WILDLIFE IN INDIA : CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
As a foreigner coming to visit India for the umpteenth time, I had this impression of knowing India pretty well, the people, a lot of them were close friends, the villages, the differences in the North and the South, the beaches and all of that. Despite knowing India and having visited this country for a decade, when somebody proposed “wildlife in India”, I was wondering what that meant. I was even told that is “exciting” and the variety of flora and fauna is quite enticing.
Having seen Kerala and the luxuriant greenery in “God’s own country” several times, I thought that the tropical vegetation of Kerala is the best “wildlife in India” that one could get. Not understanding the full depth of what it meant, I agreed to discover what I might encounter.
The moment I agreed, I was promptly asked for my passport number, the details of my arrival. It seems that for seeing “wildlife in India” one has to make special forest bookings 90 days in advance. And it also seems that it is a hot subject. To visit a forest, there are a lot of rules. The booking and visit of the forest is done well in advance and you are allowed to enter in special 4×4 vehicles appointed by the government in India in a roster system, driven by government appointed drivers and led by government appointed naturalist who teach and show us the forest and the life within. All this sounded pretty exciting to me. I was rearing to go.
All of this was taken care of by Maavalan Travels. They take care of all my travel arrangements for several years now and are experts in bespoke travel to India.
I was told that the Tiger national park or forest I was going to is called Ranthambore tiger reserve which is situated in Rajasthan in Western India. Somehow the sound of the name in itself is quite exciting. Ranthambore is an exotic sounding name to me. I promptly did my social media updates announcing to the world and my followers about my intended trip to Ranthambore tiger reserve. Apparently Ranthambore promises and exciting tiger safari.
Did I do any particular packing for visiting a forest in India? In the peak of summer, not really. Some light summer clothes, a hat, sunglasses and lots of water. Temperatures were soaring and going north of 43°C. It was a dry heat and did not bother me much. It was not a sweltering heat. Reaching the forest from Delhi took a good 6 hours. The drive was interesting for me. However, it is advised to go from Jaipur and it takes less than half that time.
I checked in at our hotel. It is a beautiful hotel. But more on the hotel later since I visited quite a few hotels in Ranthambore.
My first tiger safari was early in the morning. The 4×4 came to pick me up at 0545hours in the morning. It was very exciting indeed. Morning temperatures even in the peak of summer were pleasant. We got in through the gates of the forest. Zones are allotted in advance to the 4×4 vehicles. We got zone number 02. You do not get to know which zone you would get in advance. It is a question of pure luck.
There were 06 travellers in my open vehicle. Almost all of them were armed with heavy photography artillery. I wondered what happened when a wild animal saw us, did they see us as food or did they see us as many people. Were they intimidated by us? I was told that the preyed animals were intimidated by any large moving object like our vehicle and tend to shy away. Whereas the predators did not get too intimidated. The 4×4 vehicles were seen by them as large moving blobs and they had got used to seeing these vehicles.
There was a naturalist in our vehicle who was explaining the characteristics of the forest, the surface area, the buffer zone, the core area, the kind of animals found, the number of bird species visiting annually; all of it was rather entertaining and informative. With a good naturalist, the forest begins to come alive even more. You begin to note a deciduous tree from an evergreen one, a tiger pug mark from a leopard and so on. Ranthambore is a dry deciduous kind of forest. The excitement starts to mount even more when you see the pug marks in the same direction of your vehicle. And then you notice a kill in the distance. And your naturalist informs you that the kill was done by T19 one week ago. T19 is a fierce tigress known in these areas.
Going through the wonderful Zone 2 you marvel at the animals that you come across. The forest is beautiful and takes your breath away. And then suddenly our driver stops at the behest of our naturalist. We wonder what happened. Both driver and naturalist are looking intently into the dry yellow bushes to our left. We all look and see nothing. With joyous eyes they ask us, “Do you see him?” We wonder whom. We saw nothing! And then they pointed “him” to us through the moving yellow twigs, the massive face of a fantastic tiger relaxing in the grass in perfect camouflage. No regular human, beast or bird could have noticed the large feline lying there. The ways of the jungle are beautifully made. These guys are experts to see this and even note the gender. They knew who it was. It was T57 as we were informed. Tigers are named and numbered for identification and conservation purposes. This one was T57, resting in a tranquil area in the grass. What stroke of luck!
We waited a long time looking at him and enjoying his moods and movements. He would lie down. And later he would sit up. Tiger watching and photography is a patient game. After a point of time, he walked up and moved to a place which had more shade. As he moved around, we moved with him. We tried to be discreet. But T57, despite being shy did not seem too bothered by us. In his various movements we even saw him marking his territory. It was simply an awesome morning that we spent in the company of one of the finest endangered creatures on the planet. I began to understand better the life inside a forest; what does it mean when a tiger licks its paws, how a feline marks its territory, how far does it go during a night and a host of other information that is simply fascinating. It is really a pity that the tiger safari gets over at a fixed time and we had to log out of the forest gates at a given time.
The same image in colour shown below:
This was clearly one of the most satisfying mornings in a long time. Doing a wildlife safari in India was certainly a revelation. Ranthambore tiger reserve lived up to its reputation. Coming out of the forest whets your appetite. It is nature at its best. It motivates you to go back. And I was waiting for the evening safari. Even before I got out of the vehicle, I was asking about the time of departure to return to the forest. The forest is an amazing place. Truly! More to come.
The author, Ms Katerina has been travelling extensively on many continents and has been a regular contributor to our channel. You can read her other articles here: