It means I have been away, travelling.
While the summer sun is blazing in all its glory and all wisdom says stay indoors, we go to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. The temperature here is couple of degrees more than even our home base Hyderabad, which itself is a nice and toasty 42deg. Furthermore, being close to the desert there is the deadly dry wind called the loo that blows relentlessly the entire afternoon.
Still, I had the itch, so we went! Two brave souls, my friend and I, towing our little daughters along. Persuading my friend and her daughter to come along to see the Ranthambore forest, and maybe a tiger or two, was not difficult, once I convinced myself it was okay – I had a hunch that if we did things the right way the kids would survive without much wear and tear.
It was a hectic trip from the word go. All we did was pack our bags, buy our tickets to Mumbai and get on the bus from Hyd to Mumbai ( a full 15 hours). The rest, we figured, would take care of itself.
And so it did. Jungle Lore, good guys these, had it all planned out for us. Our train tickets from Mumbai to Sawai Madhopur station were done, and the train journey, inspite of the train being overcrowded, was tolerable.
Aaahh… the forest. I could not have enough of it. We went for five safaris in all, and every time I’d look forward to climbing onto the open Gypsy and just going out into the forest. I cannot try to explain the feeling – its somewhere in there, why I don’t know. Tiger or not, I was quite happy to be out and about, in-spite of concerns for N ( who was after all only three, and likely to be exhausted by the heat), and despite having to hold her on one arm while trying to take photographs with the Nikon D40 SLR ( by no means as light as a point and shoot camera).
Ranthambore national park has five zones, and on day two, in zone two, a tiger was skillfully tracked down. While she lay basking in the morning sun near the water, we waited for her to move; this she did, though at her own pace, getting up, walking across the small dam, and laying down in the ruins of some old monument to escape the increasing heat. She was beautiful, even from far. After all, she is Machchli’s daughter – the famous Machchli, who is singly responsible for half the tiger population of the park. This grande-dame of Ranthambore national park has a reputation for survival – bringing up her cubs even when she was injured, and without the help of her mate ( as the male is apt to move onto other things besides kid rearing).
The afternoon of day two in contrast was all about the waiting and the anticipation – and the eventual swallowing of disappointment. We waited in silence ( you can imagine how difficult that was with two kids in the Gypsy) close to a tiger kill, expecting the tigers would come back. But they did not.
On our last morning there was a near miss. We didn’t even know how close were were until we were told. We had only planned to go to the fort and back. This time the tiger crossed the road right after our vehicle passed.
Some folks were more lucky then us, they had close encounters that make for great evening conversation. Some were less lucky – they did not even get a glimpse of the animal they had travelled so far to see. They are the ones who will ruefully talk about the pugmarks and scratches on trees.
In the whole scheme of things, we were perhaps medium lucky, having seen a tiger clearly but not at close range.
To me, though, the tracking and information sharing and all the goings-on were equally exciting, as much as the final spotting. A few more of these, and I knew I would have become an addict of this game of tracking, which I think retains some of the thrill of the old hunting days. I could see the gleam in the eyes of the guides as they went about their work passionately – trying to find those tigers for us tourists. It is likely their grandfathers may have done a similar kind of tracking for the Maharaja, who used to hunt in these forests much before it became a National Park. The impenetrable looking fortress inside the park reminds us that once there used to be kings ruling in these parts.
For the sake of completeness, I should mention everything else we saw, but that I am leaving for my more factual and practical blog, http://closetonature.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/the-tigers-of-ranthambore-national-park/
For this time, I’d like to remember the golden rays on the backs of the spotted deer and the beauty of the peacocks. The grey-blue of the nilgais and the scarlet patches of flame of the forest lighting up the dry trees. And the baby crocs in the little puddle of water that hopefully would last them till the rains come.
They said the rains make the whole place look so different – waterfalls on the creeks, greenery springing from the leaves. But that is another day. For now, the forests are dry, the greenery only in patches – the dryness of the foliage enhancing the vivid colors and beauty of the animals in it.