|Photo by Hannah Bailey|
We recently took a trip to Ranthamboure to search for the famous Bengal tiger, the national animal of Bangladesh
“Ssssh...be quiet... the tiger is coming...”. Jaget, our guide was nothing if not theatrical. Holding one finger to his lips whilst striking a dramatic pose against the front of the safari truck, he craned his neck to get a better view.
Twenty passengers in the open-top jeep immediately shushed and froze in their seats as one in the silence of the forest. Then, suddenly... mayhem! There was a cacophony of terrible screeches as monkeys scrambled to the tops of the trees. Wrapping their arms round spindly branches chattering nervously, they gazed across the lake. “They’re sounding the alarm,” Jaget explained. “They know the tiger is near.”
We knew that we would be lucky to catch a glimpse of a tiger. This was no drive through safari: it was
National Park in northwestern India – 400
miles of forests, lakes and mountains, the last great hunting ground of the
maharajahs of Jaipur. Nowadays, the park is home to around 22 Bengal
tigers increasing in recent years thanks to the conservation scheme Project
Tiger and the area presents a chance to see the great predators in their
We sat next to a Danish couple who had been at the resort all week. They had gone out every day on the jeeps in search of the tiger and had not seen one yet – tomorrow would be their last chance. Our hearts dropped - just a little.
Tickets for the safari could be bought at the hotels to save queuing at the entrance. Next morning, we rose at the crack of dawn to join a crowd of fellow tiger spotters in hotel reception to be divided into three separate jeeps. The number of vehicles and people allowed daily entry to the park is limited. Each jeep seated around 20 people and was equipped with a guide. Ours was Jaget, a Freddie Mercury look alike without the teeth. We soon discovered that Jaget must have missed his breakfast - his grumbling stomach could have frightened away a whole den of lions.
Off we went, grateful for the advice from our Danish friends to wear warm clothes in the freezing morning air, rattling through the slowly lightening streets, past a stray elephant gently swaying his trunk and past the tourist hotels to
We drove at a rapid pace, regardless of the growing number of people who were trailing along the road on pilgrimage to the Ganesha temple which lies within the ancient Ranthambore fort. As we arrived an incredible scene greeted us - teeming hordes of visitors, motorbikes and assorted vehicles. Hanuman Langur monkeys who live there perched on top of sandstone temple ruins looking as if they were in a set from an Indiana Jones movie. Trucks jam packed into us on all sides as the driver inched his way through forwards within a hairsbreadth of other vehicles, under the huge banyan tree through the stone entrance to the National Park.
Inside the park, the contrast could not have been more marked. A peaceful, deciduous forest, dotted with lakes and mountain ranges, we tracked through jungle which sometimes opened out into savannas. Each of the three trucks took a different route through the forest in search of the tiger. Evidently some friendly competition was ongoing as to which team could spot a tiger first. We were told to keep quiet in case we frightened them away and our excitement began to mount.
We continued our roundabout search, turning back on ourselves, reversing in impossible places at Jaget’s instruction before arriving at the largest of the lakes, the beautiful Padam Taleo. As we waited with baited breath, the monkeys sent their alarms around the forest, but the only distant rumble was the sound of Jaget’s stomach and there was no sign of the tiger. Doubling back to the other side of the lake we came across one of the other jeeps and exchanged news – they had spotted the tiger at side of the lake from whence we had come and were on their way over there. Jaget wasn’t so sure. We parked up by the side of the water and waited...
I‘ll never forget my first sight of the tiger, slowly swimming towards us across the looking glass lake from the red sandstone ruins of a hunting lodge, ripples fanning out behind.
For a moment, we were silent; dumbstruck and awed. Then, we remembered that we were tourists; the truck nearly tipped over as we all rushed to one side, cameras at the ready.
Slowly the tiger came in to land and strolled nonchalantly up through the tall grass, seemingly oblivious to the leaning truck and its gawping inhabitants. It was as if we weren’t worth bothering about – not even to eat.
We stayed for a while watching before our three hours was up. On our way back, we encountered he Danish couple – they hadn’t seen a tiger. But for us, the timing was impeccable - it was as if both men and tiger had laid on a show for us tourists, but never mind. At least the tigers are being preserved and cameras are better than guns.
Recommended hotel: Hotel Tiger Safari Resort www.tigersafariresort.com
|Photo by Hannah Bailey|
The amazing photos of the tigers at the beginning and end of this blog post were taken by the photographer Hannah Bailey. You can see more examples of Hannah's photos at flickr.com/photos/130536352@N02/16829503540/
This travel piece was inspired after going to travelwritingworkshop.co.uk/ with Peter Carty, who is the founder of Time Out's travel section and regular contributor to many esteemed publications including The Times and The Telegraph. The workshop which is held in the Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, W1 (where there's an excellent lunchtime buffet of North Indian cuisine), is full of valuable information and thoroughly recommended for any aspiring or published travel writer.