Tiger Weekend Ranthambhore

SharpShooter

New Member
In April this year, I had had a conversation with a friend who was “set up” for a royal VIP tour of Ranthambhore by a prominent contributor to Project Tiger. He had a heady tour, guided by celebrity guide Battilal, and saw many tigers and related his story to me excitedly. I was inspired, and had already been itching to debt my Canon 300/2.8 IS USM ii lens with some tiger photographs. Wife was itching to shoot with her Fuji XT1 + 16mm f/1.4 some landscapes and when tigers came close. I hurriedly made a plan, with the wife convincing my kids to take a vacation (from her and me) while we safaried in Ranthambhore. I had no leave days available to me, so was strictly only the weekend.

I had decided to avoid flying down (too much time wasted in airports, overnight stay etc.) and had instead booked a Ist class AC ticket which was only marginally more expensive than the 3 tier AC (how absurd) costing a total of Rs14000 for the round trip for self and wife. The train would leave at 5:40pm in Mumbai on Friday, and reach Sawai Madhopur at 6:28am the following morning, and leave SWM at 8:36pm on Sunday night (after evening safari, bath and dinner) and deposit us in Bombay Central at 945am Monday morning, enabling me to put in a full day at work. My return ticket was WL for 2 months, and in the end, while in Ranthambhore I had to turn to a local fixer to get me return tickets by this train, which he duly did. I would have time for 3 safaris starting Saturday afternoon.
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SharpShooter

New Member
The stay was a choice between castle Jhoomar Bhouri, and Hotel Vinayak, and I opted for the latter for reasons of knowing the manager very well for almost 20 years, and his being a skilled narrator of bloodcurdling tiger tales (including one where an eager Englishman had driven a tiger away by the smell of his urine which he had generated when frightened by the tiger’s sudden appearance). My trips were by Canter and Gypsy in zones 4, 6, 6. Zone 3 was supposed to be the ultimate zone as Arrowhead and her two small cubs were apparently lolling near the pond as per my friend’s VIP contact just then. But in the event, looks like they moved off and it was decided by my host that we should do zones 4, 6, 6. We were easily able to get canter and got lucky with a Gypsy for the 3rd ride.
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Ranthambhore is my last choice as a jungle – it is far from being a paradise on earth – that honour has to go to Kabini. But you don’t have to look for tigers – in the 47 degrees June heat, they seem to be everywhere out in the open. In the 2 days we spent there we did not see anyone come back from a trip without spotting tigers. Kabini and Bandipur seem to be the current pole position holders on tiger density – I understand there are 300 tigers there between them – a day will come when returning from a safari without selfies with at least 2 tigers at a time will be unacceptable.
I and my wife normally like to take it slowly to admire every little delight the jungle has to offer in a safari. Even in Dandeli, were we did not see even a fly, we were happy just to smell the jungle. But in Ranthambhore, if you inhale too deeply to smell, you would end up with a clogged nose. It doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, it is dusty all the time. We soaked our head cloths in water and set out in our first ride. There was a young and friendly French couple in our canter, and a group of photographers, who also wore headgear including covering their mouths and noses, and surprise, surprise…their head scarves were camouflaged…but their lenses were not, so there! Anyway, the tiger was not in a mood to hide, so fat lot of good the camouflage would have done, except to make oneself feel important.
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SharpShooter

New Member
In Ranthambore, you are a loony if you express or expect to see interest in anything but a tiger. A typical ride in Bandipur will be as follows – amidst all the greenery you would see an elephant, pause to take a photo, move on, see a tiger, follow it for a while till it disappears, spot a gaur/bear etc. In Ranthambhore the pattern is different. You wander without seeing any signs of leaves, greenery, life…and spot another jeep, who has spotted a tiger. Typically the tiger would be under a bush, easily visible, or at its kill, or in a pond with its hindquarters soaking, or relaxing behind a rock. You would mentally measure the temperature (between 46 and 48 degrees it seems all the same, trust me), and see the time remaining, and brace for a searing examination by the sun god while you waited for the tiger to come out. Soon it would be 12-13 gypsies and canters (don’t believe anyone who says Gypsy ride is better than canter – they are all the same in kicking up dust except in Zone 2 and I think 6 where canters are not allowed).
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In time, the tiger would come out, and give poses, and after a 30 minute photo session, everyone would head home or back to the hotel. All my safaris in summer in Ranthambhore in my life have followed this fixed pattern. The typical guide’s limited knowledge in all things non-tiger has proved immensely helpful in maintaining this strict focus.
 

SharpShooter

New Member
In the hotel, there would be more conversations and photo exchanges between guests about tigers. In our hotel, we were the only guests, so were saved this last ordeal. Plus we were quite happy viewing the photos on our Dell XPS 13” which has a high quality monitor. Doing this after the first safari proved helpful as the next two rides enabled me to make some adjustments to aperture (f/3.5 is not as good as f/4.0, and the absolutely incredible IS in this lens makes a complete mockery of my understanding of what a decent handheld shooting speed is – it absolutely destroys any challenge upto 1/60 at 40 meters). The rest of the time would be spent in cleaning the lenses.

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We had excellent food, simple and well prepared, followed by some sleep in the afternoon before gathering our kit and setting out again. During the rides, we would keep our respective lenses covered all the time. I saw several people give me that “who’s the loony” look, but just look around buddy – even a tiger’s eyesight cannot penetrate the thick cover of dust! It is settling on your lens as you ride…keep cleaning.
 

SharpShooter

New Member
Safari 1 saw tigress Krishna’s son Shakti in Zone 4 reward us for burning ourselves up waiting for him, and came out from behind the rock. I was successful in persuading my driver with only 20 min left that we should be the last to turn back. 2 out of the 12 jeeps left. For the others, with 15 min left, Shakti came out. Not far from him were
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sambar deer but Shakti decided to first complete his photo shoot. That was ride 1, Saturday evening. No lizards, boar, birds etc.
 

SharpShooter

New Member
On Sunday morning in Zone 6, Kumbha, the 10 foot male (T34), was busy lolling next to his kill. Watching him were 5 canters/gypsies. We joined and numbers swelled to 12 again. Kumbha lifted his head, and imploringly looked at us, willing us to disappear. We did not. His head went down. Over time, he overcame his revulsion for us and stood up, walked over, and settled on his kill and dug into it some more. 150 snaps for the session. My driver looked askance at me “I have listened enough to you” and we splat, and made it past the exit gate just in time at 9am. In the hotel we spat the mud out, bathed, ate, slept (and while I can’t recollect what I dreamt of, I am sure it wasn’t rabbits
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), and set out for ride 3.
 

SharpShooter

New Member
Ride 3 in a gypsy was the most eventful of all. We decided to repeat Zone 6, and decided to first chase down Kumbha. We looked all over the earlier kill spot, but canny bugger that he was, he had slid off into a nearby bush and was watching us with horror, quietly. But another jeep spotted him, and we raced to catchup. Soon Kumbha yawned. My driver (guides are useless here) said “he will get up”. Hearing him, Kumbha got up. Driver “he will walk to the pond”. Kumbha did. We followed him. Kumbha sank slowly back first and looked over the rim at us, blinked once, twice and sank fully out of sight.

We settled down comfortably in baking heat. Driver “he will soak 25 litres of water through his skin in 45min, walk back to his bush, shed the water there, cool the place down and then sleep”. Kumbha took an hour. We tried cooling ourselves by pouring water on our scarves, quick learners that we were. In time, the gypsy count went up to 8. Driver cannily withdrew to a position where Kumbha would be walking towards us if he were to walk back to his bush. And so Kumbha did. 200 snaps in all. But wait, we were not done. As Kumbha majestically made his way back, and what a walk he had, all the Gypsies wheeled around and lined up one after the other (we were the first), but the middle two Gypsies came in last, and closed the last remaining gap and cut off Kumbha from his bush.

Upset with this stupidity, Kumbha stopped and looked visibly agitated, and it became tense. But soon the jeeps parted, made way for him and all ended well.
We splat, and on the way home bumped into Veeru, Kumbha’s son, who apparently had suffered some ill health and was looking less handsomely built than his bigger father. He walked along with us for a while, after which we rushed back, and post the formalities, boarded the return train.

I ain’t going back anytime soon. If I go, it will be only in June 1st week from hereon.

PS: The last 2 images are of Veeru, the son of Kumbha
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SharpShooter

New Member
Ranthambhore is only about tigers, it may be boring but its your call, they may be hiding in bushes or under rocks, but my 300 f/2.8 will get them all...
 
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