An Afternoon in Ranthambhore

An Afternoon in Ranthambhor - 

By mid May the tourists stop coming to India and by June the only foreigners who are willing to dare visit a national park in north-western India are the ones with long lenses - attempting to capture the tiger in their fancy cameras. This allows us - tour organizers an opportunity to 'travel' and do a few things that we cannot do while we are at work. I decided to spend a week in Ranthambhor and try to see some of the cubs that Ranthambhor has been reporting this year. In this part of the world tigers are numbered as T1, T2 and so on. So Machli the female who is now 18 years and has lost her canines but still battling on is T 16, her daughter is T 19 who has three beautiful cubs and so on. The tigers also have names like

Ustad

- the expert one,

Zalim

- the ferocious one,

Sultan

- the king and such like. The names portray the character of the tigers to some extent. Though the scientific community hates to put a product of human imagination on a natural animal, tiger lovers seems to enjoy this practise that started in the 80's with

Sita

and Charger from Bandhavgarh or

Noor

&

Genghis

from Ranthambhor.

I arrive at the Sawai Madhopur station at 2030 hours - transported by an air-conditioned train from a hot and busy Delhi in just over 3 & 1/2 hours. It is hot and busy in the station with people waiting to board trains. I meet my driver and within 1/2 an hour reach Khemvillas - a small lodge owned by Dr. Goverdhan Singh and his charming wife Usha. The cool room beckons me in and after a short and quick dinner I shower and sleep.

Ranthambhor is a legacy from the hunting days of the 40's and 50's and as late as the 60's - the tiger was not sighted here in daylight. In fact in the 70's after the declaration of the tiger reserves most of the sightings were in the night with flashlights & jeep headlights. It was the late Dr. Fateh Singh Rathore - Goverdhan's father - who insisted that the villages inside the park must go out and the tiger must be allowed its space. Fateh slowly and patiently convinced the politicians and the people to leave the park to the tigers and its because of his and his team's efforts that today people come here to see tigers. He passed away after battling it out for some years with cancer - but before he did so he made sure that Ranthambhor has a future for tigers and other wild animals.

I am here to get glimpse of at least one set of cubs and get some photographs. If I sound a greedy tourist - so be it, tiger cubs are cute and adorable and I have not seen one for a while. So I packed my camera bag and decided to spend some time inside the park - hoping to get at least one nice image of them.

The first few rounds were fruitless - I was at the wrong place or the weather was just not right and frustration was slowly building up..will I see a cub, will I be able to get a snap. Well on 24th afternoon we were in route three - this is the area that T19 has been spotted with four cubs - earlier in the year. Sadly while moving her cubs a marsh crocodile grabbed one of her cubs to the dismay of the mother, so three cubs now reamin with the young mother and she had been sighted a few times with the cubs. I prayed for some luck and pulled myself in the car, We headed to the park and parked close to a waterhole. A few more cars had also got the news and we waited under a hot and sweltering sun for the story to unfold. After 10 minutes under the summer Sun and no sign of any life - we moved on to check one of the main lakes of Ranthambhor -

Rajbagh

. The lake is a large one with a cenotaph and a small stone palace at one corner of the lake and it is dotted with large Banyan trees on the same side as the cenotaph and grass beds on the other sides. Deer, crocodile, birds and tigers share space here - the lake is an important water source for the park and its denizens. As we neared the lake we saw T 19 coming out from the one edge of the lake - after taking a couple of shots we left her and headed back to the area where we felt she is heading.

She walked through the valley and reached the area where she had left her cubs. By then we had reached and taken up a position. The female called a few times and bingo a cub came running out.....however the whirr of the shutters and the people was not really what this little thing really liked - so despite the reassurance of the mother - the cub rushed back into a thicket of bushes in seconds. 

T 19 called again and now the cubs were more sure - Mom was close and they can hide below mothers towering presence - they came out one after the other - all of 5 months, small, delicate and extremely vulnerable. The mother of course was used to the people and the cameras - she ushered the cubs in the waterhole for a session with the press. The next 30 minutes flew - the cubs sipped the water, played with each other and bonded with the mother. They were sure now of their safety. After what seemed an eternity T 19 finally was up and she then walked all the way back towards

Rajbagh

lake with the cubs - we followed them from a distance. She reached the lake and my hearth missed a beat - after all one cub was eaten up by the crocs - I certainly did not want to see that happen to another one. She must have known to steer clear from the murky waters of

Rajbagh

- she stayed at one edge of the lake on the grassy bed as she confidently crossed the lake area - heading now towards route 4 - towards another lake. 

While we guessed that she might have a kill where she was heading back with the cubs in tow - it was time to leave her and head out of the park. I had a soft feeling in my heart...a feeling of happiness and joy. I was happy to get an image but more importantly - I witnessed that despite increasing pressures on the forests and forest-unfriendly governments - India's tigers have some space to themselves. 

Tigers are survivors and if we can save these places and somehow can connect them to each other - we will have tigers that our children will be able to see. I cannot imagine a forest without a tiger. It disturb's me, I sincerely hope that those of you who read this blog do make an effort to save the forests that you have in your surrounding areas - an average tree produces enough oxygen in a day to keep one person alive, if we can appreciate that and can save these trees in their natural habitats - we will save our tigers.

Happy birding!....I did see a lot of Indian Pittas and some beautiful Asian Paradise Flycatchers, so there were a few birds around.

A few images for you to enjoy -

T 19 with the female cub

A Leopard sighted in the late afternoon - high up on the fort

This Indian Rock Python can be a threat to the cub in the picture above

A Barred Button Quail in a village looks for food

Indian Pitta migrates from the South by early May and breeds in Ranthambhor

The Sloth Bear is not so common in Ranthambhor - but in summer afternoons they are sighted regularly

Few Birds can match the grace and beauty of a male Indian Peacock

Asian Paradise Flycatchers are very common in Ranthambhor

Matching steps with Mom is not easy - but it is possible

I hope that you enjoy the post - please note that the national parks except some parts of Ranthambhor and Tadoba (in Maharashtra) will get shut from 1st July till 16th October. When they open again - the cubs will be juvenile tigers - getting ready for the real world, facing the tough world where the various non-environment friendly policies and the pressure of the people will make their life a tough one. However I wish to see them again when I am back in Ranthambhor later in the year and will let you know about their story. Apart from T 19, Ranthambhor has at least four other females with cubs - T41, T 39, T 17, - there may be more tigers with cubs in other parts of the park. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the monsoon and what future unfolds for them in the fall when the parks reopen.

Happy birding and enjoy your holidays - wherever they take you.