Hunting the World's favourite animal in Ranthambore National park
05.10.2010 - 10.10.2010 35 °C
As the train rattled along the tracks heading into the night, the lights of the big Indian cities were left far us behind and the stations became fewer and further between... often little more than a rough collection of small buildings at the side of the rails. Despite the unsociable time of the morning we sat at the window watching the beautiful Indian countryside roll by lit by the light of the train, staring intently at each station name to ensure that we didn't miss our stop.
Having arrived safely in Sawai Madhapur, a nothing town in the middle of nowhere we needed sustinance to get us through to the hotel. Thankfully there was a little kiosk open at 3am so we tried to buy snacks. Unfortunately there were more rats and mice than you have ever seen in your life. At no point while being served where there less than two in plain sight. Including on the food. Just the sealed pack of biscuits please.
After a little bit of early morning toing an froing and an annoyingly full hotel we found somewhere to stop. TV, Air Con and a balcony bigger than most of our other rooms. Nice. We settled down to sleep to get some rest for the next 3 days we would have here. Our plan was to relax away from the hectic life of the city, catch some sun and spend as much time as possible in the park.
Our first morning we confirmed our place on the early morning safari to the national park the following day. Left with sometime to kill, a nice shop owner offered to take us in his jeep to the old fort inside the national park. So we happily agreed.
The fort is somewhat of a relic, but is massive in scale and the extensive walls afford wonderful views of the national park. We saw Crocodiles in the lake below, and an army of our favourite Langur monkeys. Back to being off the foreignor tourist trail we were bombarded by requests for photos from curious school children... we happily obliged (most of the time). I could have spent days there, a beautiful wonderful place.
Our first safari left in the wee small hours of the morning, and with no little excitement and a belly full of Chai we set off in our large jeep/truck known locally as a Canter. The Ranthambore park is one of the best places to see wild Tigers in the World, but you really need lady luck on your side... particularly with the lush monsoon foliage. The park is divided into 5 sectors and a limited number of safaris are permitted per day. From everyone we had spoken to, no-one had seen a Tiger... hmmm. The park is sensational and while we saw Chital and Sambar deer in large numbers, alongside the ubiquitous monkeys and a closer view of a Crocodile... alas despite a few paw prints.... there was no Tiger.
Undettered we returned to the booking office to queue Indian style (basically queuing with no method, rhyme or reason) to book another place for the next day. When we arrived the following afternoon we were a little dissapointed as we were on a truck with only Indian tourists and a lot of young kids. Not a problem but they tend to be more excitable than us stiff upper lipped foreigners and we were worried they might scare off the wildlife. Nevertheless, we head off again with pride of place at the front of the Canter and saw the same glut of deer, along with many peacocks, a few huge vultures and real crocodile close ups. But still no Tiger.
That was until... our guide saw a paw print and we set off like a bat out of hell through the park. Racing along down tiny paths we finally stopped at a river crossing, but the trail had gone cold. Fearing the worst as we were due to leave the park very soon we retraced our path, and the guide told us that judging by the tracks a Tiger had crossed just behind us a few minutes ago. Off we shot again, getting faster and faster until the young boy at the front (my new hero) spotted a Tigress just inside the treeline about 10ft away. Magical, one fleeting glance right at us and then it slinked off into the jungle. My blurred picture was taken though and we had seen it.
With barely time to catch our breath, the driver set off again down the road in front of the Tiger in the hope it might return from the trees. We stopped, waited, and then in what seemed like slow motion she came from around the corner, padding towards us as clear as day. We were like kids at Christmas, a pure goosebump moment as she walked towards us. Job done, Tiger spotted... and a memory for a lifetime!!!!