“Tiger, Tiger burning bright…”
On Wednesday at about 8 o’clock in the morning we sadly said goodbye to our friends at the Hotel Dera Mandawa for the drive to Ranthambore. We’ve been at the Dera Mandawa for a week and it’s been a wonderful oasis of calm in the midst of the mayhem that is Jaipur. As hotels go it’s not perfect but there are only little things that you could take issue with,but who’d want to when you have such a stylish host in Durga Singh and the whole place just oozes charm albeit in a slightly quirky way. We’ll miss the place and long look back to it with great memories.
The drive south to Ranthambore was interesting and will hopefully be the subject of a separate blog from home. Suffice to say that it was varied and mostly on good roads; we went through just one big (?) town where we came to a complete stop for about twenty minutes. At a roundabout the whole traffic flow in both directions around a tractor and trailer trying to cut across and other traffic trying to go round the outsides and motor bikes trying to get through the middle; and everything just froze. We sat there for about twenty minutes then, this being India, something we couldn’t see happened, everyone moved a little bit this way or that, and oh so slowly it unravelled. According to the driver 10 – 12 year old children had to come into town from outlying villages today for their state exams, hence the number of buses stuffed with grinning children. One, incongruously, displaying an advert for “Jasmine Flavoured Condoms” on its side.
Finally we arrived at The Tigress Hotel at Ranthambore, which you access by an horrendously bumpy dirt track. This hotel is part of an area of new hotel development, it’s just a pity that they haven’t got together and sorted out the access road as it’s currently like a tank testing course. The hotel itself is a wonderful confection of turrets, towers, pavilions and terraces that you enter via a stately staircase with two canons at the bottom. We were soon to find that it is a triumph of style over substance!
We just had time to grab a quick lunch before we set off for our first safari drive. Ranthambore National Park is a huge area that is being managed for the protection of its wildlife and is most famous for its population of tigers; about 20% of the park is open to public visits, this actually means controlled visits in vehicles managed by the authorities. At one end of this you have small open buses for about twenty passengers with a guide and driver to the other end which we had of a 4×4 Jeep with a guide and driver. There are about ten zones within the accessible area and each vehicle is allocated to a single area per session of which there are two each day, morning and afternoon. The whole purpose of this control is to try to keep the pressure off the wildlife.
We met our guide and driver and bumped off down the track and as we had been allocated zone 7 had quite a long and very dusty drive to get there. Once we had been checked in we set off along a bumpy track which steadily got worse and worse; many of these tracks have just been bulldozed out of the jungle floor so are rutted and full of rocks; it’s uncomfortable when driven slowly and awful at speed! It is also captivating, interesting and full of animals; some people are only interested in tigers and just don’t see everything else, which is a shame. I won’t list everything we saw but to name a few there were: Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Blue Bull Antelope, Indian Gazelle, Vultures (not sure what kind but huge), Black Faced Langur, Crocodiles, Peacocks (masses of peacocks), many, many species of birds most of which I don’t recognise and………a tiger.
Our tiger was reference number T8 and she is currently rearing three cubs. After driving around looking and talking to other guides we had visited one of the park checkpoints where guides call in up to date information, suddenly we set off at speed to an area she was known to frequent, saw some other Jeeps so went over to them and just down the slope in front of us you could just make her out lying in the grass. We watched for a few moments then she sat up, looked round, stood up, wandered across in front of us and just as suddenly disappeared into the grass away from us. The whole thing had lasted about a minute and a half but there it was, we’ed seen a tiger and had a good view too. Wow!
We set off in a wide circle down the hill to try to intersect her apparent route but no more was seen of her. One thing our guide was good at was to park up with the engine off and just listen for noises and particularly alarm calls from other animals, but there was only silence. After waiting for about fifteen minutes we toured round a few other possible places then had to head out before they closed the park gates at 6.30pm. After a very hot and exciting afternoon the drive back to the hotel in the cool of the evening was delightful.
And there you have it, we’ve seen our first tiger, live and in the wild. It’s something of an emotional experience as you come to Ranthambore with hope rather than expectation; we’d spoken with people who had made up to five drives without success, but we’d seen a tiger. And we’d seen her clearly and taken some good pictures and even a short video. Actually it was all a bit overpowering and we’d been very lucky as success at this time of year is only 50%.
Back for showers, beer, dinner and bed; there’s an early start in the morning.
10 March 2017