Today we have an early start to get to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve by train. The plan is to arrive in time for an afternoon game drive. We begin at O-Dark-Thirty (0500 actually) to catch our train. The Delhi station is very sad. Families live here–it is under cover–looking for handouts to survive.
The little ones sent to beg broke our hearts.
We ‘re in the first class pullman “sleeping” compartments, with AC.
It ‘s quite fun, but we’re sure not in Kansas anymore. Our section has an upper and lower pull-down bed on each side. Our group put our suitcases in the top bunk and used the bottom as a seat.
An Indian family already was fully ensconced on one side. The grandmother was sleeping under a sheet on the bottom bed (I just couldn’t take her picture) and the father meditated (for almost an hour) on the top bunk. “OhhMmmm, why won’t these people stop jabbering.” That’s just a joke. They were very nice to the cazy tourists.
We made friends (a bit) with the grandmother, mother and daughter. This was a slow process during our 5-hour trip. We shared some candy from our box lunch with the young girl, and we all waved and took pictures when we left.
The trip itself was fascinating. General passenger areas were stuffed.
And trains stopped at stations for 5 minutes. You had to have all your things ready at the door so you could jump off with your luggage before it left. This was obviously a bigger deal for us. Indians traveled much lighter.
The countryside became more hilly and much more arid…it reminded us of New Mexico. And each stop gave a new close up on some villages. They seemed a step up from the shanties in the city.
There were families with houses between the tracks.
Some even had running water and they went on with their morning washing as we passed.
A meager existence to say the least. Harsha, our Indian Nat Hab guide explained those in the lowest caste remain there their whole lives. Even if they are lucky enough to get a scholarship and an education, they only have a chance to make more money. They will always remain in their caste. There is no upward mobility. Later, we learned more about this from our guide in Agra.
Heading south, the women’s clothes became brighter as the countryside became drier. Women wore more rich reds, pinks, oranges, and blues.
We got off QUICKLY and drove 20 minutes to our lodge, the Des Villas, just outside the game park gates.
After a quick lunch (including onions, said to stave off the heat) and some organization, we headed out for 4 hours in the park hunting for tigers. Mad dogs and Englishman….It is a whopping 130°. Oh, and did I mention our game cars have no tops? Lots of sun block, hats and long-sleeve shirts. And water.
The park is divided into 5 quadrants with limited access to each, so wildlife isn’t overwhelmed. Rangers are everywhere, protecting the animals. This was a fortress for centuries, most recently the Maharishi of Jaipur, and some of the walls remain.
The land became an animal sanctuary in 1959 and Indira Ghandi made it a protected tiger reserve in 1991.
The park is full of wildlife. These sambar, in the deer family, cool off by a river while the cormorant fishes.
Indian peafowl are everywhere. Hopefully we’ll get close to a male “dancing” at some point.
And langur monkeys, many carrying babies, are all over. They have tails that must be over 3 feet long.
This is a dry deciduous forest and it is parched right now. Most water comes during the summer monsoons that deluge–and close–the park from July-September.
Now watering holes are packed with game–a tiger buffet.
Salim, our head Ranthambhore guide explained this is why we’re here now in the intense heat–so we have a better chance of sighting the elusive tigers as they are drawn to the pools.
As it turns our, Salim was involved in a project that first sparked our interest in coming here. More on that later.
We saw huge numbers of small Spotted Deer like this one in the green euphorbia.
And the larger Sambar deer, some looking for tender new leaves.
Stork and egrets waded in the water.
We’ll have to keep watching for the large horse-like Neel gha antelope that also is native to the area.
It was blast-furnace hot. Our game cars carried two guests, a driver, a tracker and a local guide. Nat Hab set this up well. Some other groups had one driver and eight guests jammed in. Other tours ran open trucks seating with at least 20. And our park guides were fantastic.
We spent over three hours searching for a tiger that had been seen with a fresh kill in area 5– our assigned area. Apparently it had eaten its fill and decided to rest in the shade. No tiger today. But while we were waiting we did see a rare stork-billed kingfisher make a catch and then proceed to beat the fish on a tree.
At sunset, as the park started to cool and we headed out the gate, we were treated to a leopard encounter.
The light wasn’t great, but you could see its Paul Newman ice-blue eyes as it stayed at a watering hole for several minutes before heading off.
That was AMAZING! We have now seen the Big Five!
Tomorrow we start before 6 to hunt for tigers. There are only 40 in the park and dawn and dusk are the best times to find them, because they too rest in the heat.