Friday, 6 January 2012

Ranthambhore Day One

I have always wanted to see a tiger in the wild. To the extent that my profile picture on my web-page when I was in graduate school, was that of a tiger in Bandhavgadh. Finally in December 2011, I managed to go to Ranthambhore in Rajasthan to fulfill this ambition.

Ranthambhore is located in Sawai Madhopur, a little village about 4 hours away by car from Jaipur. We arrived at Ranthambore too late for the evening safari and had nothing much to do for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, the place where we stayed (The Pug Mark) had some folk entertainment planned and we spent a good part of the evening listening to these guys:
whose enthusiasm went up the roof when they saw that we were listening.

The resort managers told us that the safari would leave at 6:45 am the next day and that we should be ready by 6:30 for a quick snack before that. I was a little surprised at that because I had imagined that, like in South Africa, we would be in the forest way before dawn so that we can catch the predator when they were busy looking for their meal.

We asked for a wake up call, but I was up way before the call, unable to contain my enthusiasm. At 6:15 I was at the dining hall gobbling up some biscuits and milk and by 6:30 we were out by the front "lobby" waiting for the canter to show up. We waited... and we waited... and we waited. No canter. No jeep. The other, more sane, occupants of the resort finally joined us in the foyer and waited along with us, still nothing.
insert any bollywood/kollywood/indi-wood virah song here: Jiya bekaraar hai, for example!
We tried various polite ways of letting the guy at the front desk know that we were getting impatient: pacing around, walking to the gate and back, clicking random pics of unremarkable things.
Random unremarkable thing

I don't think it registered. So finally we asked them what the time was. 7:15am.

7:15? 7:fif..?What?!! The tiger must be done with his breakfast and gone on to read the newspapers or check Facebook updates, whichever it is they do these days!! 

Finally, at around 7:30, the first jeep pulled up. In style. Think Amitabh Bacchan in one of his action movies, on a jeep, executing a tight turn (complete with screechy tires), kicking up dust. Then think Rajinikanth jumping out of the jeep (believe me, Rajnikanth has the patent on jumping out of jeeps). The driver did just that and approached us (because we were the ones standing as close to the exit as is politely possible) and called us by a name that did not belong to any of us. I had half a mind to pretend I was Patil, or Kohli or whatever that name was and run off in that jeep before anyone else realized what I had done. But I didn't. The jeep picked up a privileged few and before it had loaded up its contents, there was another one and then the canter showed. We ran up to the canter with hopeful eyes and believe you me, this was not ours.
What?!!! Still not off the mark? I could almost hear the tiger burping contentedly and stretching himself before he settled in for his comfortable nap where the human eye will never be able to see him. Ever.

Apparently we were the underprivileged of the under privileged lot. The others had left, even the woman with two kids who made the first jeep wait a looooong time before she made a dramatic appearance on the horizon. Finally, the largest canter I had set eyes on until then arrived, packed full of people except for five cavities to be filled by us. We got in, papers were checked, signatures were signed and we were off! All was forgotten at the first whiff of fresh air and I was feeling happy, serene and in one with nature and all. The bone rattling ride to the forest gate gave me the opportunity to preach to my mother about using your abs and glutes to protect your spine and other sundry bones. Finally we were at the gate

See, I am not lying. I did go.
and I clicked this pathetic picture with a terrible camera, since in all that hurry I had forgotten to take my DSLR to India. Don't ask, it's a long story. Anyway, we got to the gate. And stopped. There were more formalities to complete and authorities to convince that we are not some smugglers or poachers. Although how they were convinced of this by just matching our ID cards with the name list, beats me. While this "attendance register" routine was going on, there were several hawkers by the side of the canter who were selling gloves, hats, souvenirs and what not. One guy on the canter decided to buy himself T-shirts and hats. Of course, he did not just buy it. He had to haggle. The attendance taker had left, the canter in front of us had left and this guy was still haggling over the price of a T-shirt! It was 8:15.

Gaaah!!! The tiger just finished watching his first daydream. In IMAX 3D, no less. 

A few feet away from the entrance to the National park, as we passed through an old archway, the landscape suddenly changed to rocky, hilly, dense forest. With large banyans and other trees (mango??) and impossibly determined cactii that rose up from the rocky walls of the cliff.

This picture does not even begin to capture the feeling
To the left of the archway was a little artificial water element, with water still running on it. We caught a glimpse of a first, non-human, non-domesticated animal to the left of us -- a sambhar negotiating his/her territory with ease.
We continued driving up the bumpy road up to the point where the forest officials assigned us a zone for the day. The guide filled us in on the Ranthombhore forest and the fort as we drove on. As we picked our way through our zone we spotted several birds and local fauna.
Two peas in a pod? Two peas in a kaad (forest), more like.
The ubiquitous langoor

Maanguyil (roughly transliterates to mango-koel): may be because it looks a bit like a ripe mango?

We even saw wild boars, several spotted deer and more Sambhars than I could count, but no tiger. Out of the blue our guide stopped the truck and motioned everyone on board to be quiet. I was glad he did, because the canter load of humanity finally stopped yammering and crunching on chips for a bit and you could hear the forest. There was a sambhar barking somewhere and a bunch of birds jabbering away. I have a sneaky suspicion that he just wanted some quiet as well and that this break had nothing to do with a tiger.

We were still waiting with the engine turned off when a stream of excited looking jeeps cut across our path racing off towards the left. I looked expectantly at the guide. No response. Apparently we were just going to sit there for sometime. Suddenly another jeep passed us and the guide told ours that a tiger was spotted somewhere near xxxxx (couldn't catch the reference) and that we should follow him. The engine revved and amazingly our guide told our driver to not follow the jeep and to speed off in another direction! Eventually we made it to a huge watering hole and waited there for a bit.

Serpent Eagle

We waited there for a bit. Still no tiger. The canter, cantered randomly in the forest, until we came to a clearing and our guide announced that anyone that wants to use a restroom was welcome to do so. "Only ladies in restrom. Gentlemen.." and he indicated the vast expanse to the right "you can go on the right. Just don't go near the watering hole". Oh well, I suppose urine is biodegradable!

The restroom turned out to be a veritable bird paradise. My reflexes were too poor to catch them in flight. But I did catch this tight rope walking parrot.

and this Cafe Coffee day for Sambhars and Peacocks

 By the time everyone was done, it was pretty clear that we were not going to see any tiger that day. So we ambled along a little more, saw a few more wild boars and went back to the resort.
(To be continued......)

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Parthasarathy said...

Very illuminating; picturesquely done. I am seeing them now, as I was always inside the resort, solicitously attended upon by a chatterbox of local habitation; nice fellow.

magiceye said...

Brilliant narration and pics!
Loved it!

Agnija Bharathi said...

Thanks, Magiceye!

Agnija Bharathi said...

Dangs 'ba!

sunanda koduvayur said...

Nice narration! Liked the Cafe Coffe day bit. Could have zoomed in on a couple of pics. Love the rusty tones.

Arnab Maity said...

A funny way of narration! Enjoyed reading your post. Seeing a tiger in India needs lot of luck and you have to come back again and again to fulfill your wish

Alkanarula777 said...

great post..i had an amazing tiger spottng et ranthambhore myself..and the kick u get when all the jeeps together in a true mafia style enter the jungle..aahaa:)hehehehe....i stayed at tiger den which pug marks neighbouring hotel:) so could honestly visualise everythin while reading the post:)

Agnija Bharathi said...

Thanks! :)

Agnija Bharathi said...

Thanks Arnab Maity. Yes, and I plan to go again. And again!! :)

Agnija Bharathi said...

Ahh yes, I remember seeing Tiger Den. Isn't it awesome to see a tiger in the wild?