Ranthambhore - Legendary Big Cats

gd1418

Member
4th October, 2010 - Evening

The gypsy had dropped us at our resort around 11 am. We all were ravenously hungry & a bit tired having gotten up so very early. Breakfast was laid out at the common dining area that consisted of Toast, Butter, Jam, Eggs to order, Cornflakes, Milk, Tea & Coffee.

Had a heavy breakfast and were told that the lunch would be served by 1 pm. While the kids plonked themselves in front of the TV, wife took a nap and I set about cleaning & dusting my camera gear.

After a light lunch, my son & I were ready for the evening safari. As mentioned earlier, wife & daughter had opted out of the evening safari from the very beginning.

Unlike other wildlife sanctuaries, here in Ranthambhore we had taken a sharing gypsy safari for morning & evening as taking an exclusive vehicle was quite expensive. It meant that the gypsy would carry 6 people other than the guide & driver.

The gypsy with guide arrived at our resort at 2:30 pm and already two people were sitting in it. After picking my son & I it went to a nearby property - Dev Vilas to pickup another person. This person was Balendu Singh, owner of this property, a wildlife conservator, photographer, avid shooter and a royalty.

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This I came to know later after the safari ended. The guide & the driver reverentially greeted him. We reached the entrance gate and almost all gypsy drivers, guides and the forest officials greeted him. I was a bit amazed.

Oh, I must mention something here. When the vehicle came to pick us up I asked the guide about the zone that we would be going. He said -" Zone 1". Second time in a row the same zone. I wasn't a bit worried as I thought that as dusk approaches T-13 would come out.

After the necessary entries we were in zone 1. I recognised most of the trails as I had gone on them only a few hours ago. But something new was in the offing. Balendu was acting like an unofficial guide. He was giving directions to the driver to take the vehicle to some remote places within that zone that we had not visited in the morning. And the driver was meekly complying with. It was intriguing. Balendu seemed to know more about the forest than all of us combined including the guide & driver.

I didn't click any pictures as I didn't see any animals. The only avian I saw was this Rose-ringed Parakeet, perched all alone on this dead trunk.

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The jungle was silent. Not a sound from anywhere. Waiting near a waterhole we thought we heard the sounds of the playful cubs. But it was some wild imagination playing up. It was time to return. By this time I had struck a friendship with Balendu. We are in touch with each other almost daily via Facebook and bump into each other inside the jungle very often.

Another jungle safari that did not bear fruit. Came back to our room, tired & disappointed. Had dinner and went off to sleep. The next day we had to get up early for the morning safari.

to continue.../-
 

gd1418

Member
5th October, 2010 - Morning Safari

The routine was the same as that of the day before. Was the first one to get ready and came out with my camera. The time was 05:52, a whiff of daylight breaking was visible and this thin crescent moon hung in the sky. The scenery was wonderful. This was taken handheld.

Exif details: Nikon D300 with the 70~300mm Lens

1/65 Sec, F 4.5, ISO 1100, Focal length 70mm, Spot metering

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The gypsy with the guide came at 6:30 and before I could ask, the driver announced - "we are going to Zone 1". Oh my God, this couldn't be happening to me. Three in-a-row to the same zone. I was livid. Called the resort owner who had booked my safaris and asked for an explanation. Shammi was very apologetic and explained the procedure in detail.

Resort/hotel owners, tour operators and individuals book the safaris months in advance at Ranthambhore and the slips are given. In each zone 8-10 gypsies & two canters are allowed for each safari. One hour before the safari commences, the agents of resorts/hotels, tour operators and individuals stand at the forest office and there the forest officials feed the slip numbers in the computer and Mr. Computer at random picks a slip and allots a zone, a gypsy with driver and a guide.

Now this procedure, according to them can't be tampered with. This holds true for tourists who come for one or two days or at the maximum 3 days. But for the regulars or the enthusiasts who are versed with the system the cartel comes into picture. You can have your favourite guide & driver and can pick & choose the zone. This entire system sucks.

So, Mr. Computer had picked Zone 1 for me thrice in a row. Nothing could be done at this moment so I had no choice. But in no uncertain terms I made it very clear that in the evening and the morning on 6th I want different zones. Shammi said he would try his level best and I mentioned,if I don't get the zone of my choice then I would not be going on the safari and will take a refund. The power of green is unmatched. You show the green at Tirupati and the Lord of Seven Hills shall open the special door and you are in his sanctum sanctorum while the lesser mortals are standing in mile long que for hours.
When Shammi realised that he would have to part with the green, he got to work..


Deep inside the forest of Ranthambhore lies a very old & famous temple of Lord Ganesha - the Trinetra Ganesha Temple. The temple is inside the Ranthambhore Fort that is built on the highest point of the hill. One can have a breathtaking view of the park. Just next to the entrance to the fort is a huge gate that leads to Zone 2. For pilgrims coming purely to visit the temple, the entry is free and they can also bring their own vehicles. This is a typical man-animal conflict zone and needs to be stopped. The continuous flow of the pilgrims is a cause of disturbance to the ecosystem.

After making entries at the main gate we were on our way to Singhdwaar, that we saw a gypsy with tourists parked near a water body and gesturing us to be silent. We slowly reached next to that vehicle and shut the engine. The guide from the other gypsy pointed his finger towards the thicket across the water body and whispered - Leopard. I couldn't see anything in that green either through the zoom lens or the binoculars. Then my guide pointed towards the thicket and pointed to something that was yellow with a white spot and said that was the twitching ear of the Leopard that had sat down in the thicket and hid hearing the commotion. We waited there for several minutes for it to get up and come out, but in vain.

Spot the SPOTS
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And then we heard 'khok', 'khok'. It was the Langur calling and it seemed to be coming from Zone 1. And then there was a loud PONK. The Sambhar called.

We raced to Zone 1 that by now I almost knew every nook & corner of. Straightaway went to this waterhole and laid anchor. A peahen called in alarm thrice in succession and then the jungle went silent.

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After a considerable wait we moved further. There we saw this herd of Cheetal grazing in peace.

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Moving further on the tree this Brown Fish Owl was spotted. He was looking intently at me and after some moments turned his head away.

Exif details: Nikon D300 with the 70~300mm Lens

1/20 Sec, F 5.6, ISO 200, Focal length 300mm, Spot metering


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It was time to return back to resort as the time was over. We stopped at one guard post inside the forest to drink water and relieve. here I saw this Jungle Spider lying in wait of its prey.

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Thus another safari ended without even hearing a roar.. 4 out of 6 over. Score - Tiger 4. Me 0.

2 more left. will the Lady Luck smile on me?

to continue.../-
 

KJa

Active Member
5th October, 2010 - Morning Safari

Deep inside the forest of Ranthambhore lies a very old & famous temple of Lord Ganesha - the Trinetra Ganesha Temple. The temple is inside the Ranthambhore Fort that is built on the highest point of the hill. One can have a breathtaking view of the park. Just next to the entrance to the fort is a huge gate that leads to Zone 2. For pilgrims coming purely to visit the temple, the entry is free and they can also bring their own vehicles. This is a typical man-animal conflict zone and needs to be stopped. The continuous flow of the pilgrims is a cause of disturbance to the ecosystem.

[/B]
+1... Completely Agree!
 

gd1418

Member
5th October, 2010 - Evening Safari

After we returned from the morning safari, the routine was the same as it was on the 4th, but with a slight change. Since I had nothing to do much in the intervening period before the evening safari started, I kept up the pressure on Shammi for change of zone. He kept on assuring me that he would reach the Forest Office by 1 pm and persuade the Deputy Conservator of Forests.

As the time neared for the safari, I was getting a bit jittery and hoping against hope of not getting the Zone 1 again. 2:20 pm & I get a call from Shammi that I had been given the Zone 2 and the gypsy had already left. The vehicle was there at 2:30 and the guide said that we would be going to Zone 2. I was happy. Before proceeding to the forest we had to pick up another guest from a hotel nearby. The sun was harsh and the weather pretty warm and as we turned on the dirt track towards that Hotel, I saw this Monitor Lizard scurrying across the road into the bushes..

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Was this auspicious? Would I get to see a Tiger? Well, with hope in the hearts, my son & I along with other guests, proceeded towards the forest entrance. After making necessary entries at Singhdwaar, headed towards Zone 2. This Zone is above the hill and probably the highest zone of the Park.

As soon as we crossed the Singhdwaar area the vehicle stopped a little further. A quizzical look from me made the guide point towards a tree trunk on the left. A big Monitor Lizard was basking in the Sun.

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Reached the Fort and stopped in front of a huge closed gate. The forest guard from the other side of the gate peeped through and opened those gates to let us in. We were in Zone 2.

As we moved further in the driver stopped the vehicle and the guide pointed to something on the left. It was all lush green and I couldn't see anything. The guide said - "Sir, a Purple Heron". All I could see was a stalk or a twig in that greenery. Well, to make it easier, the distance was a bit much and this Heron was so still and steady that it almost looked like a dead stalk. I could see it only through my lens zoomed to 300mm.

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We neared a lake, where from a distance we saw some Wooly-necked Storks on the dry ground. We moved forward to see them more clearly and they took off cackling alarmed by us.

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In flight
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The guide informed that this lake was almost dry last year and now it was brimming. We parked the vehicle and waited expecting some animals to come for a drink. Then I heard a loud musical call of a bird from the above. Just a few feet away on a tree was this Rufous Treepie making this call.

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Rajbagh Lake
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A flapping of wings attracted my attention. Saw this Pond Heron perching on a dead branch of a dead tree.

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We moved further in the deep and saw this Raptor at a distance.

Identification please??

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Then we heard a Sambar call - PONK. We moved towards the direction of the call and saw two more vehicles converging in that area. The sambar called four times and then fell silent. We waited but nothing emerged.

Instead this Francolin came walking in front of our vehicle, stood there for some time, cocked its head to the left & right and then slowly walked into the greens.

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Above perched on the tree was this Indian Roller

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It was time to return and on the way saw this dead & decaying tree.

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As we neared the main entrance gate and were about to exit, heard a loud KHOK that reverberated through the jungle. It was the Langur's alarm call. It came from atop the hill. As we looked up we saw a group of Langurs highly agitated and calling continuously. A Leopard was moving somewhere there. It was dusk and an ideal time for this predator. I picked up my binoculars and scanned the hill. The Langur calls were continuing. Couldn't see anything. And as suddenly it started the calls ended. I wanted to wait, but the Forest Guard was gesturing to the driver to move out. Returned to resort tired and dejected. Called it a day and went off to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be my last safari and day here. Would I be lucky the 6th time?

to continue../-
 

gd1418

Member
6th October, 2011 - The final Morning safari

The routine was the same as that of last two days. First one to get-up, get-ready & out of the room with the camera. As soon as I walked out of the resort gate this view greeted me.

Exif details: Nikon D300 - 24~70 f/2.8 (1/135 Sec, F 2.8, Focal Length 48mm, Spot Metering)

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The gypsy came at the same time as before and it was going to be Zone 4. I was excited. Both, Zone 3 & 4 were occupied by the famous duo of mother & daughter - the legendary Machli or the T-16 or The Lady of the Lake and Sundari or T-17 the daughter of Machli.

Machli reigned for 14 years in Zone 3 straddling the Padam Talao that has the famous Jogi Mahal at one end. Her daughter Sundari dethroned her and occupied Zone 3. Currently it was reported that Machli was in Zone 4, had lost her one canine in a famous fight with a crocodile many years back that also gave her the name Crocodile Hunter.

The guide told me that since Machli was 14 years & plus and getting old, it was becoming difficult for her to hunt prey and when she couldn't hunt and eat for 5-6 days, then she would roar & wail. So, nowadays the forest people tie a bait for her when she wails in hunger. Guide said that there are good chances of her being sighted and if we are lucky then Sundari could also be seen as she crosses over to Zone 4 sometimes.

As I had mentioned earlier that it was a sharing gypsy we had these two woman as our co-passengers.

Co-Passengers with my daughter Gauri
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Evidence of good rains was visible all over, green cover and overflowing lakes.

Kachida Lake
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On our way inside the forest we saw this huge Banyan Tree that was some 100 odd years old and had grown thick roots from its branches that in itself seemed to have a become a tree in itself.

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No sign of the old Machli or her daughter Sundari. A very silent jungle. No alarm calls, not even false ones. Funnily, no other animals too. I was wondering about this that I saw this group of Cheetals amongst which was a mother and her fawn, who was naughtily prancing around.

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Watched its antics for sometime and moved on. And then we heard the 'bugle' call of the peahen. Now this call by the peacock or hen can't be taken seriously. They call the same during mating season, or when alarmed by a jungle cat, jackal and sometimes even by a python. Only during monsoons their call sounds different.

The peahen called again and then again. The driver stopped the vehicle and cut down the engine. There was this eerie silence and the peahen called again. With every call our excitement level grew. We waited and waited for almost an hour, but the peahen didn't call. Nothing stirred, nothing moved.

While we were waiting, my eyes fell on a very different kind of flower in a distance. I was quite intrigued. Lifted my camera, zoomed the lens to its maximum and took a shot. It looked awesome on the camera LCD.

Exif details: Nikon D300 - 70~300 vr (1/200 Sec, F 5.6, ISO 280, Focal Length 300mm, Spot metering)

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It was time to return back. Drove slowly back to the exit gate. We stayed in Ranthambhore for 3 nights & 4 days and undertook 6 safaris. We saw a Sloth Bear, a glimpse of Leopard, some deer and various birds. But no Tiger.

It was time to leave Ranthambhore and head towards Jodhpur. This was the quid pro quo that my wife extracted from me when I was planning my Ranthambhore trip.

Headed back to the resort to take bath, eat breakfast, pack the belongings and off to Jodhpur..

Thus ended my first ever visit to Ranthambhore and I joined the exclusive league of those who did not or could not have a Big Cat sighting inspite of six back-to-back safaris.
 
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Superb photographs sir and disappointed to know that you have to come tigerless despite taking 6 Jungle Safaris. My first vist was same as yours!
 
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