An overnight Train Journey from Mumbai takes you to Sawai Madhopur, a town in the state of Rajasthan near which you find globally famous wildlife reserve – ‘Ranthambore National Park”. This 1734 Sq. Km. legendary reserve is a home to approximately 65-70 Bengal Tigers and has rightly earned moniker –‘TIGERWOODS’. Others that are the part of the forest’s ecosystem include Leopards, Deer, Wild Buffalos, Crocodiles and various species of avian among others.
Incidentally only 20% of this entire area is open for gaming and even this is divided into 10 different zones, from 1 to 10. Tourists are barred from going beyond these demarcated areas.
As a tourist you are served with three different safari options that can be booked online.
1) Normal Safari : This takes place Two times each day wherein tourists are taken in on a 6 seater open top Gypsy. The first is from 6 am to 9.30 am in the Morning and the next is between 3pm to 6.30 pm in the evening. (Another option is to venture-in on a 20 seater open top Canter)
2) Half Day Safari : This takes place between 6 am to 12 Noon or from 12 Noon to 6.30 PM.
3) Full day Safari : Is full 12 hours in the Jungle. From 6 am in the morning to 6.30 pm in the evening.
In a Normal Safari you are restricted to travel only within a single zone that has been allotted to you randomly by the computer. This arguably inhibits your movement beyond a particular Zone. Whereas in the other two cases, you have no zone restriction, thereby can freely travel between different zones. This without doubt increases your chances for better wildlife sighting. Incidentally, only limited vehicles are issued permit to undertake half Day or Full day Safari.
From Sawai Madhopur Station you reach your pre booked ‘White Mushroom – Resort” in a taxi. This impressive tented A/c accommodation is situated in Chharoda Village, serendipitously close to the forest entrance. You soon settle yourself in one of the 14 tents that occupy this property.
You begin with the half day Safari on the first Day. It’s 12 noon and at the resort gate Firoz, the driver of the 4WD Gypsy along with Sunil, the guide, are ready to take you for a 6 hour long sojourn into this fabled forest.
Armed with your camera and other necessary gears you reach Jogi Mahal, Gate 3 of Zone No. 3. Sunil gets down and takes a master-key from the keeper that can help him lock-unlock gates while travelling between Zones. Opposite the Jogi Mahal Gate, right on the hilltop, you are impressed looking at an imposing 10th century Ranthambore Fort where queue of visitors have come to pay their obeisance at the Ganesh Temple, Shiva Temple, Digamber Jain Temple of Lord Sumatinath (5th Jain Tirthankar) as well as the Hanuman Temple present within its precincts.
Your Journey begins as you pass through the muddy trails within deciduous forest of Zone 1. (The most sought after area however is zone 3 and zone 6, reputed for better Tiger sighting.) As you meander through the trails looking for your first glimpse of the big cat, you see a safari gypsy stationed at a distance and its occupants watching in a particular direction. As you get closer to them they attract your attention towards the wall of a dam. Sunil, the Guide exclaims excitedly – “He is Kumbha, the male Tiger numbered T34 by the forest officials”.
Excited !! you pull out your Nikon D850 with 200-500 mm lens and begin to take pictures of this beautiful stripped Cat. Kumbha soon gets conscious of your presence and begins to walk towards another area that falls under Zone 6. (Males Tigers are supposedly shy compared to their female counterpart.) Luckily you have the keys and Sunil opens the gate between Zone1 and Zone6. You now move parallel along with Kumbha as he walks towards a cave. There he gives you a glance and quietly settles down in an endeavor of afternoon siesta.
Sensing Kumbha is unlikely to awake soon, you now move back to Zone 1. As Feroz drives deeper inside the forest you come across a tiny pool of water. Thrilled, you see a beautifully striped feline lying lazily under the shade of a tree pretty close to the pond. She is “Noor” (T39), glowing beauty of Ranthambore. Bead like stripes on her side flanks have presumably earned her additional remarkable moniker – “Mala”. Sparkling wavy patterns on her long slim body are unmistakable too. With alacrity you position yourself at a vantage point and start clicking her pictures. Sunil is of the opinion that soon she may get-up and walk towards the pond to quench her thirst. Capturing a Tiger drinking water is any photographer’s delight.
As you wait in anticipation, your eyes never lose sight of Noor’s slightest movement. Meanwhile myriad birds with attractive plumage keep coming to the pond to douse their thirst. Few sips and they get airborne. Without losing opportunity, you point the camera’s lens towards them, adjust focus and take their pictures too.
It’s over 2 hours now. You are still at the same spot. More Gypsies have now come and stationed themselves close by. But Noor continues to remain soporific perhaps enjoying the slumber under the shade of this leafy tree. Her occasional ‘Yawn & Stretch’ and alluring look nevertheless provides you with some fascinating images.
Amusingly, even a tempting deer close-by fails to engender the animal spirit within her. Plausibly satiated, Noor raises her head, looks at the deer carefully, watches him for some time, maybe appreciates his audacity and goes back to sleep expecting him to offer himself for meals on some other day.
It is 6 pm. The majestic Noor is still sleepy and seemingly not in mood to oblige humans waiting to click her in case she decides to walk to the pond. Dejected, Gypsies begin to leave one after the other. It’s time for you to go back too. Slowly you leave but not without turning back all the way looking at her admiringly till she’s visible.
Two Big Cats in a single day is not a bad score by any count. You leave pleased as Firoz drives you back to your resort. 5.30 early morning next day is the time you, Firoz and Sunil together agree to meet to venture once again inside the woods for a complete full day Safari.
Inside your tent, you have large Vodka watching the day’s pictures being backed-up into the hard drive. Post dinner you hit between the pillows with an uncontrollable smile and with anticipation of an even more eventful day tomorrow.
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