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In The Presence Of Mighty Cats Of Ranthambore National Tiger Reserve

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William blake
A young tiger cub walking on rocks towards water stream
Lazy royal walk

Tigers are very very patient and hence efficiently elusive. Royal that it is, it has the prerogative to make a grand appearance or not…

“There’s no chance that we will not spot a Tiger in Ranthambore. I have been here many times and not one visit has been without sighting.” boasted Anirban, my fellow traveler and an avid wildlife photographer.

I on the other hand, having earlier been to a few forests and national parks including Jim Corbett had never sighted the elusive cat. I was convinced that I did not have that ‘tiger sighting luck’. Indeed I had heard endless stories of others encountering a tiger sauntering by the jeep or making a kill or just lazing around . But my excitement had always been limited to sighting the ‘fresh’ pug marks or frantic noise of the barking deer alerting everyone of the tiger’s presence.

It was with this hopeless thought that I agreed for a jeep safari in the Ranthambore National Park. I was almost sure that the luck was not on my side. I still sat glued to my seat on the jeep safari, camera ready, on the lookout for the majestic cat to make an appearance, with immense hope.

Ranthambore National Park, named after the massive 10th century UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site Ranthambore Fort, that it encompasses, is spread on 1334 square kilometers of area, in Sawaimadhopur, Rajasthan. With 75-80 tigers in the area, tiger sightings are very common.

track of jeep in the forest
On Jeep Safari tracks at Ranthambore

The park is strewn with small and big ruins of the fort. As the jeep made way to the park, a huge stone gateway flanking a baodi or small step well emerged through the giant trees swaying to the breeze . The row of rooms above the fort wall at the entrance gateway once housed the soldiers protecting the entrance. But the jeep driver told us that it was home to a tigress and her three cubs currently.

ramparts of fort at the horizon with a lake in forefront
UNESCO heritage Ranthambore Fort ramparts overlooking the lake

The probability of encountering a tigress and her cubs right at the entrance to the park sent a wave of excitement. I was hoping for that classic sight of a tiger emerging out of stone ruins. My luck however hadn’t changed… And of course the tigress was on a mission of moving her cubs to another location.

Riding deeper into the forest was however full of pleasant surprises. While peacocks, dancing away with full plume in an unabashed amorous display for their prospective mates, were aplenty, the herd of muscular grey neel gai too made a regular appearance.

dancing peacock with full plume
With monsoon approaching, peacocks were dancing unabashedly to find their mates
Muscular large deer grazing in forest
Herd of Neelgai

At some point the jeep halted and everyone shushed each other. A lone black Indian sloth bear was busy foraging berries from the forest floor. The shy animal must have been really hungry as it continued to pick fruits even though three jeeps with visitors sat staring. As a yellow oriole flew by distracting the cameras pointed towards the bear, it quickly slunk away.

black indian sloth bear foraging for berries on forest floor in ranthambore national park
Indian Sloth Bear foraging for berries

In the many small lakes inside the forest, crocodiles sat sunning themselves as birds waded fearlessly past them.

a large adult crocodile with open jaws lazing at lake side
A silent predator. Macchli, the most famous tigress had once killed a crocodile that attacked her establishing her supremacy in Ranthambore

At another clearing, a wild boar grunted and scrubbed itself against a tree and a jackal tried its best to hunt a rabbit. Another jeep came rumbling by with three tourists beaming with excitement as if they just won a pot of gold. They pointed in opposite direction “The tigress is on the move. We saw it entering the nullah. If you go now, you will catch her crossing the stream. It is huge.” A flurry of action and we turned back on the trail to head towards the narrow stream.

wild boar searching for termites in the forest
A wild boar searching for food in Ranthambore National Park

The tigress, had but of course, given us a slip again.

I concentrated on the mango trees instead laden with ripened fruit that the langoors were merrily eating. We contemplated going back as the sun shone fiercely. It was no point tracking a moving tiger. It would make an appearance only if it wanted to. Our best chance was when the tigers would rest.

A langoor monkey eating mango
Forbidden fruit? We could not get down from the jeep on the forest floor where scores of ripe mangoes had fallen down. The langoors however had easy access to the mangoes.

While a little disappointment crept in but I began to believe that if I ever spot a tiger it would be at Ranthambore.

I was tired and hungry from the early morning safari. Post lunch, I wanted to take a quick nap but there was hardly any time to relax before the next safari. We rode back to the forest. Exhausted. But eager. Hopeful.

The trackers and the jeep drivers were excited. They had a confirm location of the tigress and her cubs. They were eager to drive us to the vantage point. At least eight jeeps with wild life photographers rumbled towards the spot. Two canters laden with noisy tourists also hurried along.

Time just stopped when we all noticed that across the stream sat not one but two cubs.

The ‘two brothers’ were almost adult in size but still young enough to sit exactly where their mother had left them…. obeying and waiting for her. Yawning in unison as if bored by our presence. Lazing on the rock, sauntering to drink a bit of water from the trickling stream. Alert. Agile. Ferocious.

two tiger cubs sitting next to each other on the rocky floor
Sitting together keeping an eye on tourists

In so many years of my life since childhood, it was the first time to encounter tigers in their natural habitat. Right there in front of my eyes. Just a few feet away. I went trigger happy and continued to shoot the smallest movement the two brothers made. I couldn’t take my eyes off literally.

All my tiredness had vanished at the sight of two young tigers. I wanted to capture all of it in memories… the cubs scratching and sharpening their claws on the tree trunk, drinking water while keeping an eye on us, lounging near each other.

There was no limit to my exhilaration. I could not get over the perfection that I had seen… the sinewy proportions and symmetry, the gold fur, the piercing amber eyes, the lazy gait, the crouch that could turn into a leap in fraction of seconds if need be and the regal couldn’t care less attitude towards the camera toting puny little human being invading their privacy.

tiger cub drinking water from the stream
No compromise in alertness as I drink a little water
tiger sharpening its claws on the tree bark
Sharpening the claws for a hunt
tiger cub lazing and other walking away
I am the King..

If it were in my hands, I would have stayed all day long gazing at the majestic mighty big cats. The tigress, but, it seems had had enough of drama. She was not visible to us but it was obvious the grand dame had arrived somewhere and signaled her cubs to stop being on display anymore. For more than two hours we sat across the stream, the tigers and tourists before the obedient cubs slowly began their climb up the rocks behind the shrubs and grass, gradually disappearing from our line of sight.

Ranthambore Tiger Safari will remain an unforgettable lifetime memory for me.

Some Facts:

  1. The government has recently (August 2022) stopped the half day and full day safaris.
  2. The approximate cost of each jeep safari is about 8000-9000 Rs in Ranthambore.
  3. Safaris should be preferably pre-booked online.
  4. The tourists/influencers/wildlife enthusiasts are not allowed to get down from the jeeps and canters for photography.
  5. Flash cameras are prohibited for wildlife photography.
  6. The tourism department also has a handicrafts venture ‘Shilpagram’ in Sawaimadhopur, Ranthambore where one can buy souvenirs at affordable cost.
  7. There are a range of accommodation choices available from high-end tents and hotels to more affordable government lodges and guest houses.

I was invited by Rajasthan Tourism Department for a wildlife tour. However the pictures and the happiness of sighting the tigers are all mine.

12 Comments »

  1. Dear Shoma,I enjoyed your adventure with vicarious pleasure and not without a little envy! Thank you for sharing and I hope You have many many more such.Stay safe. Stay blessed.

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    Liked by 1 person

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