India Day 6: Stripes

We started the day with a 7am breakfast, before it was supposed to open at 7:30. Sayam was waiting for us at the gate so we asked him to give us 15 minutes so we could have breakfast.

I wanted to see the Jal Mahal, the palace on the lake for some photos before leaving Jaipur. We’d seen it as we’d gone by but I wanted to shoot some shots. It’s the other side of town so Sayam was a bit trepidations, but the traffic turned out fine. Sadly the palace was completely back lit so it was impossible to get a good shot, it would have looked best at sunset yesterday…

Sayam forgot some important driver documents at his guest house, but luckily his brother lives in Jaipur and was able to grab them and meet us half way for a quick handoff. And we’re off to Ranthambore. Or Sawaimohadpur rather, the town outside the park.

The drive is 4 hours roughly, and we pass many small villages along the way. I feel to some degree I’m seeing the real India here.

Our hotel is meh, 2 singles not even pushed together. The room isn’t that nice. Its ranked 5th on trip advisor, and Taj has a hotel here as well which is of course #1 and the Maharaja’s old private hunting lodge. I think given a choice I’d have upgraded here and spent a bit more money. Lunch starts late because breakfast starts late, after the morning safari. We waste time until 1pm, I’m having trouble uploading photos for my journals I’ve completed, but I make progress slowly but surely.

Lunch is fine, but nothing to write home about (though that’s exactly what I’m doing with this sentence?) Jenn though sees a rat afterwards come scurrying out of the kitchen area… not the best of signs.

We’re prompt as always, downstairs in the lobby at 2:30 when we’re told for the 2:30-3:00 pm window. At 2:55 I start to get worried we missed it and were supposed to be waiting outside like the others we see being picked up. I ask the front desk but just as I do here comes our Jeep looking for a Cellen and Jenifer. I think that’s us?

We ask which zone we are because we’ve been told 4, 5, and 6 are best, with 4 the highest chance, 2 and 3 being lower, and 1, 7, and 10 (yea they skipped numbers) being rare. We’re going to 7. It’s all the way across town and we already seem like we’re running late. My heart sinks. Damn, there goes 1 shot at seeing a tiger. We’ll have to hope for a better zone tomorrow.

Our driver tries to get us into Zone 6 but no dice. Into the park we go. It feels a bit like the Indiana Jones ride with 3 to a row bouncing over terrain in an ex-Indian Army jeep.

Half a mile in we come to a stopped Jeep, and we’re waved quiet. It’s explained there is a tiger sleeping under a tree not too far away and we can just barely make it out. Apparently a kid from that Jeep was the one who found her! Wow what luck! Zone 7 draw, and then to find one hardly any distance in? Through my telephoto lens I can see her open her eyes from time to time. I wish we’d brought binoculars. Every so often she twitches her ears, a fly is bothering her. Then we get a big lawn and she gets up and trots off away from us into some tall grass. She’s not threatened by us, but we’re definitely bothering her. Now we can barely see her and she’s napping again.

Our driver decides we should go for a spin around the park to see if we can see anything else before she gets up to go get a drink, usually around sunset. So off we go at a clip stopping to see the nest of Bower Birds, and then some Samber Deer, the tiger’s favorite prey because of their poor eye sight and big size.

We keep an eye in the trees for leopards, but no luck and make the loop back to our tiger who is still asleep in the same position. We’re joined by a third jeep, and the first one moves off to make a similar loop. We don’t have to wait long though, she gives another big yawn, gets up and walks back down to the dry river we found her in, and then right by our jeeps. The last one to join us has the perfect view, but my lens is long enough that I still pick up some good shots past their jeep. She trots down the road we’re on for a good quarter km before turning right and going off into the brush. Darn. We try to get a view of her, but no one can see very deep in and she’s disappeared now. There is one watering hole in this direction so both jeeps head there.

After a bit of time sitting there our guide decides she’s not coming with us so close and we back up. At this point I’m thinking we’re just going to sit further away and wait, it’s not dark yet, just dim, but no, we make a turn and head out of the park… I think for him its mission accomplished, we’ve seen more than we’re supposed to in Zone 7. But I’m disappointed, we started late and ended early. Every moment is worthwhile, and even if we don’t see a tiger, perhaps some other creature will make showing.

I tip our driver and guide a bit, not much because through most of India tips are unexpected but appreciated and I’m a bit peeved about leaving early. Back at the hotel though I email Narendra again to ask how much we should be tipping these guys and he explains here they get a good portion of their income off tips. Tomorrow I’ll tip more…

I don’t quite have enough underwear to make it to Indonesia so I wash a few pair in the sink and hang them to dry next to the AC unit.

Before dinner they set up a projector and put on a DVD called “Broken Tail” the story about a Tiger from Ranthambore who is hit by a train trying to find more space outside of the park, and the problems facing India’s small and isolated tiger population. It’s interesting and we learned a lot, but have to leave right before the epilogue because dinner service started just after the movie did and we don’t have much time before it finishes. The dinner food is actually quite good and they have a potato marsala I really liked.

Tomorrow is another day of Safari, and it feels like a lot of the pressure is off. We’ve seen our Tiger in the wild against the odds, so now hopefully we see another part of the park and some other animals. Not that more Tiger time wouldn’t be awesome.


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