Ranthambore Tiger Park! Valentine’s Day
2/17 I have NOT been able to log on anywhere until NOW! I have two hours to get a few blogs written. I will try to include one or two photos if I can download and if not, slide shows await my return to the USA. Unbelievable that each hotel boasts WiFi but in reality, no such thing exists! I went out this morning in search of an internet cafe and found this little hole-in-the-wall space and here I am!!! All is well!! I have been incredibly busy…will explain why below!
Tiger Safari: What a day! We arrived at the Ranthambore Tiger Den Resort in the (2/14) late afternoon after a grueling 112 mile journey in our air conditioned bus. The trip took 4 1/2 hours. The road conditions were so bad and rough that we had to go very slowly. On the bright side, we went slowly enough to get a good look at rural/village life along the way.
We saw bright yellow, pink, and red sari-ed women balancing huge baskets of edible greens on their heads. Other women balanced huge heavy bales of hay on their heads for their cattle. We passed men with brightly colored turbans and women working in the fields, wedding decorations at gate entries (according to Vedic astrology, this is the auspicious time for weddings and so we see these celebrations happening everywhere), camels loaded with goods and wares for the markets, school children dressed nicely in bright blue perfectly pressed uniforms, and fields and fields of wheat. Some of the wheat fields have scarecrows. The scarecrows here in India wear turbans and white kurtas!
We passed the Saffron Brigade in one town. They are a group of concerned citizens who oppose the newly imported celebration of Valentine’s Day. To celebrate Valentine’s Day in any way (giving of roses or chocolates to your sweetheart) is seen as a corruption of Indian morals, according to the Saffron Brigade. The group we passed on our way to the Tiger Reserve had huge banners protesting Valentine’s Day. I was secretly hoping that none of the couples in our AC bus had their arms around each other. I was in no hurry to fuel the anger of the Saffron Brigade. Armed military police were surrounding the Saffron Brigade to ensure a peaceful demonstration. Wow!
This day started out sadly as Arvind got news that his mother is very ill. She was being transported by ambulance from Varanasi to a hospital in Lucknow and Arvind decided to leave us to be at her bedside. So we parted ways with him this morning. We feel a bit orphaned without Arvind. Vivek, Arvind’s adopted “little brother” who has been on the tour with us from the beginning, is now our tour guide. Of course, we all reassured Arvind that we understand his need to be at his mother’s side. We reassured Vivek that we are an easy group to be with and I promised Arvind to help Vivek as much as possible. So onwards with the tour to Ranthmbore without Arvind.
As soon as we arrived in the middle of the forest/jungle at the very lush and relaxing Tiger Den Resort, we all got on jeeps and went on our evening Tiger Safari. Again, another two hours of rough road and hard bouncing on the jeeps (same day)! A real test of endurance! We didn’t see a tiger on our first outing, but we saw beautiful wildlife. Our wildlife guide was not the best of guides. He knew the names of all the birds, but he worked in the most blasé manner. He seemed truly bored with his job and seemed to resent the lot of us in his jeep. I was really missing Arvind’s smile and his great love and enthusiasm for us and for his work as a guide!
We had yet other chances to spot a tiger as different wildlife guides took us out on safari twice more during our stay in Ranthambore. On the second outing, our safari jeep came to our hotel at 6:30 a.m. and we all hopped on in hopes of seeing a tiger. This time we got the best of the best wildlife guides, Arvinda. He had a twinkle in his eye and the warmest smile. His passion for wildlife was quite evident and everyone in our jeep felt happy. On our jeep was a young man from Kentucky whose name was Mayne. And there was a British couple behind us and some Italians up front and right next to Rick, an Italian Swiss couple. A very lively group. It all felt right and I just knew we’d see a TIGER!
Arvinda explained to us that the Tiger Reserve’s goal is to preserve the Royal Bengal Tiger. There are 33 tigers and their cubs living in this protected reserve. The Royal Bengal Tiger weighs 265 kg and is considered the KING here! Even the leopards keep their distance from the tigers. All together, there are 40 species of wild cats, including the elusive leopards whose numbers are far greater than the tigers. The lynx-like catacal (spelling?) also lives here. The Bengal Royal Tigers used to number in the tens of thousands. I can’t even imagine. Their forest ranged from Ranthambore to Jaisalmer. Over time, the forests were converted to farmlands to feed a growing human population. This reserve covers 1334 square km of protected forest. This land used to belong to a Maharaja and you can still see his family palace overgrown with trees right in the reserve. Because tigers need lots of land to range, only 40 can survive on this reserve. The Indian government is making efforts to buy surrounding land from the farmers and convert it back to forest lands for wildlife. The Royal Bengal Tiger has been fiercely protected since 1973 when the India Wildlife Protection Act came into being.
We also learned that the staple food for the tigers are the spotted deer and the Indian sambar (looks like an elk). There are 10,000 spotted deer and sambar in this reserve! When the Italian Swiss woman next to Rick saw the sambar and the spotted deer, she said to me, “Ecco, la pasta di tigre!” (There’s the tiger’s pasta!) One tiger feeds on one deer per week. One tiger can go without food (pasta) for 24 days.
As our jeep cruised along, our guide identified all sorts of birds and animals. I have to say that Jeanne, Addi, and Rick have quite the eye for spotting birds! This jungle was alive with birdsong and I have never seen so many species of birds at one time in my life. Here is what we saw during our three safari outings (I may have misspelled some of the bird names below):
Sambar (looks like an elk)
Black tail mongoose (he had a beautiful red head and our guide Arvinda told us the mongoose is GOOD LUCK on these tiger safaris)
Blue bull antelope (the male has two horns instead of the sambar’s antlers and the male actually looks blue. This is the largest of the Asiatic antelopes)
Chipmunks (These are everywhere. This was the first animal spotted on the safari and in great spirits, everyone in the jeep called out, “CHIPMUNK!!”
Langours ( a type of monkey that is everywhere in the park. They are so much fun to watch!)
Crocodiles (they were sunning themselves or floating amid the white water lilies)
Kingfishers (the turquoise and red white breasted kingfisher and the common kingfisher which looks anything but “common” with its dazzling plumage!)
Serpent crested eagle (yes, it eats serpents!)
Indian Treepie (reminds me of a magpie and has the personality of one, too)
Peacocks (many of these!!)
Plum headed parakeets
Black head and black billed ibis
Bul-bul (looks like a fly catcher and has a flat headed crest)
Indian roller (most amazing blue on this bird!)
Red beaked and black winged stilts
Jungle babblers (I love this name! and the birds are adorable. The ones we saw were giving themselves a dust bath.)
Black-necked storks (These are the world’s tallest storks. They have coral legs and stand 6 feet tall and have an 8 foot wide wing span)
White necked stork
Kukul (crow-like birds)
Desert lapwing (a wading bird)
Moore hens (like partridges)
Long billed vultures in their nests on a cliff’s edge near a huge beehive
White breasted water hen
Wagtail (bobbing its head in a stream)
Golden backed red crested woodpecker
Indian Thick-knee (It had a very flat long bill. Our guide kept saying it was a “tikinee bird” and that is how I wrote its name in my notes. Later Addi figured out he was saying Thick Knee Bird!)
Weaver birds (we only saw their woven nests hanging from the trees)
Snake bird (very large bird called Ahinga in Hindi)
Bromini ducks (beautiful golden colored)
As you must have guessed by now, I am saving the BEST for LAST!!
Suddenly, our wildlife guide heard an ALARM CALL! The monkeys, deer, and peacocks all work together as a team in the forest and give out alarm calls to each other when they see a tiger on the prowl. This alarm call came from a deer. It is distinct from the deer mating call, which we also heard plenty of.
“Shhhh! SILENCE PLEASE!”
Our driver turned the jeep around and backed up, cut the engine, and our guide said, “Please quiet! We wait 10 minutes. TIGER COMING.”
I tried to be quiet, but my heart was going BOOM BOOM BOOM so loudly that I thought for sure the whole forest could hear my heart! I was at the back of the jeep near a British woman, Glenda. I head her calmly say, “OHHH, looooovely!” And Glenda and I were the first to see our MAJESTIC TIGER. I could barely steady my hands to take a photo! It was UNBELIEVABLE. I almost cried. I looked at our guide and he had tears in his eyes! Our tiger was a big girl, a beautiful 6 year old female weighing around 265 kilos. She is one of the two collared tigers in the park (for surveying purposes she was collared). She walked past us and walked out onto the road in front of our jeep. We watched her sit down, lick her paws, and give a giant yawn. It was so incredibly exciting! I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life!