Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tigers of Ranthambore

It has been ages since I blogged and it is not for lack of interesting travel stories. I have been traveling almost every month since the start of this year - Bangkok, Pench National Park, Mughal Gardens, Nameri and Kaziranga National Parks and a nice long trip to Italy and Austria. I have many unfinished travelogues and am tempted to publish small posts because it is much easier, but then I remember that my goal is not to preserve the blog, but to preserve my memories. I was home alone and didn't have anything better to do, so I forced myself to write and this is the result of that!

Tigers of Ranthambore

I have a problem. I don't know what to do about it. It is not very confusing. It is a simple straightforward statement that should be taken at face value. But, everywhere I go, people react in 2 ways - they either ignore what I say and carry on with their business or accuse me of lying.

"I don't believe you. You are lying" said S staring at me. He thought I was being fashionable....trying to be 'different' that the other travelers.

"Everybody wants to see a Tiger and so do you!"

S was responding to my statement "I am OK with not seeing a Tiger!".

Before you all jump to conclusions and start accusing me of lying, let me explain my statement. Seeing a tiger is THE most exciting and thrilling part of going to a National park in India. I had the good fortune of seeing one in Corbett and 6 in Bandipur (adding 4 little cubs). In Corbett the tiger was too far in the river, but in Bandipur, it was less than 10 ft away and I was shivering with excitement long after it ran away into the woods. We talked about it for days and months and every single time we recalled the sighting, it was just as thrilling.

What I meant by the above statement was that I would love to see a tiger, but if I did not, it didn't spoil my trip. I am not obsessed with seeing a tiger like some people are. I go to forests to unwind from city life, to see deep blue skies, stars in the night, to smell the woods and the wild flowers and to see wild life in their natural habitat. There is nothing more fun than waking up before the sun, having a steaming cup of chai and getting into a safari jeep brimming with anticipation. Optimism is at its peak. Maybe it is the darkness that makes you think it is OK to dream or the sheer unpredictability of nature that makes you say silly things like " I want to see a Tiger-chasing-a-Leopard-chasing-a-deer" (only one person can be THAT silly and I am married to him!). There is always the rest of the day to be practical, but when you are entering a forest, you are full of hope and optimism. The possibilities are endless and we know that from experience (We saw a pack of 26 wolfs chase a Leopard and its cub in Bandipur).

Saru and I usually get into our military mode once we enter the forest - " You take the left side and I will look on the right". Soon we are looking intently for any movement in between the trees or irregularities in colours that might be birds or animals. Ours ears perk up to listen for calls. We are excited!! The hunt is on!! The guide stops the jeep and exclaims " There is a fresh pugmark" It must have gone this way to the water hole". Soon, they become detectives following clues and coming up with theories on where it might be headed .

"Tigers don't like getting their feet wet, so in the mornings when the dew is still on the grass, they take the road. So, we always look for pugmarks in the morning " explains the guide. We focus all our attention on the road and drive slowly. Soon, we hear Sambhar deer's alarm calls which means that it is almost certain a tiger is on the prowl. The excitement builds up!!

We drive in the direction of the alarm call, stop at a few points and try to figure out the direction of the call. A couple of other jeeps stop by and the guides exchange notes. We stand up on our seats and scan the area using our binoculars.

Sometimes we get lucky and see the tiger and sometimes we don't! The fun part is in the the chase and putting together clues. There is nothing more exciting than looking through a binoculars and seeing a glimpse of a spotted animal and screaming "Guys.....I see a TIGER!". It might turn out to be a spotted deer, but the rush you feel when you spot something exciting is just amazing!. The fun part is trying to find the needle in the haystack, not to drive to the needle and say 'VOILA'.

In Ranthambore National Park, guides have been spoilt by foreign tourists who pay hefty tips for spotting tigers. We went on 4 safaris and 3 guides were obsessed with finding the tiger. Their plan was to scan the entire region quickly to see if the tigers were out. They drove so fast that we were covered in a thick layer of dust by the end of the rise. We could not stand in the jeep because of the speed. They were not interested in stopping for birds or other animals.

"If you stop so much to see birds, you will miss the Tiger!" They warned. We could care less, but we were sharing the jeep with a couple and their 2 teenage sons. They were Indians visiting from Australia. The mom told us quite frankly that she was not interested in forests, but she came here because "her son wanted to see a tiger". Between her time shopping and touring Jaipur and Udaipur, she booked them 1 safari ride (Who books 1 safari??) so that her son can "see the tiger". On the way we zipped past herds of deer, peacocks, nilgai, wild boars and birds. They were seeing some of these animals for the first time, but were not interested - all they wanted, was to see the tiger! After a dusty ride, we came out of the park not seeing ANYTHING because they didn't want to miss the tiger.

The obsession with seeing tigers was all pervasive in Ranthambore. It was the first question that was asked as soon as we got back to the resort. "Any luck, Sir?", "Did you see anything Sir?" An over anxious waiter even asked "Did you get lucky today?" which flustered Saru a little bit.

For the afternoon safari, we had 3 other people, a cute Chinese couple from Australia and an American lady from California. We told them about our morning experience and they all agreed that we would go slow, but the guide and driver had other plans. I had to tell them very sternly to slow down and they did, cribbing all the way ( Don't you want to see the Tiger? How will we cover the zone if we drive so slow?).

At one point, we came to a screeching halt because they spotted fresh pugmarks on the road.

"The tiger crossed this road!! We would have seen it if we were driving faster!!" The guide was mad at me!! He didn't speak a word for the next 15 minutes and stopped the jeep there! The American and the Chinese were amused that he was 'punishing' us for slowing him. A little later he drove around fast and just when we he was giving up, we saw 20-30 jeeps parked in an area. Drove up to see a tiger in the buses. Whew!! The tiger took some time and slowly came down to drink water from the stream. After having its fill, she wanted to cross the road and tried to, but was too spooked by the dozens of vehicles around and the squeals of joy from the spectators. This was one of our closest and longest sightings - almost 10 minutes (as against the 10 seconds in Bandipur). We had enough time to get tons of pictures and videos.

Scary Tiger Face

Tiger giving the finger:)

It was time to get out of the park, so we raced back and what do you see - the tiger we missed seeing earlier. It was right there scratching its head against a tree. So double the joy for the day!! This is my all time favorite picture. It looks so surreal. Don't you think?

But all in all, Safari's at Ranthambore were the worst and I would hesitate to go back. Corbett was the least tiger-centric followed by Kaziranga, Bandipur and Pench National Parks.

Here is a video of the tiger


  1. Simply Awesome Photos! The tiger photos are great as always, but you have captured the Rufus tree pie best :-)

    Welcome back to the blogging world. Look forward to reading more of your travel experiences especially Nameri!

  2. Hey Vamsee, great post! Welcome back! My favorite pic is the "scary tiger face", but then you could've predicted that! Poor Saru and his not getting lucky ;) I wonder if the Australian teenager got lucky at all?

  3. Vamsee - Great pictures and writeup. The pictures of the tiger was very captivating, especially the scary face one and the one prior to it. Also didn't realise that the jeeps were open without any kind of barriers - pretty scary.

  4. this is by far the best photos of Tigers in India I have seen Vamsee. Great job.

  5. surreal is the word....your snaps speak..

  6. Fabulous! your post reminded me of the play we recently saw in Prithvi - 'Once upon a Tiger', esp the description of the tourists and the insistence on seeing a tiger! but it is a wonder that the tiger still sits there with 20-30 jeep loads of people watching!

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  8. Vam : your narrative made me laugh out loud. very well written; it felt as if you were sitting next to me narrating your experience!
    excellent pictures from Saru as always :-)

  9. Great pictures. The last image was really fantastic. You probably are always lucky with tigers

  10. Great photos and narration! I feel for those poor tigers.

  11. SUPERB pictures!! You've captured all possible expressions of the tiger!! And I just love your write-up! You have such a great sense of humour! Can't wait to read about the plane-to-Palermo incident :)))

  12. Vamsee-Sad to hear the tiger chasing experience, but still sounds good to be in a forest sipping chai in the morning and breathing fresh air. I virtually experienced that for a moment :) I dont have words to describe that last picture....I was in the bus and involuntarily said WOW aloud looking at this picture:D and found a couple of people staring at me thinking i must have been crazy:D
    Waiting for more blogs from you...

  13. Sankara,
    Thanks. I will try to write more often. I am not sure if I can write much about Nameri. We spent 2 nights and 1 day birding. Birding was fantastic one morning, but washed out the next day. We did however see the White wing wood duck which is one of the endangered species.

    The scary face picture is quite incredible and getting such a picture of a wild tiger is pure luck. Most of the time we manage to get a glimpse of the tiger.
    Oh...and let's not discuss about Saru getting lucky or not in public:)

    Thanks. Jeeps have barriers to cover it up during rain, hold when standing etc, so there is no danger if you are careful.

  14. Ashish,
    Thanks. Like I said, most tiger sightings are for few seconds, but we saw this tiger for almost 10 minutes. It was late evening and lighting wasn't perfect, but it was not bad either.

    You are always generous with compliments. Thanks. That last picture is surreal. I am going to frame it and put it up on my walls.

  15. Anu,
    The craze to see tigers is not just limited to foreigners and yuppies. I saw lots of jeeps with local villagers (in Pench NP). Jeeps were filled with people like a city bus and all they wanted to know was if we saw a tiger. It was just crazy.

    Gaay, You visited my blog. Yay!!Let's go to a NP together one of these days.

    You are right. We do get lucky with Tiger sightings. Our 100% record was busted in Kaziranga where we did not see any:(

  16. So wonderful to read your travelogue sipping my morning coffee! Nice start to the day!

    Its amazing that you could see this tiger for so though he posed for you guys! Love the scary tiger face. That would have surely freaked you out!

    But the best pic of all is the last pic. It is beautiful--must frame!

  17. Nice to see your post after a long time!! Also, good to hear that you are travelling a lot.

    Fantastic photos!!

  18. I have been a regular visitor of your blog since I first read it in Ghumakkar. I was happy to see you writing again.

    You write lovely "travel-stories", not just travelogues.

  19. hey Vamsee, Long time no see and now we know why! :)
    Lovely post as usual and that last pic is truly's like the tiger was posing like a model.

    Waiting for more of your adventures.

  20. Tiger behind the jeep is very scary. It looks like the photographs taken by these daring people in Discovery and Animal planet, lying down on the ground close to the tiger. Very well taken. (Guessing that it is taken over an up climbing road from your safari jeep) Are all jeeps open like this - scarier! Why is it all 2009 ? Don't want your memories to be dated ?

  21. Nice to see you post after such a long break Vamsee. I m so happy to read this post. We were planning a Ranthambore trip, now I will surely cancel that and change the location. We have had enough of the Tiger crazy guides.

    I still remember how we walked away from a sleeping Tiger on that evening safari...Thomas

  22. Hi Vamsee,
    I too would love to see a tiger but if I did not spot one, it would not spoil my trip. There is, of course, so much of other wildlife for viewing.
    Good to see you active in the blogworld again, welcome back.
    - celine

  23. Awesome post, pics, video, Vamsee.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  24. I love reading travel vacation like this. It is so amazing that you get a close encounter of a wild tiger. That is an scary experience I think. I love all the picture that you post especially the photo of the tiger.

  25. Nice story and great pictures! The Tiger is the main draw that brings the tourists to India's National parks, so much so that it seems the guides have narrowed their focus down to just the tiger!!

    I do hope to visit some of the national parks someday and will I be disappointed if I dont see a tiger? Maybe.

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