After a great opening day safari and our expectations bar being raised, the following day morning safari was a dampener, well with respect to spotting tigers basically. Packed in a ‘canter’ (a 24 seater utility vehicle converted into a safari vehicle) we drove around a zone 4 hoping to catch a glimpse of at least one of the eight or nine tigers occupying the territory. Luck was not in favor and we had to return with happy memories of beautiful peafowl, great fish owl, woodpeckers and so much more. Lunch was a quick affair with stories and tips being exchanged between first time and repeat safari takers. Lokesh and his team spoke about the Ranthambore Jungles and the variety in terrain, flora that can be starkly observed from zone to zone.
Day 2 – Safari 3:
It was around 14:00 hours and the weather in Rajasthan was exactly as it was supposed to be during that time of the year. Dry and high at 46 degrees C the heat was making sure we felt it. Respect for the guides and the drivers on the trails went up a few notches as we watched them brave the heat day after day session after session. We covered ourselves with layers of clothing from head to toe. At the gates news from the days sighting and movements were being exchanged. The zone we had chosen had reported a dry run with nothing exciting to report. We crossed our fingers and ventured into the steep inclines and declines of Zone 1. This zone was a rather small zone and had confirmed movement of a tigress who had walked casually in a few evenings ago. Our eyes kept searching every bush, scrutinizing every movement in the wild but we returned with no sightings. Just as we thought it was over ur guides got inputs on some movement in Zone 3. We sat down tight as the vehicle tossed and turned over rocks on to the sheer dusty trails of Zone 3.
For those who have no clue what Zone 3 is – this is the Zone that was ruled by none other than Machhli (T-16) for a whopping 10 years. Machhli, easily the most photographed tigress of Ranthambore or even India has several pictures of her decorating walls all over the country. She has been featured on National Geographic umpteen times and has contributed to the deserved increase in popularity of Ranthambore. The entry to Zone 3 is through an old fort gate which stands for almost 1000 years. As we entered the park with the fort looming on us the stark change in scenario blew us away. The tight dusty pathways opened up to large pastures of green. At one point we could see the Padam Talao and Rajbagh Lake, a part of which had dried up and was covered with a lush green carpet of grass. Deer and sambar grazed in peace clearly indicating there was no tiger around. Our driver drove us around the lake to reach a spot where everyone was squinting their eyes to catch a glimpse of a tiger apparently sleeping in the water by the ruins of the Rajbagh platform. This platform was used by the kings to hunt or view wildlife when they visited the fort. We waited patiently until our driver got updated of movement on the other side. He quickly pulled out the vehicle and we drove away passing by ponds of water full of migrating birds like herons, egrets, painted storks.
Just as the vehicle climbed up an incline a passing jeep informed us about a tigress sleeping under a tree. Our driver carefully brought the vehicle to a halt with a view of the resting tigress. “Arrowhead” (T-84) a young adult female who had ousted her mother “Krishna (T-19) to occupy her territory. She lay there calmly. Disturbed by our presence she stood up and walked into the bushes giving us a brief appearance. Sighting Arrowhead was high on the wish list and we felt contented catching a glimpse of her. The mark on her forehead indicating an arrow had given her the name. She was among the litter of T-19 with siblings by the names of “Lightning (T-83)” and “Packman (T-85)”. Intrigued by the names these tigers have I realized they were to help identify tigers based on their patterns and unique identification marks.
Legend has it that the Tigress who rules Zone 3 is known as the ‘Queen of Ranthambore” – Arrowhead in this case had taken over this honor.
We changed our position back to where we had seen the mighty male “Chirico” (T-86 ) lying calmly by the ruins. We had started taking pictures of the large male as he had started to move. Restless in his posture he tossed his head from side to side in an uneasy fashion. Excited by the shots we got all of us were at the edge of the lrge vehicle. Suddenly we heard a deer call trying to alert everyone around us but frankly no one was interested. We had been gripped by the large male who had moved to sitting upright posing away like a king. He had moved, probably alerted by something that the jungle has been trained to notice which we humans have no clue about. There was something in the air.
Just about then silently as she had disappeared Arrowhead appeared from the dry grass nearby. She had walked right across the lake avoiding any confrontation with T-86 to where we were. She walked right past and sat down across us trying to pick up scent in the flowing breeze. She sat there giving us full view of her canines till she felt it was time to make her silent move. We followed her in anticipation of a hunt sequence to follow. Much to our disappointment she appeared once in anticipation of stalking and killing her prey and then walked openly onto the open grass pasture. Roars from T-86 started filling the air as the sun was setting behind the strong fort walls. He paced around the water edge clearly indicating his intentions to the tigress in the vicinity.
All other grazing animals had made hasty exits leaving the couple to themselves. We were left behind admiring the scenes that nature had presented in its rawest forms. Two ferocious animals of the animal kingdom in almost stupor of their surroundings were about to display their passionate sides. Our driver sensed the situation and looked at his watch flashing 6:45 pm. We headed out of the park clearly knowing what happened in Zone 3 and smiles flashing on our faces.
Just as we were exchanging notes at the check point near the exit gate our voices were silenced by a voice that called “Tiger !!” We strained our eyes in the setting darkness to see “Aurangzeb (T-57)” walk calmly across and move into Zone 1. That was the cherry on the icing.
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!”
― Rudyard Kipling,
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