 2 is rockier than zone 3 and after about an hour of jumping in the seat with the nearly 7 kgs of equipment banging upon my thighs, our hopes of sighting a tiger, leave alone the mother and 3 cubs ( which were sighted in Zone 2) , were pretty low.
The one bright spot in the morning was that i was lucky enough to get a shot of this magnificent bird. Oriental honey buzzard. Probably a juvenile.