Tiger spotting in Ranthambore National Park, India
Yes, I have very bad tiger karma. Had. Not anymore. With innumerable safaris (I stopped counting after 40) under the belt, beating heat waves and sunstrokes and surviving the disappointment safari after safari, I had the odd-ball luck called the bad tiger karma. No tiger had decided that it was worth its while to give me a fleeting chance to witness the royal highness. Of late, I had become the butt end of jokes of my hardcore tiger enthusiast friends. Then everyone around, tiger enthusiast or not, started digging on my bad tiger karma. To be fair, all that didn’t start with jokes. In the beginning, there was sympathy and encouragement. ‘Oh, it was the wrong season, I guess!’ or ‘I think the tigers are all poached, no wonder you didn’t see anything.’ or ‘ The forest is dense, it is hard to see a tiger. Better luck next time!‘ Then it moved to incredulous disappointment. ‘What? 5 Safaris and you still did not see a Tiger even in Tadoba? EVERYONE sees a tiger there, on EVERY safari!’ or ‘What? Not even in Ranthambore? My mother’s neighbour’s uncle saw a tiger last week in Corbett, IN CORBETT!’. Then it moved to the wretched jokes phase. ‘Oh, you are going to Bandipur! The tigers are going to hide. Poor others going on safari this weekend.’ Or sample this: ‘Are you releasing some special tiger pheromones that makes them run and hide?’ Then 40 safaris and more later (I mentioned I stopped counting) when the jokes had dried out and there was no more to be created, was the phase of social shunning, rather safari shunning. ‘We can’t go with you. We wan’t to see a tiger.’ Do you know of anyone who has been as unfortunate as me?
But haha! I think my wildcat jinx was broken with my sighting of the snow leopard last year! Yes, no tiger, but I saw a snow leopard on day 1 of our trek. Read more here: Sighting the Grey Ghost. Armed with confidence that my karma was undone by the generous snow leopard that had decided to grace me with his presence, I was steeled myself to chance it with another 4 safaris in the sweltering summer heat this year. I was a last minute pile-on to my friend’s plan for trip to Ranthambore (I had self invited myself; I also mentioned that my friends had stopped planning any wildlife trips with me). This friend had gifted me a tiger picture he had clicked and insisted that I hang it on my travel wall (adorned only with MY travel pictures) only to serve as a cruel reminder of my befallen fate. Aside his cruelty, he had an excellent track record of tiger sighting and had worked as a volunteer in the park. He knew the best areas, had the right connections etc. So my hopes were high with the promise of the forbidden sight. I had the nervous energy, perhaps bordering on negative outlook of the outcome to keep me from being disappointed yet again, but somewhere deep down I knew that this trip would be fruitful. It would be the end of the cruelty unleashed on me. This was going to be THE trip.
DAY 1: A moving orange patch.
Morning safari in Zone 3
My friends and I boarded the late night train to arrive in Sawai Madhopur in wee hours of the morning. After a quick snooze, we were off on the jeeps to Zone no.3 inhabited by a Tigress named Arrowhead. Just in 5 mins after entering the gate, I spotted a Tiger! There was a large lake next to the entrance and our guide was scanning the edges of the lake with a pair of binoculars. The tigress was soaking its body in the cool waters of the lake to beat the heat. Slowly it emerged and started walking along the edge. The tiger was almost 100 mrs away so I couldn’t see it clearly with naked eyes. But heck! My bad luck had just come to an end. I had seen a tiger, albeit at a distance! I hi-fived my friend, jumping in excitement of seeing what was a moving patch of orange. The tiger slowly started walking and the guide made a snap decision to abandon this post and drive back to the gate to catch the tiger possibly crossing the road. But that was it. The tiger never came out from the dense vegetation along the lake side. We spent next 3 hours going up and down 100 mtrs on the road. But no luck!
DAY 1: Hide and seek in a cove.
Noon safari in Zone 6
The safari post lunch was an adventure in itself. We had an enthusiastic guide who strangely promised us to show tigers. As if the tigers were at his beck and call, his royal pets. But he did make good on his promise. After being convinced that there was a tiger hiding in a shallow ravine below the cliff we were on, we waited and waited for a clear view and finally managed to sight a little male tiger cub of Tigress Ladli which stepped out from the cove to drink some water.
DAY 2: Best sighting of my life.
Morning safari in Zone 4
This was the best safari of two days! This sighting had made good for all the 40+ trips I had done in my life. We got an exclusive sighting of tigress Krishna and her 3 almost adult cubs for almost an hour. We had taken a blind left turn in dense part of the jungle and braked hard to come to a stop a few feet away from the tigress crossing the road. It was a beautiful sight, perfect morning soft light was hitting the tiger’s fur and made it glow. Further commotion ensued in the jeep and I turned left to look at what a fellow occupant of the jeep had spotted. There were 3 cubs strolling on the left and were coming to cross the road. They followed the mother across the road and all 4 of them sat on a patch for a few mins for us enjoy their company. One cub got up and started playing and cuddling with the mother. Awww! A few mins later, they got up and went deeper into the jungle. Our guide took the jeep all the way around the hill to catch the tiger family crossing the road to go down a small ravine next to a stream. All of them immersed themselves in the water for almost 30 mins by which time all the jeeps and canters in the zone had heard about the sighting and had made their way to the spot to create a ruckus. The tigers got up and went deeper into the ravine.
Day 2: A dash and a backside dazzle.
Evening safari in Zone 3
The whole afternoon was dull and unremarkable but for a few birds. There were no signs, no sambar calls. Our guide decided to stakeout at a spot on the road where he thought the tiger would cross. There was just 30 mins left for the safari to end. So our hopes of making it a 100% success rate on this trip was getting crushed by the minute. Suddenly a jeep was zipping past us and the other driver hurriedly relayed to us that a tiger had been spotted by another jeep deep inside jungle. Then ensued a high speed dash to the spot, flying through the jungle. Following the pug marks, our guide took a few minutes to find the tigress Arrowhead walking inside the jungle. He took the jeep on the other side to catch the tigress walking on the road ahead of us. She wasn’t even bothered to turn around and look at us. We only saw the backside of the tigress and had to reluctantly give up the chase after a few mins as our time had run out and we had to report back to gate.
A fruitful trip and the irony of it all!
We boarded the night train to get back to corporate stoogedom on Monday morning and I happily announced the end of my bad tiger karma to anyone who lent me an ear.
As I reflected back on our weekend adventure, an irony dawned upon me. I had seen tigress Arrowhead two times on this safari, once as a moving orange patch at a distance and its dirty backside on the second time. I had never seen its face! The irony is that the picture of tigress that my friend had given me to hang on my travel wall was that of Arrowhead! Life is indeed cruel.
How to get to Ranthambore national park:
Easiest option is to board an overnight train from Delhi to Sawai Madhopur.
Where to stay:
Anuraga palace was a decent and affordable option. Rooms were luxurious and the service was excellent.
When to go:
Hotter it is, better are the chance to see a tiger around the watering holes. Otherwise the park is open from Oct – Jun.
How to Book:
We came across an excellent wildlife guide Nagendra Rajawat who also does wildlife trips and packages to Ranthambore. Connect with him on http://www.indiantourandtravel.net