Monday, June 11, 2012

Eye of the Tiger: Ranthambore National Park, India

Welcome to Ranthambore National Park in northern India, home of one of the most majestic predators in the jungle: the tiger.  Over the course of three days, we went on three safaris in the national park.  Click the link to read about our attempt to look into the eye of a tiger.

Ranthambore National Park is the home to an imposing 10th-century fort, which overlooks a large forest filled with many wild animals, including arguably the most famous living tiger in the world, Machli.  Machli owes most of her fame to the fact that she goes about her business seemingly oblivious to jeeps and humans, and thus she has been photographed more than any other tiger and has been the subject of three documentary films.  Machli has given the park 11 cubs, which is significant in a park with only 35 tigers.  She also is famously protective of her cubs, having killed at least eight crocodiles in defense of her cubs.  During battles with crocodiles and other tigers, she has lost four teeth, including both canines, but she still manages to hunt.  If you google "Machli," you'll find a series of tributes written to her in 2010, when she turned 14 years old and became the oldest documented tiger, and it was expected that she would die imminently.  But it is now 2012, and Machli still roams Ranthambore.  We traveled to Ranthambore National Park with the hope of catching a glimpse of her.
We booked our three safaris online, months in advance of arriving at the national park.  But the actual safari tickets must be procured on the day of the safari by waiting in line at 5:00 a.m. at a safari office a few miles from the park.  Like virtually all foreign tourists, we arranged with our hotel to obtain our tickets for the first safari.  Given the name of our hotel, the Tiger Safari Resort, we figured they would be a good choice to arrange a safari to allow us a glimpse of a tiger.  However, instead of the quiet, six-seat jeep we booked online, we ended up being picked up by a noisy, 16-seat vehicle which had 20 people stuffed on it.  We also learned that we had been assigned to drive in a zone where tigers are seldom seen, despite the fact that we had requested a different zone online.  Not surprisingly, we saw very little, other than the backs of the heads of the people sitting in front of us.

We did see some beautiful scenery, including the scene pictured above, with the Ranthambore Fort overlooking the forest, a lake, and the red national park hotel, which is only open to VIPs (for example, Bill Clinton has stayed there).

We went on our own to tour the 10th-century Ranthambore Fort. 

The sprawling fort, which is located 300 feet above the rest of the national park, contains numerous Hindu temples and a lake.


The fort is home to numerous playful monkeys, including some who eat a white powder which made their faces look like they have a serious drug problem.


In order to increase our chances of seeing a tiger, we decided to take the safari booking process into our own hands.  This involved waking at 4:45 a.m., taking a 15-minute auto rickshaw ride to the safari ticketing office, and jostling with a large group of Indian hotel representatives to get the attention and favor of the ticketing agent.  Above are photos and a video from one of the two mornings that Nick fought for us to get a good safari vehicle and zone.  Nick succeeded in getting us a favorable zone for spotting a tiger.  This zone is usually reserved for tourists staying in the best hotels in town (where rooms cost over $1,000 a night), as opposed to tourists like us, who were staying in a hotel with $25 rooms.  Nice work, Nick!

We set off on our second safari in a jeep, which was smaller and quieter than the 16-seat vehicle we had taken earlier. 

More importantly, we had an experienced guide, who scanned the ground for tiger tracks, and watched and listened to the deer for signs that a tiger was near.

After a couple of hours of driving, suddenly our guide spotted a tiger in the distance!  Above is a photo taken with as much zoom as my camera would allow of the tiger, with a peacock walking in the foreground.

We would have been satisfied with spotting a tiger from a distance, but after a few minutes of waiting, the tiger stood and slowly began walking towards our jeep.  The tiger was none other than arguably the most famous (and oldest) living tiger in the world, Machli. 

Above are two videos taken just after Machli stood and began walking in our direction.  Notice in the beginning of the first video how quickly the deer scatter when they catch wind of Machli.

The above photo was taken while I was shooting the second video above.  Judging by the expressions on our faces, I was the only person in our group who was a frightened by a large predator circling our unenclosed jeep; Beth and Nick just look happy!


We also saw plenty of other interesting animals on our safari, including crocodiles, owls, peacocks, and a large python.

We saw plenty of birds, including one fellow who left Beth a souvenir on her bag while we took a break.


On our third and final day, we again went to the ticketing office ourselves at 5:00 a.m., where Nick again procured a favorable vehicle and zone for that day's safari.  Once again, we were lucky, and we had another incredible tiger sighting: a large male tiger walked past a group of jeeps (unlike the previous day, we were not alone this time during our sighting), and walked around a lake.

Seeing the majestic tiger in the wild was a wonderful experience, and it ranks as one of the highlights of our trip.


Anonymous said...

Just watched the documentary on tv and I instantly became obsessed with this fascinating tiger called machli. I have also just been through your pictures and wanted to say top knotch. I officially now have a keen interest in the tiger. Thank you kevin hatton,from HASTINGS, ENGLAND

Jason said...

Thank you for your comment Kevin. Seeing Machli was an amazing experience. I hope someday soon you are able to go to India and see her as well!

Mansi said...

This is very good post and thanks for sharing this information. Ranthambore is amazing national park to spot tigers and many other wildlife.
Ranthambore Stay
Ranthambore Resort

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