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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rajasthan 2015 - Feb 4th: Day 1: Mumbai - Jaipur Airport - Ranthambore

We had an early flight (0550 hours) from the Mumbai domestic terminal, and we arrived in Jaipur at a little after 0700 hours. It was a good, though a no-frills flight from Go Air. Our baggage was a bit overweight (4 kg, in fact), but they allowed us to go through. The airport at Jaipur is a small one, with just one baggage retrieval carousel. We got our bags pretty soon, and when we emerged outside, our travel driver, one Mr. Jitu (Jitendra Singh Rajawar) was waiting for us with his Toyota Innova. He is a humble, very nice and useful man, and would be the driver to choose if one wants to travel inside Rajasthan as well as in the places around this state, and if one wants, I can happily share his telephone numbers with them. He drives a company car, though, so you would have to negotiate with his company to get him to be your driver. 

His car was always spic and span. Although it is a relatively new car, you know what happens when the driver chooses not to keep the vehicle clean. Well, Jitu is a real oddball when it comes to maintaining himself and his car. Always dressed in neat clothes, he is athletic too, and walks or runs 6-7 km daily! His demeanour is HUMILITY itself; even that day, he stood with a placard bearing my name, but once I had waved at him to acknowledge his presence, he dropped the placard and folded both his hands in the umiversal gesture of bowing with a "Namaste". He quickly brought his car to the gate and we boarded all our pieces of luggage. The seating was 6 + driver, and while Nishrin occupied one of the middle row seats and Inas likewise, Hannah migrated to the back and I, next to the driver. While some bags were loaded on the top-carrier, many of the small bags fit nicely next to the rear seat. Thus, we left Jaipur airport. Our destination for the day: a direct drive to Ranthambore.

RANTHAMBORE

We checked into a tent-based accommodation at Ranthambore. This place is called Tiger Machan, and it is located just a few km away from the main gate of the National Park. We settled in, Nishrin and I in one tent, and the kids in an adjoining one (Tent nos. 2 and 3), and after some relaxation, we roamed around the grounds, played a bit of badminton, and so on, until we were called for lunch in the dining hall. The lunch was a simple affair of well-cooked food with one chicken item and the rest vegetarian ones. Shortly, we were called to be informed that the "canter", a 20-seater open vehicle that would take us on a Tiger Safari into the park had already arrived, and could we please go there and board it. So, we went. The canter is a strange open-ceilinged vehicle that allows tourists to sit on 2 by 2 seats. It tumbles and rumbles as it drives over rough roads. But it is the ideal safe vehicle from which one should watch big cats and other dangerous animals. 

RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK

Located 160 km from Jaipur and within 10-12 km from Sawai Madhopur town, Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in India. A quick reading at Wikipedia will give many more details. We purchased tickets for the Tiger Safari (each ticket costing 750 rupees) - from the hotel's manager-cum-owner Mr. Shailendra Singh. Thus, when the canter arrived, we were ready!










After entering the park's tiger reserve, anticipation climbed steadily on us spotting tigers. Our guide, a rustic middle-aged man, composed us by claiming that with him at the helm, we would certainly see tigers. He, however, laid down some rules on tiger-spotting, such as maintaining silence, not throwing food or other things at animals, etc. He also assured camera enthusiasts such as I that he would give us good opportunities to shoot - but we should learn to be patient, and be ready to click at a moment's notice. Sure, said I. Our canter moved on.

After a drive past a lake that had several species of waders and ducks, the guide took us deeper into the deciduous forest, until we came to a spot where there were several jeeps and a few other canters parked. Across a small valley and on the opposite hill lazed a young tiger! The next few pictures are of a documentary nature, as I did not have the very long zoom to capture that one very distinctly. However, it was obvious that the tiger was enjoying an afternoon siesta. As we kept clicking, the canter moved up a little, and we saw yet another young one lazing below the first one, the two being separated by hardly 50 meters. Our appetite was whetted even more, and the guide promised us that he would show us more. 








These, then, were the two off-spring of the mother who we might see later on the tour. As we moved on, we saw other citizens of the forest, such as Nil-gai, Sambar, Chittal, Wild-boars, and several birds, the most prominent among them - the ones who stayed with us right from the main gate up until the end - were the Rufous Tree-pies.





We also saw open-billed storks, the red-wattled lapwings, the darter bird,  and the cormorants as also Sheldon ducks and the Indian Crocodile (maggar).








Just as we were turning a bend in the road, there was an uncharacteristic flutter in the grass around us. A few chittal who must have been grazing there emerged and leapt away from the grass, as did several pea-fowl who must have been grazing inside the grass. A roar sounded momentarily, and we knew a tiger was hunting!

The female tiger who emerged from the grass seemed to completely ignore us as it walked past us, and several other jeeps and canters, only to quietly re-enter the long grass where it walked excellently camouflaged.






After this, we tried to re-locate it, found it sleeping inside the tall grass, and waited for her to awaken, but she never did, and so we returned to the main gate at around 6:30 p.m.

We then returned to our camp-site, where we were entertained by some locals who sang, played music and danced for us for about an hour. Lastly, we went back to the dining hall to eat our dinner. By half-past eight, we had returned to our tents, and we went to sleep by ten o'clock that night.












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