Wednesday, 8 November 2017

27th October - Ranthambore National Park, Rajastahn, India

Yesterday afternoon’s experience was still very much in our minds as we woke early again for our fourth safari.  As we walked to the front of the hotel it was still dark, but there were the calls of the Red-vented Bulbuls coming from the guava orchards, and on the horizon to the east was the pink tinge of the sun rise.

It is always amazing how quickly the it becomes light in the morning, at these latitudes, the twilight only lasting for a short while.  As it became lighter the birds started to appear.  Surprisingly the first to come overhead was a Shikra, a Sparrowhawk like raptor.  As it passed over the bird song changed to alarm calls.

Away in the fields the sound of music could be heard as the tractors went on their way to work, either in the fields or just driving along the main road.  As if in sync with the activity in the fields the Cattle Egrets could be seen flying over the resort, flying to the fields to join the workers, in the hope of an easy breakfast.

Next were the Rose-ringed parakeets, flying around in small flocks their call announcing their arrival.  One pair split up, one calling from the surrounding trees, while its mate settled on one of the spires at the top of the hotel building, and called back.

The sky was now totally pink to the east, and a Feral Pigeon perched on another of the spires, not the most exotic birds we had seen, but definitely the most numerous, so it has earned itself a portrait against the morning sky.

Our jeep turned up at a good time, and unlike yesterday morning it already had four occupants, two American couples, and for the first time Helen and I sat behind each other.  With the jeep full we knew we would now be going straight to the park.  As we drove back through the hotel gates the guide informed us we were going back to Zone 2, would it be as good as last night?

As we drove the main entrance the sun finally put in an appearance, the red fireball appearing above the distant hills.

Once past the checkpoint the road takes you through an archway in part of what was the wall of the Ranthambore Fort.  This morning we were able to get a photograph of the entrance, which reminds me of a scene from the Jungle Book.

The same journey as yesterday, down the hill, and past the ruin.  Black-faced Langar Monkeys sat in the tree watching us as we stopped to watch them.

The Peacocks are still to obtain their spectacular tail feathers, but some are a little more advanced that others, and the blue of the body feathers is still wonderful to see, remembering of course that these are wild birds, native to this country.

Following the same route, we were reminded of the places where we had seen activity yesterday, as we approached the area where we had seen our last tiger yesterday, we came across a gathering of jeeps we people once again standing on the seats.  We were on the back of the queue, and had to wait our time to be able to get close to see a tiger laying down in the grass.

Looking hard you could just make out the head as it lifted it while lying in the grass.  With the number of vehicles present it was going to be a long wait.

Then a stroke of luck the Tiger decided to get up, stretching at first, and then a big yawn, we were now able to see it, even if it was a long way off.

Then another huge stroke of luck, it started to walk towards us, and once again we were the front jeep, as a tiger walked towards us forcing us to reverse.  At first it came along the side of the track through the grass.

The ground was a little raised and I was able to look straight into the eyes of this wonderful animal.

If there was one disappointment it was missing the chance to see it clearly when it reached up to a tree and scratched the bark as it stretched.  Never mind we couldn’t believe it as once again we were watching a Tiger walk towards us.

It came alongside the jeep and at one point was about three metres from us walking side by side with the jeep as it reversed.

From the grass it came onto the track, preferring to walk along the open dusty path.

To get some idea of how close we were here is a photo of the jeeps following the Tiger, and the rear of our jeep.

Plus some video clips:

Every so often it would stop to smell the vegetation and then apply fresh scent to stake its territory.

Then walked on, as we reversed the guide shouting frantic instructions to the driver who was doing an amazing job.

It then came off the track and crossed the scrub, but all the time our driver kept us in pole position.  The Tiger continued on, totally unconcerned with all the activity going on around it.  As it did so it exuded such an air of complete authority, invincibility, and wonderful majesty, nothing bothered it, and if it did you knew that it would just deal with it, the complete master, the true king of the jungle.

The Tiger took a short cut, but we had to follow the track, our driver though was able to turn and keep us in the main position despite the advances of jeeps that were now arriving behind us.

We were now for the first time behind the Tiger as it walked through sunlit grass, that immediately matched the orange of the Tiger’s coat.

It then turned and was walking once again alongside us, and still on our side of the jeep.  It then stopped and crouched, blending into the grass.

With that stare that was all about hunting and would mean complete trouble for maybe a Samba.

Then realising that we were there, and a quick check on us.

The Tiger then moved on, and I thought we had lost it, but as the jeep edged forwards we picked it up once again behind a tree trunk, it seemingly annoyed we were still there but not worried.

A sniff of the air, and a look around.

And then a look back at us with that air of annoyance that we were still about.

It then turned around and headed well away from the track and the watching jeeps into the scrub and bush, melting into the long grass and black tree trunks

Yet another amazing experience, was this better than yesterdays close encounter?  I think yes as this one walked through the grass as well, and just gave off that majesty, it was a privilege to be in its presence, remembering again that this was a true wild Tiger.

With the Tiger gone we turned away and headed back to the main track, other jeeps stayed waiting in the hope it would show again.  We were not going to better our views so we headed on.  As we passed the location where yesterday we had seen the Tiger on the rocks, the guide pointed out a Collared Scops Owl roosting in a tree close to the track.  Had it been their yesterday evening?

We passed the grassy area where we had seen the first Tiger yesterday, the grass was still flattened out where the Tiger had been lying, but there was no sign of Tiger at all.  From here we then headed on to the rest area where once again we stopped, and were entertained by the Babblers and Treepies, but the real talk was all about the tiger sightings.

As we left the rest area we passed a male Samba sporting an impressive set of antlers.

A little further on we came across once again a roadblock of jeeps, but this time we could see what they were looking at.  We suspected yet another Tiger but we had to wait our turn to get to see what the centre of attention was, and to be able to move on.

As we sat there Langar Monkeys could be seen in the tops of the trees, and we had some good views of the surrounding landscape, a large escarpment of sandstone looming above us.

As we edged closer it we could see it was a Tiger, and probably the big male we had seen yesterday evening.  We were close to the grassy area where we had seen it then, but this time it was on the other side of the track, and as it was well hidden had probably been there when we drove past earlier this morning.

We still waited, and an Indian Pond Heron flew into a tree and provided some interest as we waited.

Finally we were in position and able to see the tiger.  Like yesterday, it was flat out in the grass, lying under a tree.  The views to start with were just like our first view o the Tiger yesterday, but then it lifted its head. 

But it didn't stay up for long and soon flopped back down and all you could see was the black stripes on the orange brown fur.

We moved our way past the jeeps coming in the opposite direction  and then carried on along the track.  At the rocks where we had seen the Oriental Scops Owl earlier it was now in a better position.

A little further on we passed through a wooded area where Langar Monkeys were mixed with a large herd of Spotted Deer.  There were also family groups of the monkeys that were interacting with each other.  This youngster was teasing the smaller monkey in its mother's arms, while the mother was being groomed by another, who was not visible, maybe an older offspring.

The Spotted Deer herd were spread throughout the trees, and with this view you can see once again the black and golden stripes caused by the tree trunks and shadows.

We turned off the main track to visit a small water hole, created by a damned stream.

In the mud just below us a Green Sandpiper fed.

Looking out across the water mud and rocks, at first it seems quiet, but lying on the far banks were two large Mugger Crocodiles.

In the far distance was a Great Egret, and a White-throated Kingfisher, but these were too far away for any serious photography so we turned back on to the main track.

A male Peacock was displaying to females that were by the side of the track, unfortunately the male has yet to grow the full spread of tail feathers so the display was a little muted and the females did not pay that much attention.

looking up from the track there was a commanding view of the walls of the Ranthambore Fort.  The construction of the fort is said to have started in the middle of the 10th Century, and taken two centuries to finally complete.  Inside the fort there are three Hindu temples, and ownership of the fort passed to the Maharajas of Jaipur in the 17th century where it remained until the Indian Independence.

The track then crosses an open river bed which is full of rocks and boulders, ahead another two jeeps, and looking across the river bed, the now familiar colour and shape of yet another Tiger.

We moved closer for a better view.

Then the Tiger stood up, and walked slowly up the river bank, and into the scrub.

We could see it as it walked through the trees, and its presence attracted calls from both Spotted and Samba deer.  We drove on a little way in the hope it would come across our path, but we could see it as it made its way deeper into the scrub.  Above us all we were left with was a single calling Rose-ringed Parakeet.

When it was finally clear that the Tiger was not coming back we drove on, passing another stream where a Wooly-necked Stork was sitting by the waters edge.

I did manage to see two species of Stork, however the Black-necked Stork was only seen in flight as it came up from the river bed.

A little further on as we approached the gate to the zone, one of our fellow passengers pointed out a bright blue bird, we stopped and had great views of another White-throated kingfisher.

having left the zone we picked up the main road through the park, and passed several small reservoirs, on the bank of one was another crocodile and we stopped for a closer view than the one we had earlier.  Not the most natural of locations, but a better view.

As we looked at the crocodile a small group of Langar Monkeys collected on the path close to the jeep.

I couldn't resist a close up of the young baby cuddled up too it's mother teat.

We left the park and headed along the main road, turning off to drive to the hotel along the waste road and through the fields.  On a hay stack in the middle of the field the driver stopped to allow me to photograph and Long-tailed Shrike on the top of a haystack.

Back at the hotel we had breakfast and told our story of yet another successful safari.  On recounting the last two safaris what was clear to us was that there had not been any canters in the zone, and we found out that the tracks there along with the steep inclines mean that they can't get around so easily and are not allowed in there.  Another very good reason for upgrading to the jeeps.  It also made for a more pleasant experience, less noise and less dust.

After breakfast I convinced Helen to take a short walk outside the hotel along the road we had just come in on.  I had noticed quite a few birds about, and I hadn't had that much opportunity.  The sun though was now high and it was quite hot so we wouldn't be about too long.

A bird we had seen and heard plenty of was the Red-vented Bulbul, and one was sitting in a nearby tree, trying to cool off by gaping its beak.

An Indian Robin was in the same tree, the dark red vent and undertail being very clear.

the birds that I wanted to see though were a little more colourful.  As we passed earlier I saw Bee-eaters and an Indian Roller on the power lines, and thankfully they were still there.

First was the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, on a power line close to the road.

Bee-eaters are always lovely to see.

On wires crossing the field was a Green Bee-eater, distinguished by the black line under the chin.  This one though, was a little further away.

I have seen and photographed these two Bee-eaters before, so to be truthful the one bird I was hoping to get close to was the Indian Roller.  It was still there and walking down the road I was able to get closer.

They get the name "Roller" from the aerobatic displays they can conduct as they chase insects usually spotted from strategic vantage points.  They are usually associated with the Black Drongo that has similar feeding habits and sure enough there was one close by.

It was very hot now and we retired back to the hotel, and to spend sometime before our final safari in the afternoon.

Assembled at the front of the hotel for one last time, we awaited our final jeep.  It turned up empty which wasn't a good sign, and as we crossed the wasteland towards the main road the guide informed us that we were off to Zone 6.  This wasn't greeted with enthusiasm by us as our previous visit had not been the best.

We picked up our fellow passengers from a hotel just outside the limits of Sawai Madhodpur, and then made our way through the old city to the entrance to the zone.  Initially our hopes were raised by the enthusiasm of the guide but they kept us waiting at the gate as they talked and talked, a theme that was to continue through the trip.

On making our way through the entrance and into the scrub, we came across a group of Black-faced Langar Monkeys, and we stopped to watch them.  One of the adults provided a lovely portrait opportunity.

The air was heavy with dust as several of the large canters had been through.  It seemed much more dusty than we had arrived here yesterday morning.  Moving on we came across a small group of male Samba, the males will gather together in groups outside the breeding season.  All of them were sporting good racks of antlers, but this one had the most impressive.

 There had been sightings of Tiger here in the morning, and it was clear the guides had a good idea of where they might be.  However the guide and driver would stop on several occasions to talk with others, but would never let us know what the plan was, as a result we became quite fed up, and the expectation of seeing anything reduced significantly.  Add to this that we seemed to be following the canters which were generated a lot of dust making it very uncomfortable, and all was not well.

We arrived at the water hole we had sat opposite yesterday, there were a few antelopes about, and this Black Redstart perched under one of the bushes.

Of the antelope present the Black Bull was the most impressive, and at last we were able to see one that did not have its head in a bush.

We sat around for awhile, not sure why but at least I was able to watch the Plum-headed Parakeets in the tree tops.

We started up again and came out of the scrub at last, and saw three largish bird at the top of a tree.  The jeep did stop, and I was able to get some shots of three juvenile Black-winged Kites.

As juveniles they lack the pale plumage and black shoulders.

 leaving the kites and the scrub we came out into the open grassland, and withit some clearer air.

Realising that I was interested in birds the jeep stopped to point out a Spotted Owlet in a tree on the plain, unfortunately the owlet did not stay and flew off as we stopped.  A little further on we came across a small flock of Brahminy Starlings feeding on the ground.

I had seen one at a distance on our last trip, but this was much closer, and great views of a smart little bird.

We knew where we were going, off to the rest stop.  As we came closer we could hear the chatter and then could see the huge collection of canters that were parked, along with a few jeeps.

We stopped and after some discussion of the taking of selfies, finally were back on the trail once again, however the sheer number of people was beginning to way down on us, it wasn't making it a pleasant experience.  Fair play to our driver though he did go where the canters couldn't and we ended up on a trail in the middle of the grassland.

Another juvenile Black-winged Kite flew across in front of us.

And we stopped to watch an Indian Antelope grazing on the dead dry grass.

 The driver then pointed out a Bay-backed Shrike on the top of a bush close by.

The deep rufous brown plumage standing out against the distant hills.

A Wild Boar also grazed close to us.

After spending some time watching the animals on the plain we dropped down once again into the scrub.  We stopped once again to have a chat with another jeep, this went on for some time once again, and you could sense the frustration again amongst us.  When we finally were on the move again we circled around a water hole where all there could be seen was a Green Sandpiper feeding on the edge of the water.

We came oiut, and turned a corner and straight into a jam of canters and jeeps.  The noise and chatter was intense, the dust almost over powering.  A Tiger had been seen in the scrub, and our driver tried his hardest to get us into a position to see.  Well we could see movement, and at one point the movement was attached to a body with stripes, but with the dust and the tree scrub, it was hardly a sighting.  Still our fellow dutch passengers were prepared to tick it.

After some arguing and shouting where it would seem our driver wanted the canter to move and it wouldn't we reversed away.  I must admit at this point I was more than happy to leave.  We had had two wonderful Tiger experiences that would be very difficult to better, but the jeep turned around and zipped off, as if the driver knew where he wanted to go.  We turned off the main track and headed back towards the water hole, as we approached the guide got excited, he was able to deliver.  In front of us was a Tiger drinking at the water hole.

This is one of two cubs that are a little under a year old, and as we watched the one cub drinking there was another walking around the bank of the damn.

They are both males and when you saw them together as the other cub joined its sibling you could see that they were younger animals.

The considered opinion was that was that these two and their mother had been enjoying a kill, and after that they need to drink, the cubs coming here to enjoy the water (!)

Side by side they happily drank.  we were the first to arrive, but very soon after jeeps started to join us pushing to the front, and then came the canters, their arrival not gone unnoticed by the cubs.

But then returning to the drink

 As the canters pulled in the noise increased, babies screamed and cried and the chatter was endless, what should have been a moment to enjoy was becoming a nightmare.  Thye guide sensed my problem, and he was not too concerned, he felt that if just one of the school children remembers this and wants to devote their time to saving tigers then all is good, just one is a success.  I can understand this, but still felt uncomfortable with the situation.  I didn't turn around, just continued to watch the cubs, and they watched us

The first cub then stood up and walked up the bank and settled down at the top.

  And watched us with a look of amazement, and disgust?

The second cub continued to drink.

But remained alert

With trhe canters now withdrawing, our driver actioned a very strange maneuver.  After another argument with a canter driver he mounted the bank of the damn and drove towards the Tiger laying on the bank.  It was an unnerving experience as the top of the bank was just about the width of the jeep, but we had some excellent views

Even though we did get close to the Tiger, we had to reverse off the narrow bank.  He had clearly done this before and we managed it without a problem.

It was now quite late, and it was very gloomy, the dust and dusk combining to make it dark.  The park gates closed at 18.00, and we just about made it through them in time.  This meant we had a drive through the old city as darkness fell, which in itself is yet another sense of India which should be experienced by all, and can through this video.

We made it back to the hotel in one piece, and once again reflected on another great Tiger experience.  One that we never really imagined would happen, and in reflection maybe we did the guide an injustice.

Reflections on the safaris were that if you can make sure you pre-book the zones you want.  A little research on sightings may help.  We were lucky, there is no doubt, but the tour company we used Ranthambhore Routes were excellent, and seemed to know where the tigers were.  The next advice is DO NOT GO IN A CANTER! You will for ever regret it!  Pay that little bit more and use a Gypsy Jeep.  Thirdly maximise the possible number of safaris, and if you see a tiger on one trip, go again because every experience will be different and who knows maybe better, we can definitely account for that.

Tigers are precious, we need to look after and protect them, while also enjoying them.  This was one of my most amazing wildlife moments, one that I will treasure for ever, I never believed when I was a young boy this would ever happen but it has and I will never forget it.

Our holidayt was coming to an end, tomorrow we head north backto Delhi on thetrain, one final Indian experience before we head home. 

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