It was a few years ago, in the summer month of May, an afternoon safari into Ranthambhore yielded some very good sightings of not just a Tiger, but also a Leopard as well as a Sloth Bear. What more to ask for in just one safari.
Wildlife is always unpredictable and a certain degree of anticipation, knowledge of the area, the expertise of your guide and driver and above all, the element of luck plays a major role. Some days on safari are dry with no sightings, some are average and some are good. But there have been just be a couple of days for me that have yielded blockbuster sightings, one after the other. It was summer in Ranthambhore National Park with the mercury soaring well over 44 degrees centigrade. Thats expected in May in that part of India. I left the hotel for an afternoon safari at around 3 pm.
One of Ranthambhore’s most scenic areas are around the lakes in Zone 3. Also what makes this park and particularly zone 3 special is the numerous monuments belonging to the 1000 year old fort complex atop the hill. This view of the hunting palace in the Rajbagh Lake and its three windows is probably the park’s most photographed landscape. It is believed to be the summer palace of the Maharajas and there is a man-made bund for the Kings to cross the lake onto the island. Today, the ruins have been abandoned and Tigers and other wildlife have claimed it. Occasionally Tigers have been seen sitting and watching over the lake from the windows, although I haven’t seen one yet.
As we entered Zone 3 around 3:30 pm through the Jogi Mahal Gate, the park was quite. Spotted Deer were grazing all over and that meant the Big Cats were away. Checked most areas around the lakes and we found a trail of pug marks leading us up to the Mandook Plateau.
Half way up, there was a Leopard drinking water from a saucer (a small artificial waterhole). Leopards aren’t the most common sighting in Ranthambhore due to the very high population of Tigers. They are seldom seen and mostly skittish. The moment it saw the vehicle, it walked away and the driver immediately killed the engine. It paused for a moment, turned back and stared at us before walking away. We reversed and waited for a few moments and he was back again for a drink. The heat at this time of the year is so relentless that any source of water is like elixir for all forms of life. No matter what happens, they are forced to come. We left the Leopard and drove further looking for the Tiger who’s pug marks we had seen earlier. There were no signs of any cat and we returned to the Lakes.
As we reached Rajbagh, Tigress Krishna T19 (Mother of Arrowhead – T84, who currently lives on the lakes) walked out of the tall grass on the platform stalking the deer. But she was noticed and the deer scooted. Krishna lay down on the lake bed, lounging under the summer heat. Being the apex predator in the Indian Jungles, unlike Leopards, Tigers have little to fear. Her presence kindled tons of excitement and the tourists using their mobile phones were shooting away. She was exhausted from the heat and hardly moved. Occasionally, her tailed would twitch to keep the flies away. An hour passed.
In summer, the light is quite harsh until evening. The sun began to set behind the mountains, when the Lady of the Lakes decided to move. She was scent-marking and smelling the ground constantly. Probably looking for her cubs. She sniffed the tree and walked around it looking right into my lens. The excitement was over the top to have seen a Leopard and a Tiger on the same safari. What more to ask for, I thought. But the day hadn’t ended just yet. Krishna walked around a bit longer and moved away into the bushes. She seemed to be gone for the day and her chances of coming back were thin.
Drove away from the Platform and towards the gate when a Spotted Deer came running towards us, quite alarmed though. It was unlikely that the deer was startled by Krishna’s presence since she had gone the other way. Probably cubs? Many questions ran in our mind for the 10-15 seconds until I saw the Sloth Bear lying down on his back behind a mound. He was restless and then realised that the Bear was being bombarded by Honeybees. A swarm of them swarmed around the poor Bear and he seemed to be having a tough time. Some bees got diverted from the Bear and came for my Gypsy. The last thing I wanted was being stung. Bears again are seen less frequently in this area of the park. High tiger density is the reason. That day, the Bear and Tiger were about 500-600 meters away.
After a few photographs and briefly watching the Bear, it was time to go, mainly to get away from the Bees. An afternoon couldn’t get better than that day. But a few years later, once again in May, I did see 2 Tigers, 2 Sloth Bears (Mother and cub) and a Leopard in one morning spent in Zone 2. But this afternoon remains etched in my memory and there was little time when I had actually put away my camera. Every time I am in Ranthambhore, the Bear sighting particularly keeps flashing as I pass the area.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan