WARNING : The pictures are copyrighted and are Akshay Kakkar's property.
You will be prosecuted for copying the images.
It was the beginning of May, 2012.
It had been really long since I went out for a vacation.
The weather wasn't encouraging in the least.
An idea popped in my mind which I made public.
Ranthambhore National Park.
My wifey's reaction : Are you crazy? Rajasthan in May?
My dad/mom said : Rajasthan in May would be 45 degrees.
I scratched my head in desperation. I knew tigers would be easy to spot in summer.
But an Indian summer came with its own maladies.
But then my earlier trips to Jim Corbett National Park and Kanha National Park were either in winter or wet seasons.
I stayed bullish and the rest followed. My wife jumped at the idea of clubbing Ranthambhore with Agra.
I had a few things to take care of. My 9 month old daughter might not take too well the sweltering heat and dust of the forest.
But we decided to cross the bridge when we reach it.
Determined we started, with another couple from work for company.
We had a stopover at Agra and then boarded Awadh express to reach Sawai Madhopur.
Sawai Madhopur is the nearest decent rail head to Ranthambhore forest.
We put up at a place called Ranthambhore Bagh.
It was a well kept place. Nothing extravagant, but they stuck to the basics and did well on that front.
They had decent rooms with ACs that worked well, that's the only thing which you need in that kind of season.
The staff was good, a couple of them at the dining area overzealous.. so much that you would wonder when they would ask for a tip. :)
However they have a box at their reception which accepts common tipping and has "No Individual tips please" written in big letters.
Such things leave a smile on your face.
Ranthambhore bagh sure was pricey and may not live upto the price tag(especially the safari fares which are insane), but they do a good job and I would definitely recommend them.
The food was a tad bland than the Indian taste bud's expectation, but that's welcome in the heat and also considering that the place is frequented by foreigners round the year.
And if you want to make friends 'in the circle', then this is the place to be.. you would know what I meant by that ;-).
Anyway, I had no such aspirations!
I was getting impatient to have the first safari.
We had hired a special tracker guide to help us through the safaris.
He was waiting for us on the dot. The main gate of the park was quite far away.
Then there was a wait of about 10 minutes on the gate for verification.
We were assigned Route # 6. The routes in Ranthambhore are assigned by some kind of a lottery system.
Done with the formalities, we were on our way through the deciduous forests of Rajasthan.
We drove for long with nothing but dried foliage and trees without leaves on either side of us.
The weather was exceedingly unbearable, but the feeling that you get in the wild is unparalleled.
That kept us going.
We drove and drove and finally came across a group of peacocks.
It was like oasis in desert. I changed lenses quickly and clicked to my heart's fill.
We left the place and again had a long trip, quite uneventful till we reached a pond on our way back.
It looked like a small pool of water... there was a rest house there, so we were allowed to get down from the jeep.
The guide said he'll have some water and be back in 5 minutes but asked us not to go near the pond since it had crocs.
I didn't believe him.
There was a few deers just grazing lazily, until I saw two crocodiles closing in near the banks.
They hastily disappeared into the water again and reappeared in a few minutes.
This game went on for quite a while, the deer all the while unmindful of the surroundings.
The guide then signalled to me that we had to leave, since it was getting dark.
Now, I don't know if at all the crocs were interested in the deer or just passing their time, but I reluctantly had to leave.
We then went back to the resort.
The dinner was quite nice, served in a neat setting.They serve dinner in the lawns of the resort with air coolers all around. The food tasted much better because we were so tired.
Some pictures from day 1 :
We had a quick breakfast. Our guide Rajkumar, an affable fellow, was ready to take us for the next safari.
I asked him "Which route are you taking us on today?"
"Sir, route # 2", he replied.
I was happy, this was supposed to be a picturesque route. This belonged to the legendary tigress Machli.
She is also called lady of the lakes, a term coined because of the 3 lakes in her territory.
She is the oldest and most famous tigress of Ranthambhore. However she is about 15 years old now and in the fag end of her life.
Sadly, 3 of her canines are broken and she cannot hunt, so forest officers offer her bait to keep the most glorious member of the forest alive.
A couple of years ago, her own daughter, Sharmili : codenamed T-17, had a territorial fight with Machli and the power went in the youths favour.
Machli was driven out of her territory and T-17 took over the beautiful area with the lakes.
Machli now lives in a very small area adjoining the old territory.
Coming back to the safari, we entered the gates and I had a gut feeling that wide angle lenses may not help.
I had to have a tele-photo on.
This was because of my supersition of wearing a white T-shirt.
I had worn a white Tee on earlier occasions in Corbett and Kanha too and each time I saw the king.
So I opened my camera bag to get the lens out and just as I was doing that, Rajkumar, our guide said..."Tiger hoga, nahi toh itne ye log khade nahi hote" (It must be a tiger, else there would be no crowd).
There was one jeep already stationed there, we rushed at 60 kmph and reached the spot, I was changing my lens in that din and suddenly, we all went blank.
Sharmili, daughter of Machli, T-17 was lying there, resting in front of our eyes, maybe about 7-10 feet away.
She was resting in a old dilapidated structure. We were delighted to see her in the first 5 minutes of our safari.
Rajkumar had told us that the first hour and the last hour are crucial and so was it.
We waited, clicked to our heart's fill and moved on happy and content.
Suddenly the whole jungle seemed green because you just had a glimpse of the majestic cat.
Everything looked positive.
Even though I am a wildlife lover and I don't plan my trips just to see tigers, but still when they come in front of you, its something else.
Filming a wild tiger and the thrill and passion associated with it can be understood only by someone who has done it.
My day was made.
Some pictures :
The day-2 morning safari was wonderful.
The afternoon safari now beckoned us after a good lunch.
Wifey was happy that she saw a tiger and decided against going for the afternoon safari because of the extreme weather and dust in the forest.
So it was just me and the other couple we went with for our vacation.
We were discussing that now that we had seen the king, we'll keep an eye for other wildlife and birds.
Birds and other wildlife in Ranthambhore are not as varied as in Corbett or Kanha, but it's still a dream that'll make your day.
We waited by a baby croc to click and then saw a white breasted kingfisher.
At another spot where we waited for a tiger, a couple of affable tree-pies came and gave us company.
The beauty of the terrain was compelling and told us how these creatures had to strive to live through.
They fight for their food each single time they are hungry and don't get rice or wheat at 30 rupees a kilo.
Nature has it's own way of teaching lessons, however we have come too far from it.
We continued from there and on the way back, we were hurtling at roughly 60 kilometres an hour when suddenly my friend spotted a jeep standing at the edge of a cliff.
We reversed, the guide said again "It definitely must be a tiger, you possess great eyes, we would have missed this". My friend silently looked at me and smiled!
And what we saw from there was nothing short of history.
A full bodied, young tigress, in all it's glory stretching, walking and showing us its curves from all angles was about 40 feet from us.
Good that I had my tele lens on.
I immediately started clicking, our luck was smiling away on us today, two tigers in 2 safaris.
She was T-41, also Machli's daughter but from a different male.
She left us spell bound.
Here is a Full HD video of her.
After an eventful second day, we set out for day-3.
This trip was on the most beautiful stretch of Ranthambhore. The lakes were humungous and beautiful.
It was essentially a bird-day.
We spotted plenty of painted storks, black drongos, black headed Ibis, kingfishers etc.
We even spotted a woodpecker and a rare Eurasian thick knee.
While coming out on the final day, we even encountered a joke!
Check the picture on the left.
We bade good bye to Ranthambhore after a very eventful trip.Such trips re-energize me from time to time.
Though the weather was unbearable, the beauty of wildlife more than made up for it.
Long live the Indian tiger.
I am sure they will survive to show their beauty to another generation.
What's new with me?
I feel i have grown up.. because these days i look down on the younger generation :)
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