It’s a long post and a lot to read. This is part one of my trip report for my visit to Ranthambhore national park in India. As a trip report, the emphasis is on the report. If you don’t want to read all of it, you scroll through the page and you will be able to see most of the selected pictures. Once I am done making Part 2 of report, I will post a link for seeing just the pictures. So those who might not have any interest in reading, can wait till then.
It had been more than a year since I took leaves from work. Being in Dubai and seeing endless construction was making me miserable. To top it, my family was on a long leave in India. So I packed my bags and started my vacations. I was missing natural surroundings that you have everywhere in India. This time we decided to take a break from everything and spend some time with our natural heritage. I made the arrangements and got us a 4 day break in Ranthambhore national park. This park is very famous for it’s tiger population but I was not bothered with them. Being in a non-concrete jungle was a lure enough for me. Some friends and family joined up and we had a small party of 5 and a quarter for the trip (my son is just 9 months old).
And so it begun.
Ranthambhore National Park is about 4 hours drive away from Jaipur. After spending couple of weeks with my family there, we started from Jaipur. The plan was to start as early in the morning as possible. Target was to get out of Jaipur by 8am. But after a heavy breakfast and bidding goodbyes got us to start by 9:30 am. The route was scenic with mustard fields on both sides of the roads. Road conditions were not too bad and we reached our resort by 1pm. Our next safari was due in another 90 minutes. All formalities were hurried up and we had a almost quick lunch. Almost quick I say, as I had underestimated the power of great food. Excellent food from our hosts was to blame for the delayed start of our first glimpse of the magical place. On my special request, and my luck, our host arranged for a truly excellent guide for us. His name is Salim and he is the best guide for Ranthambhore. I am going back only if Salim is available for guiding me.
We had 2 gypsies booked for our party so we had enough freedom and it was great for photography. There was no need to jostle with 20 strangers in canter to get a good view of anything. On my first drive, I was assigned Zone 3. Zone 3 is the most picturesque zone that I saw. With lakes and great birdlife, it was buzzing all around. As we had a baby with us in our Jeep, we decided to take it slow on the first day. We took our first stop at Padam Lake. Aditya (our host) pointed our attention towards a croc sleeping on a rock. Honestly I would have missed it completely had it not been shown to me. Just a few meters away from us was a Snakebird (Anhinga) basking in the sun. A hopeful egret was looking for snacks in the shallow waters. Parakeets were making sure they were heard and in general I was hoping that time will freeze and I will be there forever.
Moving on from Padam lake, we went further in Zone 3 and came across a family of spotted deers grazing. I was wondering how others will pass these creatures, knowing that you can find them everywhere. Spotted deers can be found everywhere in Ranthambhore (from what I saw) but everytime I see them, I want to stop and enjoy being with them. Specially if they have young ones around.
As we moved further on, we came across a pair of spotted owls. It was love at first sight. Really, for me they are just as majestic as eagles or falcons. As we watched, both of them cuddled up together and looked curiously at us. We decided to move on and not disturb them. Unfortunately I could not get any keepers here yet.
Further down the road we came across a Grey heron in breding plumage. A black headed ibis was around for the company. As we moved on, we came across a fresh kill or rather remains of a fresh kill. A peacock was ambushed and killed. Looking at the scene it looked like a battle ground. Colorful feathers all around telling the story of what happened. Our guide told us to be silent. “Must be a cat’s work” he said, “If you keep quite, you may hear bones crunching”. There was a loud thumping sound. Heartbeats are irritating sometimes. There was a rustling sound in the bushes. Tension was mounting. Salim said “Must have been a carcal” and my head became dizzie. A Carcal. Beats tiger anyday. Alas, that was not to be. We waited for about 20 minutes, but nothing came of it. Excitement of being so close to a kill was the reward for me.
As we drove back, we stopped at Rajabag lake. An egret was standing at the far end of the lake. The usual suspects were around the edge looking for food. We took out a pack of biscuits and broke one in the hand. All of a sudden we were getting mobbed by the over friendly treepies. Oh yes, I am guilty of feeding a wild animal and ashamed of it but it felt to darn good to have such a close encounter.
This is where we concluded our first day at the park. We drove back reluctantly and under the threat of heavy fines. As we drove back from the park, we realized how hungry we were. Spent the first night with good food, folk music, bonfire, bad jokes and most important with great friends. As the next safari was scheduled at 6:30 am, we all dragged ourselves to the rooms by 11:30 pm.
Meet Zone 4
We got our wakeup call by 5:30 am. I was already up and ready by then. I wonder why I can not do the same when I have to go to the office. Matters not. Came down and saw that hot tea and rusks are waiting right next to a heap of blankets. I got me a cuppa and got into our jeep. Note to potential visitors: Do not mix morning tea and morning safaris on a cold day. Ranthambhore does not have scheduled pit stops and you never know what may be lurking on the other side of the bush you are “Marking your territory”. Anywho we were assigned Zone 4. This is the largest zone of all and the most bumpy ride of them all.
We got in and it was a misty morning. I did not even switch on my camera. There wasn’t much point in shooting anything till sun came out. We just enjoyed the views and marveled at the early morning wildlife. Slowly the golden light pierced through the mist and we saw a handsome blue bull sauntering away. A few minutes down the road we came across a couple of Sambar deers. Guide told me that both of them were male but the younger one was trying to get into good books of the older male. Well so much for the nature’s way. As we drove down on that cold misty morning, we came across three male Chinkaras playing in the grass.
On and on we drove till we got to a place called Semli in Zone 4. We saw a guard circling the pugmarks. As Salim spoke to the guard, our hopes of seeing the fuzzy orange cat were rekindled. A male tiger was supposed to have been around earlier that morning. So we decided to wait and listen for alarm calls. Almost magically the alarm calls started. Sambar started their barks. Then a langoor gave out warnings. A predator was in the vicinity. We decided to move a bit further and locate the source of the calls. Again we waited and the calls stopped. Whatever was lurking in the bushes disappeared. Or so we thought. As we started back, we came across fresh urine of a tiger merely 50 meters away from us. We were so close, yet so far. Then the bad jokes about seeing something related to tiger started (seeing the tiger part by part). We had gone on some roads in this zone that I would not even call roads. And no, I am not talking about bumpy jungle pathways. I am talking more like a vertical dive and accent.
We got back to the hotel and joined rest of the group for breakfast. Seems like there were some guests who had seen our tiger. Our tiger… but there was no worry. All of us were satisfied with seeing what was there to see. The orange stripped cat will have to wait.
After a heavy lunch we started back. As my luck would have it, I was back in Zone 4. While driving down in there, we came across wild boars having a party in Malik talao (Malik Lake). Instantly we said, Asterix and Obelix. Just a few meters away from us was a White throated kingfisher. Perched on a dead tree. It was one of the most vibrant birds I have seen.
Rolling down further in the forest we came across quite a few birds including Shikra, Black shouldered kite, Buzzard, Brahminy Duck, Storks etc. There were Spotted deers, sambars and jackals as well. My son was up by then and was thrilled to be on the bumpy roads. Who needs to know the calls of Deer when a 9 month old can say “aaaaa” and deer looks at you. 😀 Though he will not remember much, but I know he enjoys the outdoors (just like all other 9 month old).
As we passed the forest guard camps we decided to take a road less traveled. We were driving on the exterior wall of a dried lake and all of a sudden Salim asked driver to brake. Right there sitting a few meters away from us was a crested serpent eagle, perched on a dead tree. As we were on the wall, we were eye level with him. What a majestic bird. We were lucky. After patiently posing for us for a few minutes, it decided to take a flight. Unfortunately I was unprepared and got only a record shot.
Once again we came across some very fresh pugmarks and we started to follow them. I guess the Tiger god was not smiling down on us so the cat proved to be elusive once again. There were suggestions in the jeep that must be the guards dressed up as tigers to keep tourism up and some even more creative observations.
As we came back, we met other people around the bonfire and one lucky fellow told me that he saw a tigers head in a different zone. My back was reminding me of the two rides I took in zone 4 on the same day. Once again a mix of great food and friends, folk music and a touch of Iodex took me back to dreamland.
Part 2 should be up soon.
Note: All photographs shown are copyright by me. Do not copy or reproduce them without my express permission.