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vikramghanekar

Ranthambhore April 2017

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Trip Report Ranthambhore April 2017

 

Ranthambhore is the first tiger reserve or for that matter first protected area that I have ever visited in my life. It was way back in  December 2007. My wife and I had finished 1 year of our private practice (we both are doctors). We decided to celebrate the occasion by going on a 10 day trip to Rajasthan.  We had never been to any forest/ nature reserve before. We had never had been exposed to wildlife as kids and always had very little time to spend on anything other than studies as we finished our respective professional education.As an afterthought we decided to visit Ranthambhore just to see what it was all about. Since we could not get a safari booking at the end of our itinerary, we decided to start the trip with Ranthambhore. 

It was December, freezing cold, we were all layered up. It was our first experience to sit in an open vehicle with the wind blowing in our faces as we made our way from our hotel to the entrance of the park. That in itself was a altogether thrilling experience! After entering the park we got onto route 5. Being part of an enthusiastic group we were the first vehicle in the park. It was foggy and visibility was down a 10 metres or so. And lo behold, a tigress was walking down the road, through the mist, straight towards our vehicle. It was a nothing short of spectacular! She walked on, not a care in the world, making absolutely no sound while the driver reversed our car. This went on for good 10 minutes….I managed to take a couple of blurry foggy pictures with my little point and shoot camera. I still have those pictures which barely show some orange on a white background but the memory is as fresh in my mind as if it was yesterday. Our driver could reverse no more due to a line of vehicles that had formed behind us. The tigress was least bothered and she walked beside our vehicle close enough for my wife to reach out and touch her (which of course she didn’t!) To say the least we were hooked! The safari bug had bitten on our very first day in a national park and the fever has not gone away still and probably never will. Our rest of the trip visiting palaces and museums paled on the background of our Ranthambhore experience. After coming back we immediately started planning our next trip.

After this trip I made a very short trip to R’mbore in 2013 with a friend of mine. We were not very lucky with tiger sightings on that trip (just one good sighting) as it was winter and the trip was planned at the last minute resulting in not getting zones of choice. 

So when I got an email from my friend Aditya Singh (incidently we stayed at his hotel Ranthambhore Bagh in 2007 just by pure chance), saying he is arranging a 4 full day safari trip for a few friends, I jumped in. My wife decided not to come especially with our son being just 3 years who wouldn’t enjoy 40C April heat of Ranthambhore. (He has already seen a leopard and a sloth bear at the age of 1 and a big male tiger at the ripe old age of 2!). 

The trip started on 15th April 2017. I got onto the August Kranti Express leaving Mumbai at 1730 hours and reached Sawai Madhopur next day at 0630. I had booked AC First Class. I was amazed by the cleanliness, courteous service and palatable food offered by Indian Railways. It was certainly a pleasant surprise after being used to poor service and unpalatable food for years together.

It was a 5 day trip. First day was a full day photographic workshop at the hotel hosted by Theo Allofs, a German photographer settled in the US. (He is an outstanding photographer having won Natural History Museums Wildlife Photographer of the Year award several times apart from several other awards and publication. Please do check out his website especially his aerial photographs from Rift Valley).

The group was varied. One person was from Manila, One from Mumbai, One from Dubai, 2 from Hyderabad, One Sri Lankan from Melbourne and me from a little town on the west coast of India.

 

Since it was a full day safari, Aditya had booked 2 Gypsies (Suzuki 4X4s) with very experienced drivers but without any guides. (Guides are a must for normal drives). The plan was to concentrate on one particular tigress called T-39 or “Noor” and her 3 4 month old cubs. There was another tigress T-60 with 3 grown up cubs (1 1/2 years old) a little further down the road in the same zone (Zone 2) who would serve as a backup plan. Another tigress called “Arrowhead” (T-19’s daughter) had territory close to the entrance gate of Zones 2 and 3, so we had a chance of sighting her as well. Males of course, we could bump into anywhere.

With this plan set, we started nice and early on Day 1. It was 0530 as we left the hotel. Weather was surprisingly pleasant. 

We made straight for Zone 2, driving towards T-39s territory. There were a lot of tiger pug marks on the road but no sign of the owner. All the favourite waterholes were empty with no sign of any big cat. Since we were in 2 cars, a plan was made. We stuck around T-39’s area while the second car made a dash for T-60’s territory. There was no way of communicating as no radios are allowed and cell phone signal are patchy. But as more and more vehicles made their way to the area, a message could be conveyed by passing vehicle. We waited for 30 minutes more. the other vehicle came back empty handed. We continued our search and finally came across this.

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Noor and her cubs were lying in an area well away from the road, but we could see them through the thickets. They probably had made a kill there but it was difficult to see.

 

We waited for Noor  to make a move. Our driver Himmat Singh predicted that as the weather  heated up, they would move towards either a waterhole or a shady area.

After some time, the family started moving.

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Not something that you see everyday!

Himmat correctly predicted where they would cross the road and drove ahead. He was right (which became the de facto norm) of course.

We were treated to a spectacle not many people get to see.

 

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The tigers were moving in the direction of a waterhole. It would have been nice if they had decided to do just that. We drove towards the waterhole and waited. Unfortunately, the family had other plans. They did not show up at the waterhole at all. Himmat Singh and Aditya predicted that they probably had moved towards an area with some natural caves. the area was well away from the roads. Hoping against hope we waited at the waterhole. This gave me time to click some other denizens of the forest. This time some feathered ones !

Rose ringed parakeets feeding on flowers of "Flame of the forest"

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Peacocks were plenty. National bird of India is certainly among one of the most beautiful birds in the world, especially in breeding season.

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Lovely start to your Trip Report and thank you for making the effort to share it with us  @vikramghanekar. What a fantastic first day with the tiger family!  

 

Looking forward to the next installment

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Great start, I am eager to follow along as I'll be doing three full day safaris (and two half days) in Ranthambhore next March :)  I saw Theo Allof's photos on Facebook, probably from your same trip!

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We waited at the waterhole for quite some time. However, the tiger family had other ideas. It was now starting to get really hot and they must have settled down for the day in a shady area.

 

In the meanwhile, we got info that one of T60’s cubs was sighted near a waterhole. The hope of getting T-39 and family were slim. So we moved to the area where the cub was seen last. Alas, the waterhole was empty. We checked couple of other waterholes in the area, but came up empty.

There was dry riverbed nearby. Himmat decided to check for tracks in soft sand. Instead of tracks, we found this!

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It was a male cub from T60’s latest litter, approximately 18 months old. Nearly as big as his mother (though she was nowhere to be found).

The cub was panting heavily and to call his niche “a cave” would be stretch of imagination. When I enquired with Aditya and Himmat, they confirmed that there were much better places for tiger to spend a hot afternoon including the multiple waterholes that we had visited.

The cub looked as if it was almost having a sunstroke.

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After taking a few shots, we decided to move into shade and look for its siblings. Himmat was sure that they would around as the tiger families tend to stick together. After some intensive search we found second male cub, seeking shade under a thick bush.

 

 

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Close up! In summers all tigers show this froth stuck to their chin! Effects of some heavy panting.

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Soo these paws will be the size of dinner plates.

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After a few quick shots, we parked in the shade and decided to wait/ have packed lunch. (By now it was almost 3 pm). Tigers would surely start moving once the temperature cooled down a bit.

Prediction was that they would seek each other out and we may get to see the whole family together.

 

An hour and a half was spent chatting, drinking water with rehydration salts, aam pana(a homemade mango drink), lassi etc. I was carrying 1 litre of rehydration salt solution which I was sipping since morning. The water was now hot enough to make some tea with (not that it would taste any better).

As the sun started dipping, the prediction came true (well sort of). One male cub started moving towards dry river bed and sat down. It was soon followed by the second male. The third cub (a female) was seen very briefly as she moved through the bushes and disappeared.

 

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The cub moving through dry river bed

 

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Some more shots.

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We did get a good sighting of the two male cubs as they greeted each other.

 

First male cub sitting in dry river bed.

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Second one walks into the scene

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Greeting ceremony

 

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Gentle nudge

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Parting shot. Those two white dots on the back of their ears are just beautiful, aren't they? The young male's mane is just coming through

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It was now getting late and we had some distance to travel to the gate to make it within the stipulated time. So we said good bye to the tiger and made our way back to the gate. Just outside the gate, there were many peacocks sitting on trees, giving me an opportunity to click last few images of the day. Smiling faces all around told the story of a successful day in the Ranthambhore National Park. Cold beer awaited us in the lodge and we couldn't resist anymore!

 

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