We were up in the dark at 5.15am ready for safari number two. I was glad of the woolly hat and gloves I had brought with me as despite the fact that we were wrapped in blankets, it was seriously cold and windy as we whizzed through the streets of Ranthambore.
Zone 8 was so much quieter than zone 6 had been – no cantors up here largely because it’s so hilly and not really preferred tiger country. A peripheral zone or, as Jackie referred to it, a profiterole zone! We were told that this was the territory of two tigers but, as ever, there was absolutely no guarantee that we would see them. The whole reserve is 1400 square kilometres however only 20% of it is open to the public. Sixty tigers roam the entire area so it really is luck whether you get to see one.
Zone 8 was very attractive in a stony, rugged sort of way – particularly in the morning sunshine. The drivers were trying to track tigers through fresh footprints and listening out for warning calls from other animals however, despite their best efforts, there was no joy for us from a tiger point of view. We stopped for a short while at the edge of a cliff overlooking a wide area and were able to get out and stretch our legs and take a few photos – slightly nerve wracking standing so close to the edge but the view was amazing.
Despite the lack of sightings and the fact that there wasn’t much else to see, we did enjoy our morning jeep ride. The light was beautiful and it was very peaceful way to start the day. The family we met were very well travelled and interesting to talk to which was a bonus. They gave us the heads up on a womens’ craft cooperative a few miles out of the town which we would never have known about otherwise.
At 9.30am we conceded defeat and headed back to Tiger Den for breakfast and to take advantage of the two hour window for hot water to have a shower. Jackie got on the phone to Gaurav to say that we weren’t happy that we hadn’t been to zones 1-5 as this is what we had promised. To cut a long story short, she managed to get us an extra safari for that afternoon in zones 1-5. It has to be said though, that this took several hours and some pretty impressive negotiating skills on her part.
In the meantime, we called Chotu and asked him to drive us to Dastkar – the shop that had been recommended to us. What a treasure trove! All the crafts are made by local women and the shop supports 300 local families who were displaced by the opening of the nature reserve. Many of the crafts had been dying out and have now been revived. Several women were working outside under a covered area as well as inside the building. The prices were great and we felt that our shopping was supporting a fantastic project which not only empowers women through giving them financial security, but also promotes integration of different castes and religions that would previously have been impossible. Suffice to say we shopped. A lot.
Whilst we were shopping, Jackie got the call to say the safari was on and we would be heading to zone 5 in a forestry commission jeep. Goodness knows what strings Rajputana Adventures had had to pull to get us there but we were delighted.
At 2pm we were collected once again and off we set to zone 5. Finally, a proper zone with a knowledgeable guide. The number of vehicles in the main zones is limited to 10 so for a long time it felt like we were the only jeep in the reserve. This was totally different terrain to our other two safaris and much more beautiful. We were at the top in the back of the jeep though and had to constantly hang on for dear life to avoid being thrown out of the back or side. Not the most comfortable experience. Sadly once again, no tigers for us but we did see lots of other wildlife; crocodiles, monkeys, eagles, deer (of course), mongoose, wild pigs and most exciting of all, a sloth bear.