Day 7,8 & 9 - Ranthambore, India - "the Tiger"
Shot of the Day - The Bengal Tiger Approaches our Vehicle
Time to leave for Ranthambore, Bengal tiger territory, so we took one last gaze of the Taj. Our 5 hour drive would include two more points of interest. First, the Fatehpur Sikri, a fortified ghost town that was built by Emperor Akbar, was complete with an external stone wall around the entire city. The palace was complete with beautiful gardens, separate palaces for each of his three queens (Hindu, Muslim and Christian), along with a separate building for his many concubines. The Emperor’s bedroom did contain the largest bed I’ve ever seen, putting a new spin on “King Sized Bed”. Next to palace was a huge mosque. The Mosque’s entryway was an engineering marvel and is proud to have the largest door in all of Asia. Leading up to this massive structure was set of steps filled with people and goats – quite the sight.
Next was the special stop that our wonderful driver Madan wanted to take us to. After travelling off the main highway, and through some countryside’s, we came upon the famous “stair well”, the Chand Baori, a water storage and bathing facility which was extremely useful in the semi-arid dry climate. We found out this deep well was used in the filming of “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman movie. It was 13 stories deep. This was a marvel to look at. The highlight was the geometric pattern of the stairs that the designer followed to allow bathers to reach the ever-changing water depths. I just love engineers.
We drove through village after village, all dusty and dirty, and they all look the same. With their vegetable and fruit stands, men standing around idly by their motorcycles; camels, cows, dogs and wart hogs having their free reign of the world as everyone has to move around them; colourfully dressed women typically seen balancing something on their head as they walk along the highway with cars and trucks speeding by; and of course garbage is strewn everyone. While we are getting used to seeing this way of life, it still is something to witness for us Canadians.
We finally arrived into Ranthambore, and now we are getting totally excited about the prospects of adding a Bengal tiger sighting to our list of rare animals in the wild that we have seen. As we entered the main front gate of our hotel, we were showered from above by beautiful red rose pedals, then given marigold flowered necklaces and blessings on our foreheads consisting of a mark of thick red vermilion containing a fine mixture of turmeric, camphor, curd and sandalwood – now that’s special. The property manager met with us and she was so wonderful. She took the time to explain the property and what to expect over our next few days stay. We were taken to our room, via a beautiful walk through the magnificently manicured jungle like property. Our room was nothing short of spectacular. A large tent, but nothing like the ones I used to camp in when I was younger. These tents were huge and very well appointed, with windows all around, a totally separate bathroom area with his and hers sections, a sitting area, workstation area, and areas outside for lounging where you can lay and watch the peacocks go by in your private backyard. The property had a 50 foot observation tower, that we climbed to have a fabulous view of the entire area.
But I digress, this two days is all about seeing a Tiger, so let’s get going. The next morning our first of three Tiger safaris began sharply at 5:45 am. The guides, drivers and zone location (there are 10 zones within the enormous park boundary) all randomly selected through a daily government “draw” process, so you never know where you are going to be looking, or who will be taking you. It’s good for the local guides as it keeps everyone employed and removes the idea of favouritism.
The open topped jeep ride to the zone, proved that we didn’t properly plan for the temperatures, it was freezing. The blanket and hot water bottle provided some comfort. We entered zone 2 through an old stone gate which had vines and banyan tree roots hanging down it (this was straight out of an Indiana Jones movie). The scenery was great, and a standout for me was a 4 km fort that was built on top of the mountain above us – unbelievable – how did they build the walls that seemed to be glued to side of the mountain.
We began to look for the tigers. For an hour we drove around seemingly “aimlessly”, seeing lots of deer, monkeys and peacocks and a wide variety of birds including the lime green parakeet and the spectacular bright blue Kingfisher – but no tiger. Then up ahead we saw another jeep parked and as we got closer and all looked in the common gaze direction of the other jeep’s guests, we saw it – our first Bengal Tiger. Our hearts raced, everyone grabbed their cameras and started shooting – it was a real adrenal rush. The Tiger was moving through the bush to our left, I snapped away hoping my settings were right in this early morning light. The way it moved, so majestic, so confident, so powerful in each stride. It then started to move towards us and with glee, it crossed the road right between our jeep and ones ahead of us. My eyes could not believe it. It then continued to enter the forest to the right of us. That’s when we saw the second tiger further away. Two brothers as it turns out. TWO TIGERS!! in one sighting, how unbelievable as we will soon find out.
At a group meeting place, we traded stories with the other tiger searchers, and after hearing that other than our three jeeps, no-one else saw a tiger, we knew we had been blessed. We were treated like royalty as I showed a few of my tiger photos to other interested safari goers, like Mark from Vancouver, Canada. We returned to our hotel for a late breakfast, and a quick lounge round the pool prior to our afternoon safari.
I should highlight, that there are only about 67 tigers in the park. Each zone has only a few. This mornings Zone 2, has only 3 tigers, Zone 3, has only 2. The tigers are very territorial and do not venture into the other zones. And like wise, the jeeps are forced to stay in their assigned zone for that safari. So, that means the odds of actually seeing a tiger is only about 5%.
Our second safari, took us into Zone 3, known to be the prettiest, and it did not disappoint. Three large lakes teaming with birds, a few crocodiles, and hundreds of dear of various varieties. The scenery was great but the tiger remained elusive. At night at our hotel, to learn more about the tigers and the local territory, we attended a one hour presentation by the hotel’s staff naturalist Sandesh, a trained and certified tiger ranger. He spent the last three years studying, photographing and tracking the Bengal tigers. He showed us photos and presented facts about the Tigers of India and their current state.
The next morning was our third and final safari. After paying more money and getting upgraded to a private jeep, we were able to secure a special guide, and get access to Zone 7, which was supposed to almost guarantee (so we sold) a tiger sighting. Result – negative, no tigers – in fact no other animals. We did however see a magnificent blue Kingfisher bird, playing in the water. The hills we traversed, via extremely rocky roads, were beautiful and definitely quite exhilarating.
The results. For us, 3 safari’s, one tiger sighting. For almost everyone else we met, they had come all this way to Ranthambore and taken up to four safari’s and zero tiger sightings. We count ourselves blessed, or more lucky, to have seen one. The whole process seems so random. If you are thinking of going to Ranthambore to see a Bengal tiger, be prepared to go home unfulfilled and disappointed – the odds are very low to see one. It is simply based on luck!
We left Ranthambore, and after 4 hours in the car, we arrived in the “city of victory” aka, Jaipur, located in the state of Rajasthan. After we checked into our beautiful hotel and freshening up we went for a late dinner. The setting was straight out of Indiana Jones. Flames everywhere, coal fired warming burners that were sparking adding that extra level of exoticness. We watched a local Indian dancing show along with musicians and signing, it was quite wonderful, more on that in my next post. Off to bed, as Jaipur, the Pink City, awaits us tomorrow.