Tigers of Ranthambore

I’m always amazed when I think that we saw polar bears and beluga whales in Churchill. Our luck at seeing ‘big’ natural things doesn’t always come through. We tried many MANY times to see moose in Canada, all to no avail. We tried to see the Northern Lights in Iceland three times, again with no success. And we’ve even tried to get a good look at the Grand Canyon, only to be disappointed the first time because of snow whiting it out, and the second because of a broken knee. Because of this – and the fact that we were trying to see tigers which are especially reclusive and rare – we didn’t set our hopes high when we went to Ranthambore.

The six-seater jeep picked us up just after 6am. A man from Bangalore was already in the car with us, and we then picked up a German couple who had booked three seats because of all their camera equipment. The guy from Bangalore also had impressive lenses. I had camera envy with my much smaller lens. Glen had an iPhone.

We were given Zone 1 to explore for a few hours, getting into the park just as the sun came up. We were soon rewarded with the sight of sambar deer to our right, and then two hare on our left, before seeing a group of spotted deer. So far, so good.

No tigers though. As we drove on and saw more deer, we passed another jeep who told us about a tiger footprint they’d seen. We soon found it too, making out a vague shape of a footprint. I suddenly felt electrified seeing it, certain our luck would come in and we’d see one. Especially hearing that the zone had a female with three cubs in it. We continued on.

I shouldn’t have got my hopes up though, and considering the man from Bangalore had been out five times previously and not seen anything, I kept reining in my expectations. This was the first time for the Germans, but they had another five trips to Ranthambore planned with a total of 21 tiger safaris booked across India. They REALLY wanted to see a tiger.

I had to keep reminding myself that while it would be so awesome to see one in the wild, I have been up-close and personal with tigers (including cubs) on a number of occasions when I worked at the zoo. Still…in the wild…

Anyway, we saw plenty of deer, stopped by a waterway and watched for birds, seeing osprey, cormorants, parakeets, two types of kingfisher (the sacred kind and the stork-billed kind, a rarity that got the others very excited), other types of birds and even a crocodile floating down the middle of the river. THAT was cool.

We also heard deer giving out their alarm call, a sound that echoed around the hills and made us all stop, hopeful of seeing, if not a tiger, then perhaps a leopard. Hyena and sloth bear also live in the forest.

We saw none of them.

Considering the large number of deer we saw everywhere, we were hoping that they’d be enough to entice some predator out, but alas, no. Glen even got out to go pee at one stage behind a tree, but nothing attacked him either. Disappointing.

After a few hours we returned to the main road, hearing from the guards that people in Zone 3 had seen a tiger that morning. Good for them.

On the way out we saw lots of black-faced langur sitting around, many with babies and young, so we all went gaga over them. It was a nice way to end the safari. While I’m disappointed we didn’t see one, I’m not surprised. Sixty tigers live in Ranthambore which is pretty big and the chances of seeing one are slim, as our friend from Bangalore understood very well. I hope the Germans have better luck, at least once out of their 21 planned visits.

Will we try again? I’m not so sure.

One thing that struck me about Ranthambore was how most of the town is built around the tigers and eco-tourism. There are many ‘wildlife’ or ‘eco’ resorts outside the national park so that provides a lot of employment for the locals, as do all the guides and drivers required for the tours themselves, which run twice a day. I’ve never seen a place so built around capitalising on people’s desire to see wildlife, in this case, tigers. When it comes to poaching, it’s easy to see that poaching serves the interest of only a few people while preserving them (hopefully) benefits a whole community. It’s making sure that people feel like they have enough that’s the tricky part.

We were dropped back at our hotel, had a quick breakfast, packed up and got in the waiting car for Mr Singh to take us back to Jaipur. I left one of my favourite t-shirts behind, somehow, discovering my stupidity only once we’d got back to Jaipur. Shame.

Three-and-a-half hours of driving later we arrived back into the madness of Jaipur afternoon traffic. We picked up our suits and shirts from the tailor. We look very sharp though my jacket feels a little tight under the arms. If I stand up straight and hold my shoulders back, it’s not so back, but I slouch. Maybe it’s time I learned not too. I do look pretty good in a fitted suit though. We were very tempted to order more but sanity prevailed.

In the evening, after we’d had a rest, we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant and bought a suitcase from the bazaar. We should have got a bigger one but oh well. I returned to the hotel, my headache still not gone and not feeling like being hassled to buy things, while Christine and Glen went and bought stuff. On to Mumbai in the morning.

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