It is a bit cooler in the morning. The best reason to start out at 5:45. We’ve been assigned to Section 2 today. As we start into Ranthambhore, the langur monkeys cover the road and, with an air of contempt, barely move their long rope tails as we drive by.
In the cool morning, we finally see a male peacock in a dancing display for the rather drab females. Their sharp cries resonate throughout the park and sound like a hurt baby.
We are told they shed and regrow their tail feathers each year; the weight of these feathers makes flight difficult and and makes them an easier dinner target.
But they do fly, making it up to the trees and spectacular high perches.
All the animals like the cool mornings. We came across these spotted deer feeding by the side of the road.
Every day we pass through an ancient gate entwined in an huge old banyan tree. This is a beautiful scene. But even more fun, our guide, Salim, has seen tigers looking out from the top. We’ve named this Tiger Gate–optomistic wishful thinking. I’ll write more on the tigers Brokentail and Mach Li later.
We check in at the foot of the cliff where a temple and the old fort is perched. Beautiful view.
In the morning they throw seed for the birds. The large Alexandrine rose-ringed parakeets pack the place.
We drive to a large lake toward the back of the park. Our Nat Hab photo expert and our tracker-guide immediately find wet tiger prints crossing the road.
We must have just missed the cat. The car leaps forward as our driver takes off in hot pursuit. Our guide smells a kill nearby–these guys are amazing. A good sign, we’re off on a roller coaster ride…park roads can be a bit rough. We suddenly hear a tiger growl on the dirt road ahead. A beautiful female begins walking toward us.
When I read accounts of tiger encounters on-line, I thought this kind of close-up meeting might be a frightening. I didn’t give it much thought then because I never imagined I would be so fortunate. When it happened to us we didn’t feel the least bit threatened. Let me start by saying we were quiet and respectful of the tiger’s space and our guides knew the animals–“Warning: Don’t try this at home.” But it was obvious the tiger was queen of her domain and she paid little attention to us as she ambled along. We were the proverbial fly on the wall.
We backed up as she got about 30 feet away and continue backing to give her space. She finally tired of us and began walking through the brush. Even though they are bright orange, she practically disappeared.
We turned to follow.
She led us to a large pool where ahe backed in from the edge, placing her tummy just below the water. Our guide explains this is the way animals help digestion in this hot area. She has just filled her stomach from the fresh kill and now she must cool the meat in her gut before it putrefies at 130 °, making her sick.
Our guide now recognizes the tiger…he thinks she had a litter about a month ago. The babies probably are just now opening their eyes and are still wobbly. She won’t bring them out for another two months.
We sit mesmerized about 20 feet away. We are perfectly comfortable watching this close—there is so much game, the tigers aren’t hungry, and we respect their space. Plus, no one is dumb enough to get out of their cars.
We watch her for two hours.
Word gets out and other park visitors come but all the animals here seem very used to the cars. It’s as if we have been transported into a NatGeo movie. She looks up occasionally, but is totally unconcerned by the parade of vehicles and the continuous clicking of cameras.
As she sleeps, we see the white spots behind her ears. Our guide tell us they use these to “tiger-talk” and as a marker when following each other–guess camaflage works for them, too.
ALL THIS BEFORE BREAKFAST!
Back at the lodge, we have a treat after eating. We give Pawan, the resident 70-year-old female Indian elephant, a bath.
She was a wedding give to the lodge owner’s wife 30 years ago and has lived at the back of the lodge with the same mahout all this time. She is on her last set of teeth, with only one molar remaining. They are feeding her soft food to help put off the inevitable. When elephants loose their last tooth, they can no longer digest their food. We place bread in her mouth and can feel her tongue as she gums it.
They treasure her and will help make her end easier than it would be in the wild.
After a lunch siesta—the heat saps us and no animals are out mid-day—we again head out at 3:30. Now the temperature is serious stuff. Some in our group have seen sloth bears…some have not yet seen a tiger.
This afternoon our driver blasts through the park to an area where a big male Bengal Tiger is known to rest midday in a high cave. We get there with minimal stops and only our guide can see him on the ledge-just barely- waiting out the heat.
So we take off on a side adventure where the monkeys are going nuts- our guide thinks there’s a leopard in the area- but we see nothing. We head back to the tiger, just as he starts moving.
We watch him come down from his cliff, walk about 10 feet from the car, look at us, where mark his territory in obvious distain,
He turns and snarls at us–not happy being followed.
Then walks into the brush toward a pond. We drive around and wait, and wait, and wait. Great birds, a mongoose, etc., but no tiger. He decides to sit in the brush and wait us out. I swear these guys have watches.
A peacock shows off, reflecting in the water .
We’re supposed to be out of the park by 7, but our driver hangs in for a bit.
At 7:05 the big guy saunters down to the water, backs in (as they all do) then relaxes, finally cooling off.
We charge back to the gate and then, thanks to our guides, jam on the breaks. There, 20 feet from the road, out in the open, is Mach li, the oldest tiger in the park.
She gets up and saunters toward the nearby watering hole. Right behind the car, she turns full face and shows her teeth, then she backs into the pond and gets a drink as we take off.
The great guides know where critters hang out and ours found this owl as we exited the park at dusk.
Back at the lodge we learn Mach li is the mother of the tiger we watched all morning – AND she was the mother of Broken Tail, a young tiger made famous in a Nat Geo production. Our lead guide, Salim Ali, was the local guide who got producers interested in the story and is featured in the movie. This was what we watched on TV over a year ago, our inspiration to visit the tigers of Ranthambhore. We had no idea we’d get to know Salim as well! Our group sat under the stars and watched the movie again that night. (It’s wonderful. You can rent it on Netflix or buy it on Amazon)
Wow! We’re spoiled now! This was one magical day!