Ranthambhore National Park
It's specaled with Hanuman Langurs who are either pouncing on bits of food or jumping from tree to tree. We reached the top most point and were looking at the lake below spotting Marsh Crocodiles swimming in it, and Sambhar Deer wading through the water and a White-necked Stork flying above us. We waited for a good 30minutes or so. Only a couple of us knew why we were waiting there. For that one chance. That one glimpse. That one sight that would set the pace of this camp. We were scouting the lake and the surroundings with our binoculars and as sudden as a flash of lightning, we realized, there were stripes moving through grass far away near one of the ruins. Then emerged that god-like animal. The Tiger. Mayuresh was describing what the Tiger was doing, and I was trying to explain to him that he was wrong!! Because I was seeing the Tiger walk towards the road and he was saying the Tiger is walking towards us!! Bewildered!! Took us a whole minute to realize neither of us is wrong!! There were indeed TWO Tigers!!! Talk about double bonanza!!! Talk about LUCK!! Talk about the RECORD breaking smiles that were starting to show on our faces!! TWO Tigers!! Both emerging in the open, walking next to each other, along the lake side. Two sisters, walking in front of our eyes!! Tehn disappearing into the vegetation, and emerging centimetres away from the water and then entering it!! We were witnessing gypsies frantically swerving here and there to get an angle that would help them see what the Tigresses were doing! We, however, at our vantage point, were the winners by a looonng way!! I can STILL feel that warmth within, the second the two Tigresses emerged out in the open and began walking together. That smile creep onto my face. The feeling that softly said to me, " Yes! It paid off!" "Yes!!" The excitement that is still within me!! Im beginning to believe that I have a way with the feline family! Incredibly so. Just minutes before the Tigresses were spotted, I was saying to a few of the campers, that a Tiger will come out from one of those ruins there and walk to the road. I had had NO idea whatsoever, that it would really happen!! and not one but TWO would come!!! I guess Rajasthan's way of welcoming me back just shows how special the place is to me. Always will be. I know the homely feeling that settled in when I set foot on the Sawai Madhopur station. It can never be replaced by anything! I can only hope that I will always get my chance to keep going back!
So even before camp had began, our group had seen the big cat that we'd come to look for! :) Everyone was super excited as we set out for our first ride the next morning. 2 cantors and 40 people. Off we went on the 22nd at 5:30am. A few minutes into the park and we spot a Tiger cub eating from a kill in the valley to our left! I dont think anyone realized what we were seeing! It just hadn't sunk in! A cub!! Eating from a kill!! Eating with utmost concentration. Shaking his little head about in a strong effort to get the meat off the bones. And then, standing up, walking about, and then sitting, and then returning to the kill. All this, being watched by us from above. Luckily, everyone in both the cantors was able to see this magnificient sight. No one missed out on it. That evening , we saw another part of the jungle, but no Tiger.
The next day, on the 23rd, my day began with Ranthambhore giving me the BEST birthday gift I could have EVER asked for. An hour into our ride on the morning of the 23rd, we came to a point where there was eevry chance of a Tigress ebing spotted since we'd had reports the previous evening that she had been spotted there. Just as we were about to take a right turn, our guide pointed to the top of the hill and said, " Tiger!! " BANG! Everyone was jolted from their seats like an electric current had passed through them. No sudden movements. Complete silence. And very very good concentration levels. The requirements and instructions at a time like this. We fumbled quietly for our binocs and cameras, whichever we could lay our hands upon and all this without removing our eyes from that spot. And there she sat. A gorgeous female on top of a hill, with the air of the Queen around her. Seconds after that, another yellow and balck and white head emerged from behind her and began walking down the hill towards the open area to our left. A cub!!!! The cub got camouflaged in some bushes in front of us but we knew he was still there. And then, the female got up, walked down right in front of us!!! Very close!! She chased a Sambhar Deer in front of us. A try. The herd of Sambhar fled the scene ASAP. This female then went ahead, and sat down all comfortably on the grass. The hidden cub then followed and came out in the open. We were starting to go mad when we realized this was not it! One MORE Cub came onto the grass!!! There were 2 CUBS!! and 3 Tigers!!! Right in front of our very very stunned eyes!! The cubs proceeded to the pool of water on the left, in the open. The Mother followed. She lay down in the water, to cool herself, and then one of the tiny tots came in beside her. The other cub lay down in the water behind her, with his/her back to us. I have NO words to explain what was going on inside my head that time!! I wanted to give a bear hug to those 3 Tigers and our superman of a driver Vinod and to everyone around!!!! Madness I tell you!! Happy Birthday to me!!! Turning 19 like this!?!? Who would want more?!?! They sat there in water displaying their antics for the next 36minutes. After which one of the cubs got up, went to a tree, and tried to climb it, and then the other one joined the first one, and they stood under the tree, contemplating what to do and how to capture this tree!! The mother however, was still chillin out in the water leaving her cubs to their play time contemplation. She kept changing her positions and giving us wonderful poses!! Its like she was modelling for us there!! Those 2 cartoons however, were bored with their tree and came back into the water soon after. Then the mother, and both the cubs were out of the water under the tree, the mother was licking one of the cubs and showering her affection on the little one. We were witnessing the private life of a Tigress and her 6/7 month old cubs!! Felt heavenly!! I'd waited for this since ever!!! Ive realized, the BEST things in life come when u least expect them!! It's spellbounding to see how she was looking out for her cubs, how they were hiding behind trees when a gypsy came along, how they waitd before they concluded that it was safe to emerge, how they tried to climb trees and got bored, how they sat and drank water, how they yawned, how they played with each other!! It's something that qualifies as "one of the best experiences of my life"!! I genuinely couldn't have asked for any more. I know who's blessings are upon me that this is happening. And cant stop being grateful to that mighty power that resides in my mind each moment. That mighty power who is the god of all Crocodiles! :)
That evening was our last ride. We saw no Tiger. It didnt matter to me. It was a day I'd thought fit of being one the BEST! The afternoon had been spent with the people I place in the Treasure department of my life. Doc and Fatji and Ushmuddin. Our kids got to talk to people like Fatji, Prern Singh Bindra and here their inputs on wildlife. I got to spend my entire afternoon with them and relive the times spent with them 4months ago. :) The 3 hours spent with Doc the previous night had been wonderful. Quality time. And finally some satisfcation. I'd been dying to meet these three again!! I guess it was just meant to be my day! :) So, in this way, camp Ranthambhore turned out to be one heckuva 5 day period with all sorts of madness. New campers, new faces, new bonds, and of course, new things learned, new experiences! Splendid is the word!! Too good. Now, being back in the City of Cement, writing bout these camps, the experiences, the important things that made the camp what it is, feels so strange. Oh yes, the train journey back was quite a memorable one too!! Considering 86 people were occupying 40 seats!! :) Foliage Outdoors rules!!!! And so does camp Ranthambhore!!! :) Thank you Rajasthan!! Thank you Ranthambhore!! Thank you Croc Hunter!! ;) Ranthambhore jindabad!!!