A Road Trip to Ranthambore and Tiger Sightings

This time he looks straight at us! Reminds me of the movie Junoon.


Well, I'm up on my belly again, stop disturbing me, you monkeys.


As someone said, if you can see these white spots on the ear, and you are in front of the tiger, RUN AWAY! That's the attacking stance.


I repeat... Aah those eyes, those haunting eyes.


These monkeys seriously not worth it, me sleeping again!


And I lie on my back again. May I rest in peace, please?


After reaching the hotel, we straight away jumped into Kiyang and drove towards the STRIPES shop where Aarti had promised her ex-colleagues she would shop more. And when it comes to shopping, she sure does not break any promises! So while she shopped there and in the adjoining Dastkar outlet, I treated myself to a pyaaz ki kachori.

Having had chips, coke and kachori in the evening, we weren’t too hungry and decided to skip dinner. Three trips inside the park during the day had sapped all our energy, and we were asleep even before we hit the bed. We’d come to Ranthambore expecting little, and now in a single day we’d met T 39 and T 24, and we still had one more safari to go!

4th Safari (morning, Day 3)​

We were all packed when we left our room for the morning safari as our plan was to come back, have breakfast and leave for Delhi maximum by 12 pm. This morning our canter was right on time, and we had to leave our tea unfinished. We got to know that we were going into zone 1 AGAIN, a fact that did not go well with Aarti, who was already unhappy at having been into the same zone twice. A third time was simply unacceptable for her. I, on the other hand, was ambivalent and just hoped that we get lucky again.

Anyway, we did not have a choice, and off we went into zone 1 again. Again the banyan tree greeted us, and again we shot it. As we crossed the spot where we’d spent two and a half hours with the sleeping T 24 the previous day, we looked around expectantly, hoping to see it still dozing there, but he was obviously gone!

The banyan tree was still there the next day


A kingfisher on a lone branch. Ranthambore has loads of them


The lovely jungle


On this particular safari, we were on a diesel canter. The previous three safaris that we’d done on the trip had been on petrol canters. I’d also like to explain the difference between petrol and diesel canters here. We did 3 safaris on a petrol canter, and the rest on a diesel one, and realized that both have their own pros and cons. While the petrol one is smaller than the diesel one, it makes more noise since it has to almost always run at high RPM. The diesel one, on the other hand, is wider and thus has more leg space. It can also run smoothly on low RPMs and so makes less noise. A petrol canter can accommodate 16 people while a diesel one can accommodate 20. One last point here is that while on our last safari, we sat in the penultimate seat in a diesel canter, and realized that visibility was an issue since both sides had two seats each as opposed to a petrol canter where one side has a double seat and the other single seats. One can choose which type of canter to book while making online bookings. To conclude, I would personally choose a petrol canter any day over a diesel one.

As we went deeper in, we came across a tree with tiger claw marks on it, a gesture that helps tigers mark their territory as our guide explained. We even came across some pugmarks and waited in a few spots to hear warning calls, but none came. We spotted a group of owls huddled in a hole in tree bark, and spent some time clicking them like the morning light on them was surreal. We spotted another fat owl snoozing in a tree hole a bit further and again went trigger happy.

A tiger's claws did that.


This one can be qualified as a clear pugmark.


Storks going about their daily morning routine.


3 Errols, peering out of their home tree trunk, gawking at a hawk


Another owl which was too sleepy to peer out of its tree trunk


White chested fantail flycatcher. In order to remember this bird's name, I'd texted it to myself when the guide had told us.

We soon reached the spot where we’d rested on our second safari and fed treepies. We did the same on this day and subsequently moved on. This time we went deeper into the zone from this point, something that we hadn't done despite having been on two earlier safaris in the same zone. That made us feel a little better. About 10 minutes later, we saw the now-familiar sight of gypsies and canters huddled at a spot and all tourists in them looking to one side. Someone from the canter in front of us shouted ‘Leopard’ and we jumped! However, this time we just couldn’t spot him. The vehicles in front of us said that the leopard was getting ready for a kill. While we could see the deer he was stalking, we simply couldn’t spot him for the longest time as his skin camouflages really well with the flora. Finally, when he moved a bit, we saw him, and we were super thrilled! We were dying with anticipation to see him kill a deer, but something changed his mind and instead, he began walking parallel to the road inside the jungle. Again, we couldn’t get a clear shot as he never came out in the open, except when he crossed the road in front of a gypsy ahead of us. We followed him with our gazes till he disappeared into the other side of the jungle, and then finally took a deep breath! Two tigers and a leopard. Wow! We’d been extremely lucky.

Angry birds, again!


At 300 mm zoom, manual focus, the leopard is still hardly visible. Imagine the problems of the naked eye.


The same shot above, up close


Can you spot the leopard in this one? Remember these are the few better shots of the shy creature.


It never looked our way, sadly


It ran parallel to the jungle track through the thick foliage.


That's how thick the foliage was.


Finally, it crosses the jungle track onto the other side. Sadly we were too far behind to get a clear shot.

It was then time to exit, and as we sat back in our seats, a thought struck both of us together. Why not spend one more day in Ranthambore? I could manage my emails on my tab, and Aarti could put in an extra day of work on Saturday if required. We were aware of the fact that if we did stay back, it would be out of pure greed since we had already had our share of animal sightings. But we also thought that we never do such on-the-spur-of-the-moment things and that it would be okay if we did it for once. We couldn’t really decide what to do, so thought of putting the decision on our hotel manager. If there was a room available for the night, we would stay. Otherwise, we would leave as planned.

Say hello to Errol again!


Tiger camel! Yes, these are found outside RNP.


Locals, so colorful.


As soon as we reached the hotel, we caught hold of the manager, who informed us that all he could give us for the night was a tent and that he could try to get us booked on a safari that afternoon. That did not sound too promising, and we mulled over what to do at breakfast. That is when a brilliant idea struck me. Why not do the afternoon safari and then leave for Delhi? Even if we left by 6:30 pm, we would reach Delhi maximum by 2:30 am, and still could go to the office the next day. Aarti protested with how I would drive at night if I was tired, but eventually, she gave in too, because she obviously was also tempted to do one last safari. And just like that, we decided to extend our stay in Ranthambore by 6 more hours, hoping to hit jackpot again in our last safari.

The manager thankfully managed to get us a safari on a diesel canter in the afternoon. We freshened up and checked out of our room by noon, and then sat in the hotel’s restaurant till our canter picked us up at 2:45 pm.

As we sat having lunch, looking through our photographs, and discussing how great Ranthambore was, an idea struck me. If we’d already seen 2 tigers in February, what would be the situation in May when tiger sightings are the highest? I couldn’t wait to find out and suggested to Aarti that we come back on a weekend in May. She instantly agreed and proposed that we ask a few of our friends as well. I was online when this discussion was happening, and a friend was available on Gchat. I asked him about the trip in May, and he agreed immediately. In the next half an hour, while sitting in a restaurant in Ranthambore, I made safari bookings for a weekend in May to come back to the same park! Aarti and I declared ourselves crazy that day. Anyway, as the situation now stands, 13 of us are going to Ranthambore in May, and all 13 are already dancing with excitement at the thought of meeting so many Tigers! I just hope that these Ts come out and meet our friends, or else Aarti and I are screwed.

4rth Safari (afternoon, Day 3) - A bonus safari​

We were going into zone 4 on our final safari in Ranthambore NP, and couldn’t be happier. One dampener though was that we had gotten the penultimate seat on a diesel canter which also seemed to have many more than the designated 20 people on it. To be precise, we were 26 in all, 20 adults and 6 kids. We were a bit skeptical about the general noise level of our canter, but eventually, it turned out to be okay.

This had to be our best safari yet! As soon as we entered the gate of the zone, we saw a line of vehicles in front of us. Now we all know what that means! Aarti and I exchanged that familiar glance of excitement and then went about getting a good spot on the canter amongst all the people clamoring for a vantage point. The gypsy in front told us that T 17 had just crossed the road and had gone down into the nallah. That meant that she would come up soon and might cross the road again. We waited with bated breath. Warning calls sounded off all around us. When after 5 minutes there was no sign of her, our guide instructed our driver to reverse the canter since he thought she would come up somewhere near the main road of the park. He reversed, and so did the vehicles in front of us, and so did the vehicles behind us. As soon as we reached the gate of zone 4, we heard from someone that T 17 was walking parallel to the road inside the jungle. Sure enough, we soon caught sight of her walking leisurely in the foliage. Vehicles from zone 1 and 5 had also come out on the main road to see T 17, and thus there was a huge ruckus and a major jam. T 17 finally crossed the road some 5 canters ahead of us and ambled away into the other side of the jungle. All the canters and gypsies then reversed and re-entered their respective zones with the tourists on-board chattering incessantly about this bizarre tiger sighting.

The first time T-17 is sighted clearly by the camera. She was stealthily moving in the bushes


And bestows us with just one glance


Before she goes away into the bushes again


Now the two of us were very excited at having spotted our third tiger, but we were equally shocked as well. Over the last two days, we’d seen several people walking on this very road which T 17 had just crossed, making it obviously a very dangerous situation. We could simply not understand how the forest officials could allow such a thing. The only reason why locals and tourists are allowed to the fort in their own vehicle is that the fort houses a Ganesh temple which is very sacred to a lot of people. But what I don’t understand is that how in the name of religion can the government endanger the security of its citizens?

Back in zone 4, we proceeded to explore it. The topography of zone 4 was very different from zones 1 and 2 where we’d been earlier. Those two basically have roads winding through mostly dense foliage with very few open areas and have mostly artificial water bodies. Zone 4, on the other hand, is much more open with several lakes and grasslands and is thus much more beautiful as well.

We stopped by a lake in which sambars were enjoying a late afternoon dip, with pond herons enjoying a free ride on them. Spotted deer were grazing on the side of the lake, and some 7 or 8 crocodiles lay on its banks. We saw slimy-looking crocodile babies basking on logs in the sun, and even spotted some turtles in the water. The place was teeming with wildlife!

These gypsys are pretty hard to get bookings in


Pretty jungle!


A beautiful deer


This Sambar has learned a trick or two from dogs maybe.


Alligators are not great to look at.


But a Sambar chewing upon the grass in the middle of the lake is.


The lake it seems was not too deep.

Another Sambar chewing upon from some fresh grass, while a pond heron rests.


Even baby crocs are not good to look at.


A baby duck was an interesting sight.


As we moved ahead, a canter crossed us, and their guide told ours that Machli was lying by a lake in a different part of the zone. Machli!!! We got super excited. Aarti had wanted to see her ever since we decided to go to Ranthambore, and now we had our chance! For the uninitiated, Machli is no fish. She is T 16, Ranthambore’s eldest tigress, and is probably the most famous tiger in the country. She gets her name because the markings on her face resemble a fish. She is 15 years old, is an award winner, has given birth to 11 tigers, and is famous for killing crocodiles. She is usually spotted near the lakes in zone 4, and is thus also nicknamed “The lady of the lakes”. She is also the mother of T 17, the tigress we’d spotted about an hour back. Isn’t that a huge description for a tigress? Machli sure is special.

So we now dashed to see Machli, our guide telling everyone on the canter to hold on tight as the driver was going to go really fast. And fast he did! Soon enough, we spotted a lake and a bunch of vehicles next to it. Machli was sitting on the bank of the lake, resting. All the people on the canter got a chance to come to the front of the vehicle and get a good look at her. An interesting thing then happened. One of the tourists on the canter, while he was at the front of the canter to see Machli, dropped his watch over the windshield and onto the ground. He panicked. No one was allowed to disembark while in the NP. Our guide, however, said that he would get down and quickly retrieve it. I suddenly knew that Machli would know when he gets down. And sure enough, as soon as our guide’s feet hit the ground, Machli turned her head towards us, even though she was looking away before. And that is when we got her shot of looking at us. What incredible sense these animals have!



She was quite aware of her surroundings, she directly looked in the direction of a guide who disembarked from the vehicle to pick up a fallen watch.


She sat, while others waited for her to move.


After spending 10 minutes or so with Machli, we had to leave as it was almost time to exit the park, and we were still deep inside zone 4. The driver again put the canter into flying gear, and we held on for dear life! Just as we neared the exit of the zone, we saw another line of vehicles, and couldn’t believe that we would see a THIRD tiger on our last safari. However, it wasn’t a big cat, but a sloth bear. Our guide said that sloth bears were even more difficult to spot than tigers and that the bunch of people on this canter really had tremendous luck to have spotted so many elusive creatures on one safari!

The bear was doing something very peculiar. He was walking parallel to the road, about 50 feet off it, and upturning all boulders in his way as he went along. Our guide told us that he was looking for termites to eat. He might be just feeding, but he sure was looking very funny! The light was dim, and the bear never really came out in the open, and so we could not get a clear shot of him.

A sloth bear, searching for termites for some evening snacks.


Soon we exited the zone and then the NP and were at our hotel in no time. We felt elated at having extended our trip by half a day! The last safari had been our best with sightings of two tigers, one of whom was the renowned Machli, and a sloth bear. Extremely happy and totally kicked that we’d made an excellent decision to come back in May, we started the long trudge back to Delhi.

Day 3: Sawai Madhopur - Delhi​

There are many routes one can take back from SWM to Delhi. One is of course driving back to Jaipur and then all the way to Delhi. Another one, and this one google map suggests, is going all the way to Agra and then further to Delhi.

The best one was the one through Alwar. Here is the route map that we followed:


We left SWM by about 6:30 and the drive till Lalsot was on a familiar road which was an excellent highway. Although at that time of the day, with the light going down the local traffic had surged slowing us down a bit. From Lalsot to Dausa, the road is still being constructed with some ugly patches of dust bowls. However, we managed to do the 40km stretch in about an hour or so.

From Dausa begins an EXCELLENT highway going towards Agra which we exit at Sikandra and started moving north towards Alwar. Sadly we were on this stretch for only about 30kms or so. It must have taken us 20min to cover this stretch, and I usually drive slow!

From Sikandara to Alwar, the drive was a breeze. The road again is in great condition and level. However, with some villages on this road, there are few nasty speed breakers which one has to look out for. Otherwise, we cruised till we reached NH-8 at Bhiwadi, after which the going went slow.

All in all, we managed to cover the 370 odd km in 6 hours flat. There were no breaks taken, for tomorrow it was early morning back to the office.

A fabulous trip had ended on an extremely high note of two cats in a single safari. The next day would involve sharing the experience of Ranthambore with friends, eventually to come back in May as a gang of 13 people.

May should be the best time for big cat spotting!! Also on the first full moon night of May i.e on 5th May night/ 6th Morning, the Tiger census will take place (all across India). The park will be closed then.

Ranthambore had made believers of us skeptics.