Ch. 28, On the Trail of Tigers
Morning drives into the park are freezing cold and how many ever [sic] layers you wear sometimes feel insufficient.—Advice from Ranthambore National Park
Up early at Oh-dark-thirty today. That warm, unmoving mass between the sheets at the foot of my bed last night was not the horse’s head from The Godfather after all. It was a hot water bottle and it was very appreciated.
We gather for coffee/tea and cookies in a meeting room at Dev Vilas, a family–owned hotel, and we are greeted by two of the family members.
There are three of these Great Danes here, sweet and gentle and interested in politely greeting everyone. I think it’s their morning duty. Their names are Trigger, Whiskey, and Jessica!
Once the official canine greetings are completed, we load up in a 20-passenger canter for a short short-cut to the nearby entrance to Ranthambore National Park, which is a tiger reserve with about 60 resident tigers.
|I wish I could claim this photo as my own, but it isn't. It's from |
The driver and guide stop at the entrance gate and make ticket arrangements. Entrance to the park is strictly regulated, with the various canters and jeeps allowed only in one of six sectors and it’s the luck of the draw as to which sector you get. You cannot cross into another sector.
We’ve driven less than a half mile to get to the gate and we’re already cold, despite the blankets thoughtfully provided by Dev Vilas. It isn’t below freezing, but it’s still cold. I’m wearing a long sleeve cotton tee shirt, a nylon windbreaker that usually roasts me in five minutes, and a jacket with microfiber insulation that is the warmest mid-weight jacket I’ve ever had. Usually the longs sleeves and the jacket are plenty in Alaska, unless it’s around zero.
|Mary wears her new fleece Ranthanbore hat.|
I’m freezing. The hawkers surround the canter and do a brisk business selling fleece hats and gloves.
Then we’re off to find some tigers. Tigers are very territorial and theoretically, with six sectors and about 60 tigers, there should be tigers all over the place.
We start up a narrow gully with a small stream running down it. At one point, the road is paved with bricks and we pass through an picturesque gate that once was—wait for it—a defensive gate for the huge fort that is on top the hill next to us! That is Ranthambore Fort and though we didn’t get to visit it, I stared at it longingly whenever it came into view.
The canter crawls and bounces over bumps and ruts and rocks through what they call a “dry forest.” It looks like the perfect camouflage for tigers. The driver and guide search diligently for tigers.
|Meeting another vehicle is a problem. Someone has to give way, back up into a wider spot and wait for the other vehicle to pass.|
We see deer and antelope and lots of birds, but no tigers during the 3-1/2 hour drive. “If I were a tiger in this cold,” I mumble through frozen lips, “I’d be curled up in a ball somewhere and never come out until summer.”
|Red Wattled Lapwing|
|There are three crocodiles creeping out of the grass at left.|
|Chital also known as White Spotted deer|
|Male White Spotted deer.|
|Bluebull, or Nilgai, India's largest antelope.|
|This is a gum tree. The natives call it a ghost tree.|
|Another ghost tree|
|Close up of the bark of the ghost tree.|
|There are peacocks and peahens all over the park.|
|Rufous Treepie. Also called a tiger bird because of its coloring.|
|Same owl, different camera|
|Look at the tiger photo at the top of this story then look at this photo of the forest. Great tiger camouflage.|
|Another Treepie. They are in the Corvid family, which also includes ravens, crows, magpies, and jays.|
|Langur monkeys watching us at the exit.|
Back at the hotel, many of us sign up for an afternoon trip into the park, hoping to see tigers. As soon as I’m in my room, I strip and head for a hot shower. It was not to be. The hotel shuts off its boiler during certain times to save on electric costs, and the water was tepid at best. A small electric space heater is the only source of heat in the rooms and I turn it on to high and let it run all day.
The afternoon drive is in a different sector, one in which a female with three almost-grown offspring hang out. Again, more deer, antelope, and lots of birds, but no tigers.
|Two male Bluebulls showing off for the ladies.|
|A tiger track|
|Female sambar deer|
|White Spotted bucks|
|Isn't he gorgeous?|
|Langur hanging out with the deer.|
The driver heads back to an area that we had been through a short time ago. We five passengers (plus the driver and guide) had been chatting about things, but all of a sudden I realize that there is complete silence. All my senses are on high alert, my scalp prickles, and my ears strain for sound. This lasts less than ten minutes, and then I feel my senses return to normal. I lean over to the woman seated next to me and whisper, “Did you feel something back there?”
Her eyes are big and round and she whispers, “Yes!” Well, we may have sensed danger, but we never saw it. I tend to pay attention to these things.
|No tigers, but when word got out that someone thought they'd seen a sloth bear, it created a traffic jam.|
On our way out of the park, the guide, Yab, (who has several times been awarded park guide of the year and national guide of the year) tells tiger stories.
|Ranthambore Fort, 10th century|
|Note the peacock on top of the structure.|
|Another shot of that banyan tree.|
|Peacock on wall. I think this might be part of a Hindu temple.|
|Tea and cookies on our return|
Lest you think this is a drive through a Disneyland habitat for tigers, two years ago a forest official was killed and partially eaten by a tiger. In 2010, a grass cutter and a wood cutter were killed in separate incidences by tiger(s).
In another tale, Yab speaks of the time he was driving down the road at the entrance to the park, the old fort entrance, and saw a man on his motorbike with his kids. At that moment a tiger came out of the brush onto the road. "Go fast, go fast!" yelled Yab.
"I can't," said the man. "My engine is off."
Yab's Jeep pulled up next to him and the man and his kids jumped into it. A few hours later, the man returned to get his motorbike and the tiger came out again! This time, though, he had started the engine and got away.
While I wish we had seen tigers, the drive through the park was wonderful and quite scenic.
The internet has a number of videos of brushes with tigers in the park. Here are links:
|Another photo I stole off the internet. The dark spot upper left is the city of Jaipur and the green areas are Ranthambore National Park and a couple sanctuaries that increase habitat for the tigers.|
|We are now at Ranthambore National Park, just above the India flag icon.|
|Jungle babbler. The original Angry Bird?|
|Second floor, three doors from left is my room.|
|Complimentary cookies in my room.|
|Cooking eggs to order|