Mismanagement, corruption and resulting crowd menace at
Ranthambhore is increasing every year. It is no more a place where you can
watch a tiger walking the forest in peace.
After every visit, I said to myself that this is going to be the last
time. But the tigers of Ranthambhore keep bringing me back. We had a sighting
of T19’s cubs last year when they were just 3 months old. They were barely
larger than a house cat last June (2014). Now they are sub adult cubs of one
and half year. And they were treating tourists and photographers to some
lifetime’s sighting. They were everywhere in FB – playing in water, chasing
crocs, play fighting, suckling. The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is. - Jack Hanna. So I could not held me back. May be one last
time to Ranthambhore before moving out of Delhi.
Summer is the best time for watching the tiger in the wild. Temperatures
in Rajasthan during peak summers can soar to mind boggling degrees. It is not
easy to travel in an open gypsy, specially the journey of 3-4km from your hotel
till you enter the park, when scorching loo brush you at more than 40km an
hour. Yet, more and more people are braving the sun to travel in summers, even
to hot places like Ranthambhore. Demand for safari seats have gone up
drastically over the years. @Rs.750 per seat or @Rs.4500 per gypsy, safaris do
not come cheap. Most regulars to the park knows which zone to visit to get
maximum value for their money. Booking a safari online in your desired zone is
tough, in fact near impossible these days. The controversial online safari
booking process has grown in notoriety this year. Supply is as short as just 3
gypsy in each zone as against a train full of crowd clamouring for it. There is
sheer madness for online booking. Imagine a situation when you land there
without any booking! You will have to shell out 1000-1500 per seat in gypsy
depending on the day of the week. Or take a horrible ride in canter with a
motley crowd of 20 others, that too at a hefty rate of about 600 per seat.
|Tiger - Ranthambhore (High resolution image for professional use is available for sale at Getty Image)|
The prime attraction this summer was T19 with her three sub
adult cubs roaming in zone 3. So everyone who are familiar with Ranthambhore
wants to be in zone 3. There were only 18 seats available for online booking in
every safari session for zone 3 (or an equal no in each of the zones). Supply
was so short that the demand for zone 3 was unimaginable. Thanks to a friend, I
had to acquire special skill to beat it and manage booking for zone 3. This
happened after failed attempt over 4 nights, with even money getting deducted
on two occasion. Finally I got lucky on fifth night. Once I had managed zone 3
booking, planning the trip for other zone over 3 days was cakewalk. For all
those unfamiliar with this zone business may refer some of earlier posts on
Ranthambhore. Tiger dynamics changes every couple of years. Therefore, even
after ticking all boxes right in your trip plan, sighting a tiger is a matter
This year’s trip to Rnathambhore was my longest till date,
with 6 safaris spanning over 4 days. Ranthambhore was rocking this year. Baring
the first safari on Sunday afternoon, which was actually booked to fill the
spare time, we had ‘photographic’ tiger sighting. As a wildlife photographer,
and someone who had seen many tigers in wild, a ‘photographic’ sighting is all
that matters. Even one photographic sighting out of 4 or 5 I generally do in a
trip, sooths the soul. Here we got super sighting in 5 out of 6 safaris this
However it did not start off that well. My first safari in
zone 4 was actually more of an afterthought or ‘fill in’ kind of arrangement to
utilise my spare time after arrival in Ranthambhore. Safari in Zone-4 is a bone
rattling experience because of rocky roads. Though I had fond memories of
zone-4, this time I had no hope and hence I did not even carry my camera
expecting nothing to see. My only sighting of legendary Machli was in zone 4
and we had a close encounter with elusive T41. Sultan had also reportedly moved
into zone 4. Even though jungle always throws up surprises, expecting to see
any of the tigers was a farfetched hope. As expected it went blank. However as
were exiting the park, a disappointing piece of news passed onto us was that
T19 had moved with her cubs into adjoining zone previous day, and has not been
seen since either in zone 2 or 3. They might have made a kill deep inside and
hence were not coming out. It was enough to plan a seed of worry in my mind.
Next morning, leaving our can of worries behind in hotel, we
set off our next safari in zone-3, touted as sure shot sighting zone. It took
me 5 night’s attempt to get zone 3 booking. The bad news of previous evening
was confirmed barely minutes into the safari. The T19 family had not returned
to their lakeside palace. After checking the area around Padam talao for sign
of T19 families return to the lake, our guide decided to explore upper areas
where another tiger T64 is occasionally seen. We went up and down, but could
not track down any tiger more than one hour into the safari. This was supposed
to be sure sighting zone! Everyone was clamouring for it. I too had come only
after getting zone-3 booking. It was rocking for last few months with 4-5 tiger
regularly roaming the scene, and here, we are yet to find even a single tiger.
I know that despite ticking all boxes right in your trip plan, sighting a tiger
is a matter of luck. ‘Best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray’. That
day, we were in zone-3 and the tigers were in adjoining zone-2. We would be
going to zone-2 next day, and what if tigers return to zone-3 that night. The
thought was frightening. The ghost of not sighting a tiger in any of the
safaris in this trip started haunting me. Couple of my friend had this
misfortune once. In that trip together I beat them by the barest margin of just
a single tiger sighting in four safaris. You have to be extremely unlucky not
to see a tiger in 4-5 safaris.
| A tiger amidst dust cloud at Ranthambhore. Image courtsey my daughter Swathi.|
With an ever increasing bag of woes and the sun over our
head getting hotter by minutes, we came back to Rajbagh area, expecting against
hope for one of the T19 cubs to return. We had about two hours of safari time
left with nothing to do but to wait in hope. “The miserable have no other medicine but
hope.” Then came the moment which was
change the course of our fate in next 48 hours. We saw a gypsy hurrying onto
the dirt track we were standing. In one of them was the national award winning
wildlife film maker S Nallamuthu. I know him for quite some time now. On seeing
me, he informed that tiger is reported at a spot called platform. We too hit
the dusty trail left behind by Nalla’s gypsy. And there he was. T64, the male cub from T19’s last litter was cooling
off majestically in lake, with the Ranthambhore fort and Rajbagh hunting palace
as backdrop. It was a dream backdrop for a Ranthambhore tiger frame. T64 took
the opportunity of T19’s absence to visit the area where he grew up. We were
looking for him up in the hills, but he was sleeping by the lake. T19, though
his mother, no more tolerate T64 in lake area for the safety of her new litter.
The sighting soothed our frayed nerves. Now we were relieved that we had a
tiger sighting and the trip will not go blank. I cannot express this sense of
relief in word.
More importantly, this was the moment that had changed our
luck. In the afternoon safari, we caught up with T64 again, before he went up
the hill to cross over to zone-4. My two safaris in zone-3 was in expectation
of T19 and three cubs. But they were zone-2 that day. Now I have full day
booked for zone-2 next day. What if T19 moves back to zone-3 that night? And, with T24 no more there to give a
darshan, what if we do not get to see a tiger tomorrow. Many IFs remained unanswered
Next morning we entered zone 2 with an air of uncertainty.
Barely half kilometre into the park, there were they – the T19 family. Partly
hidden behind tall grasses, they were lying by a dry nullah. We were informed that
all 4 of the family were there. As cavalcade of gypsy’s started arriving one by
one, T19, the mother of the cubs got up and started walking. Two of the cubs
also got up and followed her. We did not find the third cub though. As the
tigers started moving, the madness of vehicle started. Fortunately the mother
and the cubs went different way. Therefore the drivers and guides of the
vehicles were making choices on the tracks to hit.
As the commotion continued, the cubs sat down to became
invisible, while T19 perched herself up in almost open. Few canters arrived by
then and join the hordes of gypsys already there. Officially there is supposed
to be only 5 gypsy. But there were too many. How and why is known to most
regulars to Ranthambhore. We got caught up in traffic jam. I hate Ranthmbhore
for this madness. If we give tigers more space, they will be more relaxed. What
is required is an open view, not close view. Unfortunately most people do not
have long lenses like photographers. Instead of enjoying the moment, they too
would like to click with their PS or mobile or whatever they have, without
realising the banality of it. If vehicles are parked sparsely, rather than
crowding around the tiger, everyone will get a good view. I will love if one of
the tiger of Ranthambhore turn charger. But then they may send him to zoo like
T19 decided to excuse herself of the scene and went down a
deep nullah. Meanwhile one of the cubs came out to a waterhole by the road. Vehicles
started to converge there. One more cub joined in after some time. Despite of
the crowd, I managed to get some pleasing frames. The overcast sky lent lovely
diffused light for the scene. As I had
only half the gypsy, it was not easy to manoeuvre my heavy 400mm lens. My
daughter would not allow me to use her 70-200. I missed my old warhorse
100-400. In Corbett, I generally use to hire a full gypsy. But in Ranthambhore,
it is very costly @ 4500/- per gypsy. That too when you are doing 5-6 safaris.
I was happy with the frames, given the limitations of sharing the gypsy with 6
persons. After full three hours of tiger sighting, we returned to hotel, all
sporting smug smiles.
The good news for the evening safari was that the cubs
decided stay back where we had left them in the morning. Therefore, we had
another round of super sighting, but in different light conditions in the
afternoon safari. After spending about an hour with the cubs, cooling off in
the waterhole, our guide opined that we should go up and explore other areas
and look for other tigers. We had enough of the cubs for the day. Two gypsy
were ahead of us as we hit the road winding up a hill. On turning a bend, we
saw the two vehicle ahead of us reversing. Our guide immediately realised that
a tiger is coming straight at us on the road. When a tiger comes your way, you
are supposed to reverse and give way. But then the inevitable occurred.
Another gypsy came behind us and its driver was shouting at
us. He was telling our driver that ‘tera tanki phut gaya’. Your petrol tank had
ruptured. As the tiger was about hundred meter away, our driver checked and
found petrol leaking through a big crack. We all felt the vehicle hitting a
rock while crossing a stream some 50 mtrs downstream. It is quite usual in
safari. What is unusual is a ruptured tank. ‘There is no such thing as
accident; it is fate misnamed.’ Driver had the means to stop the leak, but as
the tiger was approaching us, he could not get down. Now he was worried that we
might have no fuel left by the time tiger crosses us. As the vehicle ahead of
us were shouting us to go back, our driver managed to bring the vehicle to a
point where they could barely cross us. Then he positioned the vehicle in a
downward position as the hole was towards the rear of the tank. Keeping it
downward will drain the petrol slower.
By now the tigress T19 had almost reached us. She was
surprised that we have not moved back. She stopped about 15 feet from our gypsy.
She looked at us and then stood up holding a tree by the road, picking up scent
left by her kins. May be smell of petrol leaked was confusing her. Her
behaviour was clearly indicating that she was expecting us to give way. But we
were stuck. Could not tell her ‘tanki phut gaya’. Our gypsy was parked tightly
by the hill, leaving barely 4-5 feet of space on the road. As we were not
bulging, she explored the possibility of going down. But it was steep gorge on that
side. Finally she decided to cross our gypsy, walking by almost the edge of the
road. We were told to sit tight and not make any sound or movement. She should
not feel threatened at all while crossing us. Trepidation in all six occupants
of the gypsy were palpable. ‘Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but
thank him for not having given it wings’. As she walked passed us, she kept an
eye on our vehicle all the time.
As the tense moments passed, and the tiger had reached a
safe distance, our driver to get down and managed to plug the leak with soap
and cloth. However, almost all the fuel has drained by then. The driver and
guide said that in their career spanning over 10-15 years, this is the first
time that such an incident had occurred. What an experience for us too. We will
never forget those minutes. I had couple of tyre punctures during safaris earlier.
But never something like this. The driver decided that as we would be going
mostly downhill, we would reach the Jhalra gate if we make a dash. There they
could get some help or a replacement vehicle.
The driver managed to turn around in whatever space he had
and then made a dash. Soon we faced the road block of vehicles still flocking
the cubs by the waterhole. Our driver shouted at them to give way, else if he
stops all might get blocked. We managed to wade our way through the crowd, and
finally even out of the Sherpur gate. Thanks to very skilful driving by the
driver. Even the last drop of fuel was consumed and the vehicle come to a halt.
Our safari ended one hour earlier that day. But it was a safari we will never
It has been an eventful trip till then. We were pretty happy
with the sightings. Therefore we set out for our 6th and the final
safari to zone 3 on morning of day-4 without any expectations. And best things
happens when you have no expectations. May be.
Within minutes of entering the gate, we noticed a couple of
gypsy. The behaviour of the occupants clearly pointed to presence of a tiger.
We reached the spot in no time. There she was, crouching behind a scrub, lying
in wait for a herd of wild boar. One of the female cubs of T19 had moved into
zone-3 overnight. The barren landscape provided a great viewing of the stalking.
Due to her inexperience, the hunting attempt failed. The cubs are still learning.
Then she went onto give us some wonderful sighting and photo opportunities that
morning. She walked couple of kilometres around the Padam Talao, scent marking,
chasing deer, before finally disappearing over the dhonk trees up in the hill. This
female cub had grown very bold and have started to stay alone of late. She has
the blood of Machli. May be another Machli is in the making.
With the lone tiger of zone-3 gone for the day, the
activities had now shifted to Jhlara as news of other tigers attempting to
cross over to zone-3 were pouring in. There is a nullah by choti chatri, where
brethren from zone 2 and 3 exchange information. However we got to see only one
more of the cubs before our time was over. A happy ending depends on where one
decides to stop. It was time to end our journey this year, on happy note.
The controversy over Ustad aka T24 had not died down. T24
had gone to jail. With it went to dust the reputation of some well-known people
or so called tiger ‘experts’. Everyone has an opinion in the matter. My 13 year
old daughter also had her view against this jailing of T24. Keeping in mind the
sensitivity of the issue, I told my family not to raise the topic to any driver
or guide, as they may differ our point of view. However, each of the 12
different guides and drivers, I met in the 6 safaris, voluntarily offered their
view, blaming these few people for the debacle. They were all against the
shifting of Ustad. They were not scared to name these guys and shower few
abuses on them. Even if I do not name
those few people, all familiar with the issue knows who they are. We missed you
Ustad, in this trip, and in all the trips to come.
Labels: India, Ranthambhore, Ranthambore, tiger, Travel, wildlife
posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 2:02 PM
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Peak of summer in Rajasthan. An angry sun looking down in
contempt for the scars human folks had etched on mother earth, letting the
temperature soar above 45 degrees. The barren landscape, generally devoid of
green, appears more desolate. I was on my annual pilgrimage to Ranthambhore,
located near Sawai Madhopur, driving down almost 450 km in these conditions from
Delhi. The searing heat will boil the tin box you are travelling into an oven.
At times you will barely feel the existence of the air conditioner. One needs
to get out of the car to feel that the AC is actually working. I had done this trail
for last three years without fail. Every time I did it, I said to myself that
this is the last time. But the tigers of Ranthambhore keep bringing me back.
|Emergence : A tigress from zone 7 in Ranthambhore|
Summer is the best time for watching tigers in the wild.
More and more people are braving the sun to travel in summers, even to hot
places like Ranthambhore. Demand for safari seats have gone up drastically over
the years. Booking a safari online in your desired zone is tough, in fact near
impossible these days. The controversial online safari booking process has
grown in notoriety this year. Supply is as short as just 18 seats as against a
train full of crowd clamoring for it. There is sheer madness for booking.
Thanks to a friend’s coaching, I could acquire special skill to crack the
booking conundrum and manage full days booking for zone 3 and 2. Therefore I am
back in Ranthambhore again.
Despite the convenience of trains, I prefer driving down to
Ranthambhore. Reason number one is that carrying my heavy camera gear is easier
with car. Having a car at disposal also helps you get safari permits released
by self or get a chilled beer from shop at half rate than your hotel. Of all
the combinations of routes out of Delhi, the
Gurgaon-Dharuhera-Bhiwadi-Alwar-Sikandara-Dausa-Sawai Madhopur is the shortest
route from Delhi. From my residence close to East Delhi, the distance via this
route is about 400km. Most part of this is tolled highway and hence drive is
generally pleasant. However hold up is common on NH8. The perpetual road work
on NH8 was seen creating long jams on opposite carriageway at two places.
Fortunately it was not our carriageway and we were spared with a 15-20 min hold
up at Manesar toll both.
As my first safari was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, I
had a Saturday to spare. I decided to utilise it to take a small diversion
en-route to Sariska. Besides sparing me the pain of driving down 400 plus km on
a single day in this heat, this diversion would also allow me to explore the recently
opened Sterling Tiger Heaven Resort. I have a Sterling Holidays membership, and
Sariska at 200km is the nearest resort from Delhi. Thus on day 1, I drove
around 200km to Sariska via Alwar and then next day, I covered about 250km from
Sariska to Ranthambhore (via Sikandara). I had started from Sariska around 8am after
breakfast, yet I had reached Sawai Madhpur well on time for my afternoon safari
at 2pm. Road condition is mostly excellent, and at worst drivable. The drivable
section referred to is the 38 km stretch of Alwar-Sariska road.
My three nights stay at Ranthambhore this year has been my
longest till date. Ranthambhore was rocking this time of the year. Baring the
first safari on Sunday afternoon, which was actually booked to fill the spare
time, we had ‘photographic’ tiger sighting. As a wildlife photographer, and
someone who had seen many tigers in wild, a ‘photographic’ sighting is all that
matters. Even one photographic sighting out of 4 or 5safaris, which I generally
do in a trip, sooths the soul. Here we got super sighting in 5 out of 6 safaris
On the day of my return, I did morning safari that would end
around 10am and hence was not expected to check out before 12am. This means that
I would be reaching Gurgoan around 6pm and then would be meandering though peak
office hour traffic all the way to Ghaziabad. That would be too much taxing
after driving 350km for 5-6 hours. The perpetual road work on NH8 and
possibility of jams was also a deterrent. So the idea of trying out a different
route dawn on me. The alternate route is via Bharatpur-Mathura-Yamuna
Expressway-Noida. This would complete the full cycle of
Delhi-Sariska-Ranthambhore-Bharatpur-Delhi wildlife circuit. With this route, I
would emerge at Noida, close to my residence in East Delhi, thereby avoiding traffic
nightmare via Gurgaon.
Keeping the new route in mind, we started from Sawai
Madhopur around 12 noon. In any case, we had to travel 150km to Sikandara
before taking the call. The attendant at the Sikandara toll both on Jaipur-Agra NH11 estimated the distance to Bharatpur as 60km. I had done 150 already, plus
60 more, and Bharatpur to Delhi via Yamuna Expressway is about 200km. This
comes about 410, almost the same as that of Alwar-Gugaon option. Therefore I
decided to continue straight to Bharatpur, instead of turning left for Alwar.
But the very next road sign I came across announced the distance to Bharatpur
as 85km. This added 25km to the journey to make it almost 435km. I was already
in a state of no return, and hence only option was to continue driving ahead. However
the saving grace was the excellent road condition and very little traffic.
Unlike NH8, which is always full of trucks, there were very few trucks on NH11.
On reaching outskirt of Bharatpur, we exited NH11 and took the Mathura by-pass
to avoid the town. This road is familiar to me as I have been to Bharatpur many
times. Passing through Mathura, we reached Yamuna Expressway without any held
up. Soon after crossing Jewar toll plaza, we took a break, the only one of the
trip, after 5 hours of non-stop driving. Being a weekday, traffic on expressway
was also low. We hit Noida almost on the stroke of evening. The drive of almost
400km upto Noida was very pleasant, mainly because of very low traffic en-route.
Finally we got stuck in office hour traffic at the
Akshardham junction to NH24. But it was nothing as compared to what I would
have to endure via Gurgaon at those hours. Thus the decision to return via
Bharatpur turned out to be a prudent one. The extra 35km
and additional Rs.120/- toll paid was worth it. In fact, if one is travelling from
East Delhi / Ghaziabad / Noida, then I feel that this route should be
preferred. Those living around South or West Delhi and Gurgaon, have only one
option via Alwar. Total toll via Alwar route was Rs.280/- and via Bharatpur was
Rs.400/- (including 240 paid for Expressway use).
With this trip, I had completed the full cycle of
Delhi-Sariska-Ranthambhore-Bharatpur-Delhi wildlife circuit. Total distance
covered was about 950km. I had now explored all possible routes to Ranthambhore
viz. via Jaipur-Dausa, via Alwar-Sikandara-Dausa and via Bharatpur-Dausa. You
can explore my blog for my earlier write up on these other route options.
Labels: delhi to ranthambhore by road, delhi to ranthambhore via Bharatpur, delhi to sawai madhopur by road, Ranthambhore, Travel
posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 9:46 PM
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