Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali

21st Jun 2015
Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali 1/3 by FoolishTraveller
En route Sawai Madhopur
Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali 2/3 by FoolishTraveller
Bright blue skies..the complete opposite of what we were going through in Mumbai!

There are still times when I'm walking down the street and I hear the growl of the tiger. I'd be lying if I said I didn't turn around in excitement, reaching for the camera which I didn't have. Those 4 days in the jungle have been extremely memorable for me! The day before I left for Jaipur I left work early(Which amazed everyone in the office!) What felt most liberating was the fact that I left my office phone(Yes I have one of those that NEVER stops ringing) with the Operations Supervisor and headed off. Needless to say I did not sleep very well that night and I got up well before time (4:30 am to be precise. Also my flight was at 9:00 am. Yeah. Excitement.) There's something about the smell of an airport which is like caffeine to the senses-it charges you up completely! I got inside and I was already practically bouncing as I waited for my brother to arrive. He arrived soon enough and we made our way to check in. After a pretty uneventful flight we landed in Jaipur. We went from a completely flooded city that was drowning to a city which was a glorious and sunny 35 degrees! Hard to imagine this is all part of the same country!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali 3/3 by FoolishTraveller
The Canon and The Cube! Best friends to have in the jungle.

However he pulled out a 7D which he was going to use to shoot. Suddenly the palm sized camera seemed way smaller than it actually was!(With all due respect it's ridiculously tiny) Then came the glorious moment! The brother pulled out a Canon 550D and attached a Sigma 150/500 lens to it. My own personal gun! She was beautiful! Just holding it made me feel incredibly powerful! Now came the challenging bit-I didn't know how to use it. Not to be let down by that I sat outside the cottage trying to understand how this beast of a camera worked. After an hour of horribly embarassing attempts I had managed to get a hang of a few of the many features the camera had.

Saw a lot of these fellows!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

With our game faces on we set out of the hotel for our first visit to the jungle. A jeep waited for us and after exchanging greetings with the driver we climbed on and took our places. Durani saab and me in the front, my brother Adeet in the back. As we sat in we made some ceremonious moves which were to become routine for the next few days-as we sat we put our respective bag packs on the floor and opened the zip just enough for us to grab the camera at an instant. Everyone adjusted their hats and caps. I put on the protective wrap around glasses around my glasses(Anybody who wears glasses must use it!Save you a lot of efforts later to clean them up) and attached the cube to the top of the roof of the jeep(It was one thing that later whoever joined us on the safari could never understand) We drove into the jungle and that was it. There's a kind of finality when you cross the massive gates and enter the jungle. The silence envelops you. Each and every sound and movement is loud and echoes for what seems like an eternity. It is simultaneously beautiful and unnerving. As we made our way deeper into the jungle we were joined by a couple of other tourist jeeps that destroyed the entire illusion of mystery that the jungle had created. In the jeep next to ours was a guy confidently telling the others,"These tigers have no value system. They kill their own kids and brothers and sisters" The others nodded in wonder. I had to turn back and restrain my brother from standing up and whacking the guy in the head. Which brings me to:-

The radio in the jeep crackled "Padam Talao pe sighting hui hai." The atmosphere in the jeep changed within a flash. Our driver sped into the jungle. The terrain is rough and uneven and you'll be tossed all over the place. If you're a lighter species of human..good luck! Which brings me to:-

Lesson #2-Always wear a seat belt! You never know which bump will send you flying off into a tree! In the case that there aren't any seat belts hold on to the rails. If you still feel like being a hero make sure you've got insurance. Atleast let your family benefit from your stupidity.

As we approached Padam Talao(lake) I was a little annoyed to see a few vehicles already parked. We pulled onto an open spot and waited. The air was rife with agitated calls by langurs,chitals and peacocks. Dead ahead of us I could see a peacock perched on top of a tree calling out that there's a predator in the area. It started calling incessantly and then flew off to a distance. My eyes were locked on the foliage underneath which had started to shudder. Suddenly the grass split open like a curtain and out she came.

T19-Krishna came walking out in all her glory. As she came out she growled sending every bird in the proximity flying. It is probably the most cinematic thing I have ever seen in my life.

Who said tigers are ferocious? Look at that smile!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

She came out and stood for a minute surveying everyone and that's when we locked eyes. Whatever little arrogance you have in life disappears in that instant. Those eyes tell you,"I don't care who you are. This is my territory and you'd bloody well get out of here." She growled again calling out to her daughter and headed towards Choti Chattri(It is where she meets her daughter and what followed was mind boggling) Every few seconds she growled as she walked on sending everything and everyone around her into a tizzy.

This brings me to what is the most important lesson to learn in the jungle:-

Lesson #3-It is foolish to think that you go in search of the tiger and track them. Sure you can locate them up to a point but that's about it.The truth is that you don't find the tiger. The tiger finds you.

As we watched spell bound, T19 headed towards Choti Chatri calling. The entire convoy of jeeps followed her, cameras clicking away. Within a few minutes from the other side we heard another tiger. It was the daughter 3 Lightning responding to her mother’s calls. I didn’t know where to look! On one side I had T19 in all her glory and on the other side there was her daughter calling back whom we could not see. Our driver immediately reversed out of our spot and drove ahead. The people in the other jeeps were confused as to why we were going in another direction. The decision to do so worked wonders as soon enough on the road walking towards us, calling out to her mother was none other than 3 Lightning!

T19-Krishna and 3 Lightning walk together.

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

We followed them for quite a while.

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

What a sight it was! Mother walking in from the left and the daughter walking towards her from the right. 3 Lightning bounded up to her mother and playfully nudged her. What followed was 15 minutes of playful fighting and then T19 lay down and 3 Lightning suckled her. Even though Lightning is about 18 months old, T19 does this to maintain her dominance on her children. It is not very often that you get to see something like this and I sure thanked my stars for letting me witness it!

3 lightning suckling Krishna..not seen very often!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

After a while both mother and daughter decided they had given us humans enough excitement for the day and decided to get up and leave. Shameless and greedy for more that the human race is, we decided to follow them albeit at a distance. It was an amazing sight…as the sun set, the two tigresses walked one behind the other towards the cover of the trees, unmindful of the tourists who’s lives they had unknowingly changed forever. They jumped over a little stream one after the other which sent every camera in the vicinity into a clicking frenzy.

Krishna and 3 lightning walk away from us.

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

Now I work in the service industry which means I deal with a lot of irritating customers and I have no choice but to be patient. I’d be damned before I’d be patient with someone trying to ruin my holiday! To start off with I gave an annoyed look to the father who immediately went about silencing his offspring. There was silence for exactly 78 seconds before the kid started wailing, this time loud enough for the other jeeps as well as Arrowhead to get bothered. Knowing that if I let my brother or Durani saab handle it, the little kid would have ended up as lunch for Arrowhead I quickly told the kid,”If you keep crying the tiger is going to come and take you away and your mama and papa won’t be able to help you out”

It was magic! The kid didn’t so much as move after that. The parents were understandably embarrassed. Which brings me to-especially if you’re parents of little kids…

Rule #4 Explain to your children you’re going into a jungle not a garden. Bawling in the middle of the jungle is annoying not just to the other people but to the animals who don’t want you there in the first place. If your kid is a squealer anyway then wait for him/her to grow up before showing them these magnificient sights!

The morning session wasn’t very eventful as we only spotted Arrowhead relaxing in the shade and cool. We returned back to our hotel, showered, ate breakfast and dutifully went to sleep.

After eating lunch, we were ready to head for our afternoon incursion. Thankfully, there was no one in the jeep this time. I somehow had a feeling this session was going to be special.

We drove around in the jungle waiting for the radio to crackle as we hadn’t identified any paw prints yet to track the tigers. After a while it did,”Jaha bhi ho seedhe Tamakhan aajao!(Wherever you are come straight to Tamakhan!)”

Obediently we raced off(Once again flying all over the place-I’m pretty certain I lost a couple of kilos just bouncing in the jeep which I made up for every night by hogging the killer kebabs.) Which brings me to probably the most important rule after rule #3:-

Rule #5 No matter how calorie conscious or how big a fitness freak you are, when on holiday just let it go! Eat to your heart’s content! There’s too many local food items that you won’t get back home and they are just too yummy to be missed. DON’T EVER FORGET THIS RULE!

We rode off to Tamakhan on our faithful chariot only to be blocked by 2 jeeps ahead of us. I was furious till I saw what was ahead of the jeeps. Not one, or two but three tigers…T19, her daughter 3 Lightning whom we met yesterday and her brother Pacman. T19 had killed an animal somewhere and she was escorting them there so that they could eat too.

Krishna, 3 Lightning and Pacman-One big family!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

Ironically no one managed to get it right! I didn’t even try! I was just too busy admiring the view. We kept shooting till the very last second as they entered the shade of the trees and disappeared into oblivion. All cameras down. I think that was the first time I actually looked around and saw the jungle for how beautiful it really was.

The moment they disappeared I slumped in the jeep. I felt drained both emotionally and physically. It had been a fantastic last few hours-full of adventure. The good news was there was more to come in the next few days.

T19 and 3 Lightning had welcomed me to Ranthambore in style. I looked forward to the next morning when I would(Hopefully) be able to see the other members of the Ranthambore tiger family.

Since we were behind them, I ended up getting a lot of fantastic pictures of their..umm..behind! Our driver being as resourceful as ever nearly went down the cliff to get us ahead of the other jeeps! There was a brief moment where we were actually airborne as the jeep moved almost just on 2 wheels and then thankfully landed on the right side so that we were back on the support of 4 wheels. We got ahead of the other jeeps but alas there was no way to over take the tigers.

After a point the three of them split into three different routes and that’s when the magic happened. T19 headed off to the left, 3 Lightning down to the far right and Pacman…oh that magnificent beast decided to walk with us!! He walked right beside us, the distance between us less than 3 feet! Technology failed us at that moment as the lenses we were using (Fantastic for the long range shots) was no use for anything so close. Pacman walked right beside us and we couldn’t do a thing! We put the cameras down and just watched. The best moments are not necessarily captured but imprinted in our memories. He gave us a momentary glance, made us feel worthless(Thanks Pacman!) and kept walking. We were so engrossed in him that it was just in time that we realised that T19 had gotten irritated with us and decided to come charging at us.

Krishna and 3 Lightning come charging at us!

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller

If you’ve ever seen a tiger charge then you know that it is an amazing sight. I must tell you it isn’t quite as amazing when a tiger comes charging at you!! By the time it registered in our human brains that there’s a tiger coming, 3 Lightning came running too! Right behind her mother! She’d sneaked through from the other side sensing a threat to her brother! Fortunately they just threatened us and didn’t pounce on the jeep. We got the hint very clearly and dutifully drove away letting Pacman go with his mother and sister to enjoy a peaceful meal.

The motley crew!-From L to R-Yogesh(Driver), Dinesh Durani,Adeet Ghosh,Shomik Roy

Photo of Ranthambore, Bengal Tigers and the Bengali by FoolishTraveller
Day 1

It is in Jaipur that I met probably one of the most colorful people I have seen in my life! Mr.Dinesh Durani , like my brother is a serious wildlife enthusiast. He has a heart of gold and absolutely no tact! If he were to speak a sentence averaging 7 words, 1 word would be your name so that he can get your attention, 5 of the words would be expletives and the remaining 2 words for whatever he wants to tell you! Everytime he spoke in English I cracked up! Within 20 minutes of the drive from Jaipur to Savai Madhopur, I already liked the guy. He had already let loose a few expletives and was speaking to someone on the phone in English. My brother and I exchanged looks every time he spoke in English and both of us struggled to keep our poker faces on. The road from Jaipur to Savai Madhopur was incredibly good except for a small rough stretch in between. Soon enough we were in Sherpur where we checked into our hotel(A nice cozy little place called Tiger Moon) After dumping my stuff I went to my brother's room to check on him. He had told me earlier that he would be carrying a camera for me to click with. I never really gave it much thought because I own a Polaroid Cube-a tiny gadget which is the definition of cool!

A peacock dances away.

Photo of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India by FoolishTraveller

Lesson #1-Don't ever say anything stupid in front of a wildlife enthusiast. It's perfectly fine to ask questions but never ever say something which you're not sure of. They will tear you to shreds as quick as a tiger goes through a goat!

After driving around for a while-we spotted a few beautiful birds,a family of langurs and the typical assortment of wildlife(peacocks,chital etc. etc.) I had started to get a little bored.

I had come here seeking the Royal Bengal tiger after all. Just as I started letting my guard down it happened.

T-19 Krishna makes her entry.

Photo of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India by FoolishTraveller

Ever hear a tiger roar?

Photo of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India by FoolishTraveller

Giving us mere mortals some time to admire her.

Photo of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India by FoolishTraveller
Day 2

Next morning I was up at 5 AM and ready to go spot some more tigers! I barely slept the previous night and for the short span that I did I dreamt about T19 and 3 Lightning. As we headed towards the jeep-Canon in one hand and a Cube in the other I was a little annoyed to see a family(Husband,wife and child) already sitting in our jeep. Turns out we were going to have to share the jeep with some strangers on this round. This wasn’t acceptable to me at all but we didn’t really have a choice and I got onto the jeep quietly. The family smiled politely at us. I returned the smile, the 2 gentlemen with me(Brother and Durani saab) didn’t even bother. They were already thinking about the day ahead. The jeep trudged along from the hotel to the jungle. We maintained our silence except for the little kid who would occasionally mumble something. The father was particularly curious looking at the Cube which I ceremoniously took out of my bag and placed on top of the jeep. I could see he wanted to ask but eventually he didn’t. We chugged along uneventfully till the radio crackled to announce that a tiger had been sighted at Gular Kui. Once again the jeep went from a sluggish 30 KMs an hour to a whopping 70 KMPH! (Remember Rule #2..always) As we reached Gular Kui we saw Arrowhead, daughter of T19 sitting in the little water body relaxing. Before the family could realise what had happened the three of us had pulled out these huge cameras! The father didn’t know whether to be amazed by the cameras or the tiger in front of him! We ended up having the best view point compared to the other jeeps and we sat there clicking away to our heart’s content. Arrowhead sat unperturbed by the whole thing. She couldn’t care less…after all she was sitting in the cool water and we were the idiots braving the 40 degree heat! It was all fine till the little child in the jeep decided that the tiger scared him. To start off with he made a little squeaky sound which his mother shushed immediately. After a few minutes he started making a steady, squeaky sound-not loud enough for the tiger but loud enough for us to get irritated.

Arrowhead chills in the cool water while we sit in the 40 degree heat.

Photo of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India by FoolishTraveller
Day 3

The remaining visits into the jungle weren’t as eventful as this one but we did spot tigers every time we went in. The trip got over in a flash and before I knew it I was putting my bags into the car so that we could go back to Jaipur.

At Jaipur airport we bid farewell to Durani saab who let loose a few expletives to express his displeasure at our going away.

The beauty of travel is that you meet new people in different lands and when you meet them for the first time you greet them with a handshake and when you leave..you leave with a warm embrace and some amazing memories.

I still think about the jungle and T19. I still think about the annoying tourists. I think about everything I did there and it brings a smile to my face.

Was it worth it? There’s absolutely no doubt about it. Everyone must make a visit to Ranthambore atleast once. If not Ranthambore then to some other sanctuary. Not just because nature is soothing to the senses but also because we need to appreciate the efforts of the people behind the conservation of these jungles. They fight the good fight and they fight every single day so that the tiger is not endangered and is safe to roam the jungles freely. So that thousands of people can see a tiger and go home and have stories to share.

To the Forest department and everyone who is a part of this struggle…Thank you. This post is dedicated to you guys.

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