With only a few days of our trip left, it was hard to not feel greedy for more time. A feeling of sadness came over me that next week we would back to the “real world”. With our departure date drawing nearer, we decided to give those elusive cats one last chance. The unlucky break of our first few safaris in Bandhavgar must have been a fluke. We were headed for Ranthambore National Park!
As you enter the park, the cliffs soar upward in all directions. Following the river, which is now only a trickle from a scorching desert summer, there are ruins from the old fort all around. The jungle has swallowed the remaining stones and you only get a glimpse of what its former glory must have been. Ranthambore is arguably one of India’s most famous tiger parks; it has been featured in countless documentaries which first inspired me as a young girl to visit vibrant India.
Ranthambore has inspired adventurers for centuries, mostly due to its large tiger population. In 1973 “Project Tiger” was allotted 60 square miles which was later expanded to become Ranthambore National Park. The tiger population has greatly fluctuated since the 80’s which has brought much controversy about how authorities have handled the park matters. Since the initial shock of the decline in tigers from 44 in 1982 to a mere 26 in 2005, the government has improved their efforts to increase the tiger population. The Indian government has given $153 million to tiger reserves across India to assist the forest guards in their daily efforts. The ever present threat of poaching, along with the competition for land is a constant struggle. However, these efforts have proven successful in Ranthambore, and the tiger population has increased to a debatable 47 today.
Due to the park’s popularity, different zones have been created and vehicles are allocated exact routes that are strictly enforced. A guard warned us that since we were not technically allowed in this zone, we could only stay a few minutes with the tigers. Bumping along, we were overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation as always; were we really going to get the chance to see him? Our eyes constantly playing tricks; what you think is a tiger is almost always a termite mound that glistens a golden orange color or a log that makes you think it is a crouching tiger. We pulled up to join the other jeeps that were there for the same reason. My eyes were scanning every bush and branch, frantically trying to spot the tiger before he escaped into the formidable jungle. There he was, sprawled out basking in the summer sun by the water hole. The fears of him escaping us were erased; this lazy cat was not moving until the sun relented. Tigers in India become most famous when they show “a good sighting”. Walking around, coming close to jeeps, some have even famously been known for mock charging vehicles. This tiger however was not in the mood for putting on a show. With only a few minutes to spend with the tiger he didn’t even lift his head to give us a glimpse of his eyes. This being our first safari in Ranthambore, we could not have been more thrilled to see a tiger.
During the three safaris in Ranthambore, we saw five tigers; our luck had most certainly returned! We even got to see three large cubs close to each other, a truly amazing experience. We were warned that once you see the tiger you will undoubtedly become completely captivated by this magnificent beast. I feel compelled to return to the realm of the tiger someday very soon.