March 2016 and I was back at one of my favorite Tiger Reserves, Ranthambhore. This time it was a bigger than usual group and most of them were first timers to Ranthambhore. I stayed at my usual place Jungle View Resort with Guddu’ji, who as expected was a brilliant host who had taken up all the background work of booking the safaris and ensuring that our stay was as comfortable as possible. The highlight of the tour was the Rajasthani folk music and the melt in your mouth Lal Maas, besides some brilliant sightings of the Zone 3 aka VIP zone stars.
The flights were booked to Jaipur and the over night stay was at the very well maintained RBI guest house, courtesy of Mr. Prashant Deshpande. We were in all 12 in the group if you count our cutest and youngest budding tiger lover, Mr. Arjun Deshpande who is all of 1.3 years old on the day of writing this report and enthralled us with his antics when we not out spotting tigers.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast of Pohe (A dish made of puffed rice) and Kadak chai, we were packed up in our Innovas and were on our way. Mr. Arjun Deshpande then decided to answer natures call and so we were delayed by some time and in the process our driver lost his way out of Jaipur. But GPS and navigation on Abhijit’s cell phone brought us back on track.
The rooms or should I say AC tents at Jungle View resort were ready for our arrival and it was time for our first safari after lunch. The 2 groups were allocated zones 1 and 2. I was going to zone 1. The hope was to see T39 aka Noor and her new cubs. Any way Noor decided not to show up but I had some amazing sightings of Sambar deer stags, sizing up one another and fighting for dominance.
We even saw the elusive and shy Brown Fish Owl who had returned back to its roosting spot and gave some good behavioral shots.
The other group got some amazing sightings of T57, a big male and yes though we were disappointed at not seeing a tiger, most of the people who saw that particular individual had seen a wild Royal Bengal tiger for the first time in their lives so I was quite glad about this fact.
Next day we were at zone 2. After a lot of trying we were able to spot the same individual that the group had spotted the day before. But we weren’t so lucky to have a good sighting or photograph him.
So 2 safaris were gone and we were yet to have a good sighting. The evening safari was in zone 5. It’s one of the largest zones and is home to 4 individual tigers but we were unable to sight any of them. Disappointed and morose we were heading back to the entrance at around 5:45 PM, when we suddenly saw a canter standing in front of us and motioning us to stop. It was a “Tiger” and close by and walking in front of the canter. We canter was quickly over taken and we were right behind a young tigress by the looks of it. Tigers are know to walk long distances by road but within a short distance this one decided to leave the road on the right and head into the water hole down below. Our driver was fast enough to anticipate this move and quickly moved to a spot where I could photograph her. The light was very low the angle was weird and I was stuck with a 400mm lens on my camera with no time to change my lens. Still I got a record shot of the tigress climbing up on a tree. She was Arrowhead, one of the 2 sisters of T19, the dominant tigress of zone 3 or the new Lady of the Lakes.
Soon it was time to leave and we were about 5 minutes late to exit, don’t know if the driver was fined for this, but was tipped well for his exceptional driving.
That night Guddu’ji had arranged for Rajashthani folk music program and dinner under the stars with Lal Maas (Red meat for a literal translation) as the pièce de résistance. Arrowhead’s sighting had lifted everyone’s mood and after lovely dance, drinks and dinner of the the scrumptious Lal Maas with fresh buttered Tandoori rotis, we retired for the next day’s safari in zone 3 which was going to be our best chance to see probably the most photographed tigers in India.
Next day early morning we were ready in our Gypsy’s and quickly entered and drove straight to Malik Talav and there she was Arrowhead’s sibling, Lightning resting at the edge of the lake with her stomach full of deer.
In the meanwhile zone 4 vehicles had also spotted her and she moved towards zone 4 but thankfully decided to come back to 3 and we had a lovely next 1 hour with lightning who enthralled us just by her mere presence.
She provided us with all possible poses and angles and it truly was a memorable sighting.
After sometime we left her and proceeded to check out other tigers notable T19 or Pacman. A short distance away we saw 2 tigers. It was T19 and T28 (Star male) who were together for mating. I am already excited at the fact that Ranthambhore may see new cubs in zone 3 the next season.
The next 1 hour was spent with them as I saw tigers mating in the wild for the first time in my life. Some more shots later, unfortunately none of the actual mating, we were more than satisfied and returned back extremely happy with our sightings.
Thus ended a memorable trip for us at Ranthambhore and I am already planning my next trip there.