Sunday, 15 April 2007

Ranthambhore National Park

So this part of the trip was a complete suprise. Before we came we hadn't even considered going on safari looking for tigers. So we had no binoculars. Set off in an open top jeep. Zooming along the road at 5.30am. Picking up two other parties along the way - an older German couple and a journalist researching an article on Tiger safaris around the world. The German lady had a proper camera with an appropriately long lens. I had camera inferiority complex.

Set off expecting to just enjoy the scenery and not see any tigers. We felt it best so as not to be disappointed. We got zone 3 much to the disappointment of the germans who had read in their guidebook that nobody had ever seen a tiger in zone 3 (only 5 vehicles were allowed in any one zone for each session).

Our guides listened out for deer alarm calls. Drove to appropriate points to watch and listen. Pointed out other wildlife. We watched the sun rise.

Then they saw the tiger - moving from a hiding place by a pond. She came out, walked round and went off into the woods. We were amazed. Huge beast wandering freely. And we were off - racing along the tracks to hopefully catch her when she emerged over the hill, bouncing and thrown about in the jeep, holding on for all our worths. Stopped when we saw her emerging from the woods again. She wandered along, marking her territory, coming closer and closer to the jeep. Totally unpeturbed by our presence. So close we could have reached out and touched her.

I had to keep reminding myself that she was wild. We weren't in a zoo. They weren't caged. There are no boundaries to the park - tigers do occassionally leave, particularly young males looking for a territory, which is when they get into trouble (farmers are concerned about tigers living close by to their livestock).

Later that day we were on our second safari of the day - an afternoon session. We really did expect to be just looking at the scenery this time, after such fantastic views earlier in the day. We were in a different zone, its terrain was quite different, higher, rockier, not as many watering holes. But someone with eagle eyes spotted an enormous male sitting in a cave. Visible only through binoculars, which our jeep companions kindly shared. We waited over an hour. He eventually came out and bounded up the side of the hill as if it were nothing. About three leaps. Wandered along and disappeared around the corner.

We went home after the sun had gone down, feeling very lucky.

Full safari flickr photostream.

Sightings: spotted deer, cormorant, crocodile (heads poking out of the water x2), sambar deer, tiger (13 year old Royal Bengal Tiger female, one of the biggest males in the park), peacocks and hens, egrit, macack monkeys, kingfishers, gazelle (x2), mongoose, langa monkey, brown fisher owl, Quail - running along the ground, honey buzzard, black stork (in flight).

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