Ranthambhore is one of the very best Tiger reserves in India and there is no doubt about this. However, it is also apparently the most corrupt Tiger reserve completely controlled by a handful of so called Tiger experts having stakes in some of the Hotels and running a cartel of Gypsys. It is not uncommon to see some influential resort and hotel owners and of course high paying individuals and VIPs, get the best zones and treatment. The Ustad saga is another tale that tells you about the sad state of affairs and how much control these hotel and gypsy owners exert over the daily running of this beautiful park.
9000 INR for regular single zone safari was not something I was willing to pay for some random zone where the chances of sightings are really low. I am no VIP, so after multiple safaris, most of them in far flung dry zones, I might get lucky and spot a tiger on one of these and be happy. But I had suffered this treatment for far too long and so I decided to try my luck at spotting and photographing a tiger in other better managed parks of India.
So Ranthambhore had been on the back burner for over a year even though the itch to go was very much there. So when Gudduji, my friend and owner of some of the most reasonable, customer-centric resorts in Ranthambhore, called me to tell me about the full day safaris, I signed up for one immediately. The beauty of this full day safari is that it was zone free, up to 6 pax allowed and was the cheapest full day safari in India among all top tiger reserves. So arrangements were made and we were at Gudduji’s newest, swanky resort by midnight on a friday around May end. The next 3 days were going to be complete bliss.
Next morning me and 3 other tiger enthusiasts were ready with their cameras to enter Ranthambhore Tiger reserve. This also gave me a chance to use my new Nikon D5 with the 70-200 F2.8 E lens.
We entered the park and as expected we headed straight for Zone 3. This was after all the VIP zone and the lakes area where Machli and her kin have lived all these years. The lakes area had been quiet for the last few months with the dominant tigress T19, Machli’s daughter from her last litter, away to give her own litter and the dominant male T28 driven out by younger males as he was just too old now. T91, T86 and T85 are the young males, contenders to the throne, along with the king of Zone 2 and Zone 1, T57 looking to extend his kingdom. T84 is the young tigress from T19’s last litter who has taken over her mother’s land and she is the object of affection of all these male tigers.
After about half an hour inside, T91 aka Mirza was the first tiger we encountered. He was sitting in a small water hole and was not happy with our presence and so he got up and went inside after displaying his displeasure.
We back tracked to get some head on shots of him entering the road. He walked behind our Gypsy for some time as he was on his way to a putrefied Sambhar kill whose smell was all over the place.
He then decided to have a nice breakfast and the sound of tearing flesh and breaking bones was just thrilling. This was my first sighting of an adult male tiger effortlessly tearing flesh and bones to bits and something that I will remember for ever.
Happy with our start we proceeded on our way to Zone2. Zone 2 was the “hot” zone during this time. Noor aka T39 and her cubs, T57, T60 and her cubs were all providing some real good sightings for the past few months. Our first tiger here was T57 who was on a small hill. He then went down to his cave in a deep ravine.
Next up was Noor’s cubs who were busy finishing the remains of a wild boar killed the previous day. Light had turned harsh by now and the cubs were very far away so we proceeded to see T60 and her cubs.
We found the cubs near their regular water hole but light had turned from bad to worse. After spending some time with her male sub adult who was the curious one while other two continued to doze away in the water, we moved on.
After lunch we once again proceeded to zone 3 to find that T84 and T86 were together. Apparently they were being seen together since past few days and were mating. Both of them are pretty young and it was obvious that most of their attempts at mating were futile, but that did not stop T84 from trying again and again 🙂 They obviously were not happy with our presence and T84 did show her displeasure as seen below.
We decided to leave them alone and once again decided to go find T39 and her cubs. Around mid afternoon, we saw T39 (Noor) coming walking towards her cubs near about T60’s area. These 2 females (both have cubs) had fought earlier and we were hoping for some fireworks again. But this time with no T60 to divert her attention, T39 focused her attention on a lone sambhar deer near a dry river bed. Stealthily, Noor took up her position and flung herself at the Sambhar deer with a brilliant exhibition of her raw power, speed and agility and all those rippling muscles glistening in the sun.
But alas, after a short chase the Sambhar deer got away and Noor slowly ambled her way to her cubs. Had we not seen it ourselves, it was almost impossible to believe that she could change her character so easily from a bolt of lighting to a seemingly docile, slow, ambling over-grown cat. We then once again proceeded to the water hole where T60’s grown up cubs were seen in the morning. They were right there exactly where we left them, cooling in the water till one of the male cubs who had decided to rest in shade decided its time to enter the water again.
As the day ended, on our way back we decided to check Noor’s cubs for the final time and we saw one of them jump a wall to come to mamma Noor and meet her in a typical kitten meets mama cat fashion, body rubbing and licking each other.
So after a rich harvest of tigers the entire day, we were more than satiated, but there was more to come. On our way out we got to see T57 aka Jumbo, the father of all the cubs we saw the whole day. He was seen under the arch of a tree but we couldn’t spend much time there and had to move out quickly as our time was getting over.
So a day spent with around 11 individual tigers, not bad I must say and we had more than two days to go 🙂
Watch out for day 2 of this epic tiger safari at Ranthambhore coming soon.