Just after saying goodbye to all staff of Nature Heritage Resort we have been taken to the train station at Katni, where we took our sleeper train once again. We almost lost it, after having passed by a never-ending sequence of villages along the road between Bandhavgarh and Katni during the early evening hours; we have got to the train station just in time for getting in the wagon and go, and this rush had a cost, Cassio left his hat behind – most probably in the car back seat in the moment we parked in the station and took our luggage in the dark.
We passed more than 14 hours in that train, and finally arrived at Sawai Madhopur by the morning, and we have been taken to the Dev Vilas Hotel where we would spend the next 4 days to explore the Ranthambhore National Park. It was much hotter in Rajasthan than it was in Madhya Pradesh. The weather was extremely dry and we could notice differences immediately – there was that red dust everywhere and the scenery was mostly like semi-desert with dry and dry vegetation.
Typical Ranthambhore Scenery
The game-drives rules in Ranthambhore were different than in Bandhavgarh. There we had to share the jeep with guests of other hotels. The jeeps and guides did not belong to the hotel but to third-party companies hired by the Government; we were picked up by the jeep on the morning and afternoon, but it might be a different one each time – the guide/driver combination also changed, and they have a route assigned by the Forest Department before picking the guests at their hotels.
In Ranthambhore, there are 5 routes denominated by numbers from 1 to 5, being the Route 1 the one heading to the most Eastern side of the entrance while the Route 5 heads to the most western side of it – then the other 3 routes cover the East-Center, Center-Core and West-Center areas. The Route 3 is the one which covers the Core area, what is called the Heart-of-Ranthambhore where there is access to the Rajbagh Lake and it is the main area of the most famous tiger in the park: Machali, the oldest tiger in the touristic range if the park. Machali is to Ranthambhore what B2 is to Bandhavgarh.
In the first afternoon, we met our first guide: Ravindar. There was a main road starting in the first park gate that crosses a kind of Buffer Zone. This road took us to a second gate passing through a small canyon – after the gate, depending on what route we got, we could take a track to the right or to the left, or continue ahead. In that afternoon, we had Route 4, and then we continued ahead until reach the corresponding ranger’s checkpoint before entering the Route 4 itself. A very dusty track surrounded by rocky hills in both sides introduced us to this new environment, very different from Bandhavgarh.
Park main road
We were still distracted assimilating the new scenery when the driver cried: Look! We immediately stopped the vehicle. There was something moving far away on the winding track ahead, but it was not close enough to distinguish what exactly animal it might be. We approached slowly and the guide then confirmed it was a tiger. That was really incredible that in the first 10 minutes of game-drive we could spot our first tiger in Ranthambhore – we were very excited with it.
The big cat was moving towards us actually, just walking calmly on the track, like a phantom not making any noise as the paw cushions smoothly touched the dusty ground. Despite the high temperature at that time, the tiger was moving around showing being plainly adapted to that tough weather. Ravindar explained that tigers would prefer to walk on the tracks indeed because the track would be cooler than going the rocks and bushes, but we indeed expected that they would be much more lethargic than they actually proved to be under such temperature.
T.17 is her name, a young but already adult tigress. In Ranthambhore the tigers do not get a name, but a number – less charming isn’t it? There are 34 tigers in the Ranthambhore core area and T.17 rules over a territory in the border of routes 4, 3 and 2, closer to the entrance. She does not have any cubs in the moment.
T.17 kept coming towards us and we backed off a couple of times along the route to give her more space. She walked to the left of the car making us think that she would go to the stream running just along the road, but then she turned to the right towards the hills and set her route away from us.
T.17 has 2 sisters, T.18 and T.19 and they are all Machali’s daughters (Machali is also known as T.16 – her official tag). T.17 had a female cub baptized of T.1, who was transferred together with T.18, her sister, to Sariska Reserve, the national park which has lost all his tigers to poaching. That is a truly sad story.
We could barely notice, but T.17 was wearing a radio collar for tracing. Ravindar said that 3 tigers use collars in Ranthambhore, and we personally guess that the collar may be necessary not for scientific research but to monitor T.17 just because her territory is on the edge of the core area, bordering the buffer zone where there are still active Hindu temples and many villagers circulating by bicycle or even by foot.
After T.17 vanished in the bushes on her way to the hills, we continued our journey into the Route 4, then feeling a big relief since we succeed spotting our tiger of the day. Along the route we saw many other animals and specially birds – and it was noticeable that the wildlife there was a bit different of Bandhavgarh. It was much easier to spot birds and frequently multiple species together.
We came across a big waterhole in halfway to the end of the Route 4, where crocodiles were taking sunbath to raise their body temperature and chital deers browsed the grass and profited of the black drongos on their back to get rid of the parasites just like the well-known buffalos and oxpeckers symbiosis in Africa.
Drongos and Chitals
Framed by the spotted deer legs
Next we reached an area called Lakarda where a village used to exist before being relocated to the buffer zone. Lakarda is Machali’s territory, but there was no sign of her that afternoon. We then took the track to the very end part of the Route 4, a very rocky slope making the contour of a deep and shady valley. There we spent some time trying to track a leopard that lives in a cave around there; however we followed the loud Sambhar deer alarm calls for quite some time without success. Leopards are really extremely elusive cats. I already confess that despite all promising attempts, we had no chance to see a leopard in India. Maybe on next time.
The end of the first game-drive approached and we just made half-turn and went back to the ranger’s checkpoint and headed out of the park. It was a really great start, we could see an adult female tiger and many other animals – the Ranthambhore Park is different and beautiful.
Back in the hotel, the swimming pool was waiting for our evening splash. We went all the way back to the hotel already dreaming about the next safaris…
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