I must admit being more of a birder than a big cat person. But when you are on a nature and wildlife tour of Rajasthan, no sane enthusiast would miss Ranthambore – one of the biggest and most renowned national parks in Northern India.
The experience of Ranthambore was a bittersweet one – logistically chaotic till Rajasthani hospitality came to the rescue. This calls for a detailed blog, which will follow.
To manage the influx of visiting population, authorities have divided the tourism zone of Ranthambore national park further into several zones. The idea is to ensure wildlife is not harassed by all Safari vehicles ganging up to stalk them and at the same time manage the crowd efficiently.
Since experiencing the jungle was of higher priority to me, I didn’t bother which zone I was going. Of the twelve zones, the first five are popular and sought after on account of a buildup, that these zones have maximum sighting of ‘Big Cats’. I couldn’t care lesser, honestly.
As luck would have it, I was randomly allotted zone 5 and put in a cramped safari bus. Owing to the large lens attached to a professional looking camera that I was carrying, fellow travellers were kind enough to offer me a window seat. I squeezed myself into the space offered, awkwardly balancing the heavy equipment. Suddenly, I was the center of attention and everyone around seemed judgmental.
A little over 20 mins on safari track and we stopped near a waterhole. Seemed like, our driver got an indication from the driver of another safari vehicle ahead of us. He claimed to have seen a tiger hanging around there behind the bushes. As you would expect, within minutes atleast there were three other safari vehicles that lined up and I immediately knew we wouldn’t see anything. What was more annoying was the noise everyone around was making. Terribly pissed, I switched my camera off and picked my phone to check the status of my waiting list on the train I had to board the following day.
Amidst all of this chaos, senseless shouting and safari vehicles movement, suddenly the tiger indeed showed up. I couldn’t believe my eyes, this was a gorgeous subadult tigress ID’d as ‘T 102’.
Initially, we thought she ignored our presence. Did what seemed like her daily stretches and slowly started moving towards the waterhole.
Now is when I was actually struck by reality, pinched myself grabbed my camera and boom – it was in ‘off’ mode. Struggled in the cramped space to position my camera and compose the shot but to my surprise didn’t see the tiger in the viewfinder. Took my eyes off the lens barrel and saw her walking much closer than I had expected. Did my best to fit her in my frame and this image is what I could create.
Everyone around me thought I would show them an image which they would have never seen in their lifetime. I rather chose not to show anything, personally I was unhappy with the shot. But then, the Israeli couple in a seat behind me said it was an amazing shot, they had seen something on the my review LCD which I had missed noticing – the tigress was slyly keeping a watch on us. Zoom in on her eyes and you will know what I mean.
The moral I carried from this eventful safari ride is going to stay with me for life. Never would I ever underestimate a situation in the wild nor will I ignore an image clicked till I have a look at it on my computer screen.
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