The thrill of wildlife

thrill of wildlife

The thrill of wildlife

It was a dark chilly morning as we arrived at the Sawai Madhopur railway station after a long haul of two days from Bangalore. Waiting for us was Vipul, who greeted and ushered us to his jeep. As we drove off to our designated hotel, we hardly ventured to talk with the bitter cold wind biting at us. It was only after a cozy nap that we began to look around and feel the place. We were here to visit Ranthambore, the famed tiger reserve of Rajasthan, known for good sightings of the king of the jungle.

Vipul, who had arranged our stay and wildlife safaris, informed the first of our six safari adventure over three days would begin only in the afternoon. Taking a walk around, we found the town had undergone a sea change from what it was on a previous visit several years ago, with numerous high-rise hotels and resorts crammed up.

Safari time
The jeep for our afternoon safari arrived on time with three more guests and we drove off to the forest that was 11 km away. Ranthambore is one of the earliest tiger reserves initiated under Project Tiger in 1973. The forest tracks of adjoining Madhya Pradesh extend to this part of Rajasthan with an abundance of dry deciduous trees. The topography is also varied with grassy meadows and high hills. Bounded by Banas and Chambal rivers in the north and south respectively, and a few large lakes within the forest, the environment could not have been better for tigers and other denizens of the wild to make it their home.

Being a place steeped in history, the wilderness of Ranthambore also has a strong massive fort and innumerable chhatris and cenotaphs scattered all around. The prime interest of the visitors here, including us, was, undoubtedly, sighting a tiger in its raw beauty. At the gate the formalities were cleared fast and the jeeps made a beeline into the forest. Being the first safari, we rejoiced every bend we turned, every stream we crossed, and every lofty hill that popped into view.

Grand finale
Now and then the langurs, junglefowl and peacocks appeared, as also herds of chital, freezing in their movement to look at us in awe. A pair of chitals, though, were too busy sparring each other in a mock fight. The best sight was yet to come. As we drove around back and forth, up and down, in search of the big cat, our guide suddenly gestured us to silence. Intensely following the alarm calls of a deer, the expert duo of driver and guide parked the jeep and waited. And after 40 minutes of patient waiting, they saw some movement among the bushes and the jeep hastily sped across streambeds, ditches and gravel, right into the jungle.

And there was the king; sitting majestically amidst thorns and bushes. The brawny, flamboyant face seemed terrifying at such close quarters. The cameras were firing relentlessly like machine guns. After a few minutes, it rose and ran away into the bushes, leaving everyone sighing with ecstasy. We had already accomplished, having struck the sight of a tiger in the maiden safari. The following day, there was more.
Once again, the expertise of our guide ensured that another beautiful tiger crossed our path, or rather, we crossed its path. Though our guide could identify it and its parentage, we were more thrilled by the sight than the facts. Other species that came our way were the nilgai, wild boars, mongoose and a host of birds like serpent eagles, lapwings, kingfishers and black-winged stilts. Though the following safaris were not successful in terms of sighting tigers, the drive around the beautiful lake of Raj Bagh Talao with an old hunting lodge of erstwhile maharajas was thrilling enough.
The afternoon was the only time I could explore the Ranthambore fort. The fort that flourished under Hammir Dev, a Chauhan king during the 13th Century, blends with the hilly terrain supported by rock-solid ramparts. Walking up the stairs, I came to the artistically symmetrical 32-pillared cenotaph. Ambling along the many ruined monuments and shrines was like travelling back in time.

The experience of Ranthambore, where wildlife and history abound, left many moments etched deep in my memory.

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