We were due to leave Shahpura House in Jaipur at 8.30am however, all of a sudden, Jackie was struck down by the dreaded Delhi belly so we had to ply her with imodium and rehydration tablets and delay our departure by an hour. In the meantime I took a few photos around the hotel.
It was a three hour journey to Ranthambore and understandably Jackie wasn’t that keen to leave the safety of our hotel. Nevertheless, we had an appointment with a tiger – or so we hoped – so off we had to set. To start with the roads weren’t too bad but after about an hour we turned off on to local roads. I had to take video as it was all a bit crazy – trucks, cars, mopeds, camels, cows – the usual. Often Chotu would overtake and we would close our eyes and just hope to make it out the other side. But we made it. eventually coming into Ranthambore, a small, dusty town with jeeps and cantors parked up all over the place in readiness for the tiger safaris. It was a relief when we drove out the other side of the town as I really didn’t fancy staying in the thick of it.
At Tiger Den Resort we met Manager Patrick who had a quirky sense of humour to say the least. After a briefing he directed us through the rose beds to our cottage where we found the hardest beds known to man. We then sat on the verandah, overlooking the garden and had a rather strange lunch of tomato and egg soup with sandwiches and chips. We enjoyed the chips.
At 2pm, our jeep arrived to take us on our safari. I had asked for zones 1-5 and been assured that was what was booked however our driver set off to zone 6 where we would be spending the afternoon. He collected another indian family along the way which turned out to be lucky as at least they could translate for us.
Zone 6 was absolutely packed with other jeeps and cantors – big trucks with lots of people in them. Driving in through the gates, we spotted a deer and were a little bit miffed that the driver didn’t stop to let us take a photo. Three safaris and many hundreds of deer later, we understood why.
There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to which route the driver took through zone 6 and they certainly didn’t seem to be actively tracking. We bounced around in the back of the jeep vainly looking out for one of the reserve’s famed Bengal tigers. For a while we waited at a man made water hole which seemed sensible and was actually quite peaceful, away from the noise of the other vehicles. So peaceful in fact that Jackie nodded off in her seat!
For some reason, the driver moved on again and parked up beside a load of other vehicles to wait. It seemed highly unlikely that a tiger was going to just stroll up to ten vehicles in which the passengers were making so much noise.
After a while he drove on again, as did all the other vehicles, to a rest spot where we had the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs.
We were one of the first vehicles to set back off, heading back to where we had waited previously, bumping along the narrow track between the trees. All of a sudden, Jacquie said “Tiger”! The driver slammed on the brakes and suddenly I saw him – a huge Bengal tiger standing no more than twenty feet away beside the track and just staring at us.
Jackie was so scared that she couldn’t even raise her camera to take a photo. We had about 20 seconds of watching him whilst he watched us, all frozen to the spot, before the driver called out, several other vehicles roared up and T34 slunk off to lie down in the bushes. But what an amazing 20 seconds. This fully grown tiger was absolutely mesmerising, his eyes were almost hypnotic – we could barely process that we were so close to this creature of legends.
We continued to watch him as he lay in the bushes but after a while he stalked off into the undergrowth to the sound of warning calls from other animals that a predator was close by. It had seemed that we had no chance of spotting a tiger and we had ended up being probably the only jeep amongst all those in zone 6 that got a good look at him. We headed back to Tiger Den feeling incredibly lucky.
Dinner that evening was a curry buffet and we enjoyed a bottle of indian wine to celebrate our sighting before heading back to our cottage for an early night. Or at least, that had been our intention before we rang Gaurav to check our zone for the following morning. Zone 7 or 8. Oh dear. We sat our Entertainments Manager on him……..