India Day 7: Tracks

We’re supposed to be in the lobby by 6:30am for our second and last safari, which we are. But our Jeep doesn’t arrive until 7am. Early morning is the best time and we’re wasting daylight! So frustrating. We know to look for the zone number on the back of the Jeep and it’s again Zone 7. Lucky Zone 7… Luckily for us we’ve seen a tiger, so everything now is just frosting on the cake.

We have 2 Scotts with us and are then joined by 2 posh brits staying at the Taj. Every time we go over a bump they groan, and they make all kinds of derisive comments about how these Indians live. The guy sitting next to me is sick. Great. I’ll be sitting next to him for the next few hours.

Inside the gate we immediately see some tiger tracks, and they’re fresh, right on top of jeep tracks from yesterday. Luckily the road is soft and dusty for quite a ways and the tiger is clearly following the road. We make the same loop as yesterday but no luck and then head off a new direction. Up to a ridge where the road becomes rocky and we lose the tracks.

I spot some Samber Deer on the ridge above us and we take a moment. We’re the first Jeep down this road so we’re the tip of the spear! Another jeep comes up behind us and we need to move on.

This feels way more like Indiana Jones as we go bouncing down this road up and down some really steep grades until we go down one particularly steep bit and the jeep is crab walking a bit.

At the bottom we pick up the tracks again and head off at a good clip. We lose the tracks as the road gets rocky again so we go to the first watering hole. We’re not there long before the naturalist decides no tigers or leopards are here and we’re off over a steep hill and onto the next watering hole. Each time we get somewhere we stop and look around for a little bit before another Jeep is coming and we move on. We’ve now reached the end of the road and are doubling back. Each passing Jeep asks if we’ve seen anything but no.

We try another side path but no luck at this watering hole either. The tigers are keeping up Zone 7s reputation. Our driver and guide are doing a great job, but the tiger density in Zone 7 just pales in comparison to the others, it’s not their fault.

We then try to go back up that really steep grade from before and make it about half way before were spinning our wheels and kicking thick clouds of dust into the jeep and have to back down the hill again. This limits where else we can look at I’m thinking perhaps the tigers left the tracks down the road and then doubled back off the road and are laughing at us right now. Silly humans.

We take another path, but this one is along the outer edge of the park and we see a lot of cows being grazed on the park land, and they seem too relaxed for there to a tiger anywhere nearby. From here we exit and our ride is over. We see even less than yesterday, but more of the park. It was still fun, but I’m wishing we’d gotten to see other creatures.

Back at the hotel we have some breakfast finally and one of the guys working at the hotel chats us up. He suggests we might enjoy Ranthambore fort. We start to arrange a jeep but find out you don’t need a jeep to go there Sayam can take us. There is a lot of confusion since we wanted to call Sayam and tell him we’d be a couple of hours late. All we have today is to drive to Agra, so if we get in after dark, no worries. Adding to the confusion Sayam is named as Bhanwar Singh on our information from Narendra. Apparently Bhanwar was his grandfather’s name, and he being alive when Sayam was born, the Hindu priest automatically gave him that name per tradition. But in the confusion they call Sayam and he’s on his way, and then so are we. I ask how much we should expect to pay for a guide at Ranthambore and I’m told 200-300 rupees.

The parking lot at the fort is way too small for the holiday crowd and it’s amazing we all get in. Sayam waves over a guide who asks 450 rupees, we tell him we were told 300 and he agrees.

Our guide turns out to very good, and we get a detailed tour of the fort which has most of the same defensive tactics of other forts from this era and region. Like the others its part military barracks and part palace. The fort however wasn’t nearly so impervious and fell a long time ago and is now in ruins. We were expecting it to be pretty empty of tourists and mostly reclaimed by the jungle, but no, there are lots of tourists including more than one school group, and an army of monkeys with long tails who just sit on the steps and somehow don’t get their tails stepped on. Like in other places throughout India people stop us and ask to take their picture with us, its people of all ages. We’ve given in now and as long as it doesn’t disrupt us too much we oblige. If we don’t they’ll just clandestinely take them anyway. It reminds me of this little girl in the mall that first day clothes shopping who just couldn’t stop staring at me. At the end of the tour we’re so happy with our guide we pay him 500 rupees. The difference isn’t much to us, but is for him, and he went the extra mile the entire way.

From there we head back to the hotel to shower, finish packing and check out. We’re quick about it with one person packing while the other showers and are on the road quickly.

The drive to Agra is long, some 6 hours, and we stop sometime around 2 the first chance we get to eat. Because of the delay, we’re unable to see a fort along the way that Sayam had planned. We’re not too bothered, Ranthambore was a more important fort in its time, and it was cool to see one that did not survive.

Agra is a shit show. Traffic that shouldn’t be bad is. All the roads are small and no one wants to give way and wait their turn. The pollution is horrible and our eyes burn. Our hotel is on the other side of the city and it takes nearly an hour to cross over to it. We’re at the Clarks Shiraz and it’s our first big hotel of the trip. Think Renaissance or the link. We’re tired of twin beds pushed together and Jenn’s throat is sore from the pollution so we decide to spring the extra $40 for the night to get the deluxe room and upgrade. We tell them it’s our honeymoon hoping for them to wave the upgrade charge but instead we get congratulations all round and some free cake. Supposedly our room has a view of the Taj but I can’t see it. The room is nice, and I’m so looking forward to sleep in this bed!

We head to dinner, and on the rooftop of one of the two buildings are 3 restaurants, one of which is a BBQ and I order steak. Hopefully the chef and server are Muslim or Secularist otherwise that seems mean, but I’m craving something other than Aloo or Curry. It’s bland, but I’m still happy. The restaurant also boasts a Taj view, but again I can’t see it…

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