Well, spotting a tiger in Ranthambore, or for that matter anywhere except for a zoo, is just sheer luck and anyone who has had ventured off for the wild cat out in the jungles, would certainly agree. It might take multiple attempts to finally get hold of that lucrative sight of our beloved beast or sometimes only a single try might prove good enough for many of those fortunate souls.
There are many who don’t take the trouble to strain themselves beyond limits and make annual trips to the zoo and click pictures of their favourite tiger along with a host of other animals. For the adventurous ones who need to have crazy levels of patience, well, they do have to endure heat, sweat and innumerable unsuccessful attempts before they finally spot the alluring animal.
When we set for our trip, the most prominent emotion that we were riding on was hope – hope to see THE TIGER.
Safaris after safaris were over and we were still left hopeless. All we got to hear were other peoples’ success stories. “Yes we saw!” The hotel lobby, garden, dining areas, all reverberated with such proud proclamations. We did smile at them as religion teaches us to be good Samaritans, but deep down we felt mutilated. In case you guys are wondering if my writing has an overdose of exaggeration, let me tell you, Ranthambore survives on the essence of tiger spotting and countless safaris.
There are usually morning and afternoon safaris in Ranthambore National Park, which happens to be one of the most popular tiger spotting destinations in the country. Located in the Sawai Madhopur district of south-eastern Rajasthan, Ranthambore is about 130 km from the state capital, Jaipur. Being considered as one of the famous and former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur, today the Ranthambore National Park terrain is the place to go crazy, for the major nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers.
The moment we stepped down into the Sawai Madhopur station, pictures and paintings of tiger caught our attention. From autowalas to hotel people everyone was eager to make the tourists get a glimpse of the wild cats.
Our afternoon safari at 2.30 PM was under the scorching heat of the sun. The rains had been scanty this year and so the heat of the sun seemed even more torturous. The National Park usually remains closed during the monsoons. Our safari was with a group of Britishers and they were jolly good companions, I must say. Disciplined, courteous, well-mannered, no wonder a huge percentage of us Indians still suffer from that majorly obsessive post colonial hangover. They seemed to be relishing even the partridges, deer, and monkeys. Peacock and peahens were as numerous as crows in the cities. We spotted antelopes or what we refer to as neelgais, which were stately animals, mostly resented human company it seemed. We looked over vast stretches of land in search of the tigers, but they were nowhere to be seen.
The next morning safari was a stark contrast with a group of Bengalis. Our companions were a boisterous and opinionated lot who loved breaking the norms all the time. They loved to be late, they had to shout out loud even when everyone was told to be quiet in the jungles, they had to take toilet breaks in the middle of the jungles, they had to draw comparisons with other national parks of India, which according to them were better off. In short they drove us crazy. Another difference was in the weather conditions. The early mornings were bitter cold, and the cold breeze seemed to send out the chill even to our bones.
Safaris like these followed. We did see a lot of animals, enjoyed the vastness of nature, took in the essence of nature’s beauty, but only the wild tiger eluded us.
Slowly, it became like a kind of addiction. We were like gamblers, waiting for our luck to shine in the next attempt always. Strangely enough, even after so many failures we were undeterred. Finally, on our fifth attempt, on a morning safari, Lady Luck did bestow upon us her blessings and we managed to spot THE TIGER.
Even though from a distance, and majorly camouflaged, we did see the royal animal, in all its infinite glory, as it walked away behind the thousand trees. The feeling cannot be described in words. The ferocity in the tiger’s eyes, the stately walk, the confident body language, all put together, created an overwhelming feeling of glee. A surge of happiness swept over us and we felt strangely content. The crazy photo sessions begun and before we were content with our photographic endeavours, the wild beast walked away, a tad displeased.
A feeling of victory swept over us and we returned content and happy.