Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ranthambhore - A Trip To Remember.. Forever. Day 2

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Day 2 – 28 Oct 2011

I woke up early on Day 2. My eagerness and enthusiasm had not been dampened after Day one. And to my absolute delight, my morning safari was booked on a jeep/gypsy. This miracle was due to the fact, that, a couple of guests had to back out due to health reasons. With due respect to those guests, it was a good omen for me. 

Safaris on Gypsies offer better wildlife sightings than Canters due to multiple reasons   
1. Gypsies/Jeeps enter the park on time as there are only 6 seats to fill. On the other hand Canters have 21 seats and filling up these seats can take time
2. Gypsies/Jeeps make far lesser noise than canters and therefore do not scare away the wildlife
3. Gypsies/Jeeps can access narrower paths and are more manoeuverable.

Morning Safari

We entered the park gates at 7 am sharp. We had been allotted Zone 1 for the safari. As soon as we entered the zone, the naturalist was on red alert. He could sense that there was an element of tension in the air. And then the alarm call of a Langur monkey shattered the silence. We were now more or less sure that a predator, either a Tiger or Leopard, was in the area. We strained our eyes to spot any movement.

The next 15 minutes of the safari will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life!!!

A Tiger came out of the foliage and crossed the path in front of the gypsy. “Tiger! Tiger!” whispered the naturalist. The blood rushed to my head, I was breathless and my mind went numb.. Excitement was at it’s peak!

The Tiger was absolutely beautiful and majestic. The Tiger sat on one corner of the path. We twisted and stretched to get the best view. The cameras started clicking fast and furious. By now, we had been joined by a couple of more gypsies. The Tiger observed the tourists on each gypsy carefully. My heart was pounding but my Index finger did not stop pressing the camera shutter.

Momentous Occasion - My first tiger sighting in the wild - Tiger T-39

'Ah! Breakfast on Wheels, I wish these tourists would climb down from the vehicle' - Tiger T-39
The Tiger then got up and walked down the path away from the gypsies. The beautiful animal was so powerful yet so graceful. We followed the animal at a safe distance. It sniffed at a tree and then sprayed the tree in order to mark it’s territory. A few more moments later it strode into the forest. It was a mesmerizing encounter and we yearned for more.

Powerful yet so Graceful - Tiger T-39

Territory Marking - Tiger T-39

The Vanishing Act - Tiger T-39

Then we understood how an experienced naturalist can make a huge difference in one’s chances of sighting a tiger.

The other gypsies went on their way. As we recovered our breath, our naturalist deliberated for a few brief moments and then instructed the driver to drive to a certain spot in the forest. The ride was a rough one. After a few minutes we reached the spot. And at the very same spot, the tiger emerged from the bushes!!!

It was sheer magic as far as I was concerned. The naturalist had successfully anticipated the exact spot from where the tiger would emerge. Sheer genius! 

As I learnt later, the tigers in Ranthambhore follow a specific route in the forest. Therefore, for an experienced naturalist, with proper knowledge of the forest, it was possible to make a calculated guess about the tiger’s route.

The tiger put on a brilliant display. First it sniffed at a tree. And then it contorted it’s face into a grimace. This was a display of flehmen response, an action by which Tigers and other  big cats investigate odours and scents. Then the animal raised itself and rested it’s front paws onto the tree trunk. Then it went full stretch and started rubbing its body against the trunk. Standing on it’s hind legs, with it’s front legs stretched, it appeared to be at least 10-11 feet in length, if not more. Inspite of having a zoom lens I could not fit the entire tiger into my frame!!!

Big-cat Investigation Techniques in the Wild - Tiger T-39

Body Scent-marking - Tiger T-39

Final check-up - Tiger T-39
The tiger then marked the tree trunk by scratching it’s claws on the bark. It’s front legs were so muscular and powerful! I understood why one swipe with those legs can be fatal to most animals. Finally it lowered itself onto the ground and started striding down the path. We had to reverse the jeep in order to avoid getting too close to the tiger. The tiger was nonchalant and glanced occasionally towards the gypsy. It made me realize how weak and vulnerable humans are when compared to these majestic animals.

Make Way - The King Cometh - Tiger T-39
The tiger then marked a second tree, strolled some more and then spray-marked a third tree. It finally sniffed at the tree and strode into the forest. All the cameras were clicking continuously throughout the past 10 minutes. As the tiger started striding into the forest, the rest of the gypsies arrived. They had unfortunately missed the main show but got to see the final moments.

More Investigation - Tiger T-39
Final Marking and Goodbye - Tiger T-39
I was trembling with feverish excitement. My mind was numb with awe from the scenes that I had witnessed. This was my first sighting of a tiger in the wild and what a sighting it had been!!!

All of us in the jeep could not wipe off the broad smiles from our faces. There was excited chattering in the jeep. We were just 20 minutes into the safari but it had seemed like an eternity. After the adrenaline rush from the tiger sighting wore off I was drained completely.

We continued with the safari. I went through the motions of photographing the animals that we saw. I simply could not focus again after the high that we experienced in the morning. For the record we sighted Sambar deer, Spotted deer, Wild boars, Langurs followed by Peahens, Rufous treepies and Jungle babblers.

Sambar Deer Mother and Fawn
Adorable - Deer fawn

Wild Boar and Family

During the safari, I took some photographs of the forest itself. It was lush green and very serene. A very calming and eye-pleasing scene as compared to the city sights.

Serene and Pleasant - Ranthambhore

Lush Green and Beautiful forest - Ranthambhore
The safari came to an end and I spent the rest of the morning bragging about the tiger sighting. I was over-eager to show the tiger photographs to anybody and everybody. It did not bother me in the least that they were least interested in my photos!!

I finally got a grip on my emotions and proceeded to the breakfast hall.

There were two more safaris to come and who knows what experiences they may hold.

Afternoon Safari

A short afternoon nap had calmed me enough. I was relaxed and looked forward to the next safari. The safari was on a canter. We entered the park gates a bit late around 3.45 pm. 

Always Welcoming - Ranthambhore National Park
We were greeted by some Rufous treepies and Jungle babblers. The birds were foraging for food and weren’t shy of approaching the canter. I wasn’t complaining. It gave me a good opportunity to photograph them from up-close.
Colourful - Rufous Treepie

After a short drive into the zone, we came to the Rajbagh Talao (Lake). It was a very serene and picturesque spot. In the middle of the lake were the ruins of an era bygone. The scene deserved a good wide-angled lens to capture it’s beauty. But I had to be content with whatever my medium telephoto zoom lens could capture. Something is better than nothing.

Beautiful Ruins - Ranthambhore

Picturesque and Serene - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore

Calm and Soothing - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore

Scenic Ruins - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore
We spotted some Woolly-necked Storks, Peacocks, Egrets and Grey Herons on the banks of the lake. We moved on further and came across Sambar deer, Spotted deer and Langur monkeys. There was a crocodile, basking in the sun, on the banks. It had the beautiful spot all to itself. One of the advantages of being a top predator is that you get to keep the prime spots in the forest to yourself. 

Birds Galore - Clockwise from Top-left: Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Heron and Egret, Peacocks and Egret

Hide-n-Seek - Grey Langur

Portrait - Sambar Deer

Proud Antlers - Spotted Deer Stag

Spot the Predator - Crocodile
We continued with the safari and came across a Nilgai (Bluebull) in the company of Spotted Deer and Langurs. Nilgai belong to the Antelope family. They are the largest antelopes in Asia. The Nilgais appear strange, built like small horses. The male is bluish-black in colour (hence the name bluebull) whereas the female is brownish in colour. I took some photos of an Egret perched atop a tree. A short while later the real excitement started!

Not a horse, Not a Cow but a Nilgai (Bluebull)
Munching Away - Nilgai (Bluebull)
We came upon two gypsies waiting at a particular spot. On enquiring we learnt that there was a tiger in the vicinity. And the tiger was not alone. It was a tigress with cubs!!

Needless to say, my excitement reached fever pitch. Our canter joined the two gypsies in the waiting game. I strained my eyes to catch the slightest movement and my ears to hear the faintest of sounds. Within no time, we were joined by two more canters. Now, an entire crowd was playing the waiting game. All the vehicles changed their positions on a couple of occasions. Manoeuvering the canters on the narrow path was a challenge.

And then it happened! A Tigress emerged from the foliage onto the forest path. The tigress looked back at the foliage and appeared to be coaxing the cubs to come out. Initially the cubs were hesitant to come out in the open. They were wary of the vehicles and it’s excited occupants. But with gentle persuasion from it’s mother, they came out. There were three cute and adorable cubs! The Tigress was T-19, daughter of the legendary Machli (T-16) and sister of T-17.

Mother leads the way - Tiger T-19

To come out or Not to come out, Tis the Question - A cub hesitates to come into the open to join it's mother T-19
What followed was a most irresponsible piece of driving from one of the canter drivers. In order to provide a better view to his passengers the driver raced towards the tigers and came to a screeching halt a short distance away from the tigers. The cubs were startled by the sudden appearance of the vehicle and the screeching brakes. But thankfully they did not panic or rush back into the forest. In addition to scaring the cubs, the driver managed to raise so much dust that any decent photography was impossible. 

As it is, the light was poor because it was close to sunset. On top of it, the air was filled with red dust.

The cubs crossed the path and followed it’s mother in the tall dry grass. The cubs peered at the vehicles occasionally with a lot of curiosity. Their curiosity-filled faces were a cute sight indeed. It was hard to imagine that within 2 years they would grow to become the rulers of the jungle. 

What's the fuss all about? - Curiosity in the air before Mother's calming influence - T-19 and cubs
After some encouragement from it’s mother, the trio came back onto the path. They walked a short distance alongside it’s mother which was in the tall grass. Finally the tigress led it’s cubs across the tall grass and into the forest beyond. Without doubt, it had been an exhilarating experience. 

An Evening Stroll - T-19 and cubs

The Last Glance - One last curious glance from a cub before the exit
The cubs were adorable and it was a treat to have sighted them at such close quarters.

It was close to sunset. We made our way back to the park gates. There was excitement and contentment on the faces of the occupants in the canter. We stopped to take some photos of a Chinkara (Indian antelope). The Chinkara is the smallest antelope in Asia. We also took some sunset photographs before returning to the park gates.

The Lone Ranger - Chinkara (Indian Antelope)

Sunset - Ranthambhore
Back at the hotel, it was a happy lot that gathered for dinner. Lively and excited conversations accompanied dinner, thanks to the wonderful tiger sightings.

As I retired for the night, I felt a sense of satisfaction. It had been a very successful trip so far with one more safari still to go.

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