Monday March 16, 2015

We had a leisurely start most mornings on our Royal Rajasthan train – with a wake-up tea or coffee plus little shortbreads delivered to our cabins by cheerful staff, followed by continental breakfast in the restaurant car, followed by whatever was on the agenda for that day’s sightseeing.

But last Wednesday was different.

I’m not sure what time the train rocked up to the small station in the town of Sawai Madhopur (named after its founder Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh I). But, waking at 5am, we Kiwis dressed warmly and made our way onto the platform and into a couple of large, open-top safari vehicles.

From there, we headed out in the chill of early dawn for a wildlife jaunt in the famous Ranthambore National Park. This animal sanctuary covers an area of 392 sq kms, and is considered the best place in India for observing and photographing wild tigers. The lush, mountainous park is also home to hyenas, jackals, foxes, a variety of deer and antelopes, 300+ species of birds, and more.

With the help of a qualified safari guide, we eyeballed a black-bull antelope … an eagle (can’t remember exactly what) … a wounded wild boar (had a nasty gash down its shoulder, caused maybe by a tiger?) … a cute little spotted bambi … a grey mongoose trying to outrun us on the road … a flock of turquoise peacocks … some energetic monkeys … a shiny, black-faced turtle … and a sunbathing crocodile (the only species not native to the park).

But what about TIGERS …?

Well, the other truck (with half our group aboard) was a few minutes ahead of us on the track we were following – and, sadly, they just missed seeing what we saw. Believe it or not, a big male tiger appeared suddenly out of the undergrowth and began walking down the track towards us. Scarcely daring to breathe, we watched (eyes popping and cameras clicking) as he got closer and closer … finally passing (totally unconcerned) right alongside our truck … then continuing on his way behind the vehicle, stopping to squat briefly in the grass and relieve himself … before disappearing back into the dense undergrowth further along the track.

Incredible? You’ve gotta believe it! What a superb, magnificent, powerful animal! He was the dominant male in that area, according to the guide, weighing in at 250kg. He’d nearly died a few months earlier (after eating a hard-to-digest wild boar, tough prickly skin and all). And, in case we had any doubts about this tiger being REALLY wild, the guide reported that our giant cuddly-looking cat had recently killed several nearby villagers and a park ranger!

Gulp! And he’d been SO CLOSE we could’ve almost TOUCHED him!

NEXT BLOG: I plan to tell you A Tale of Four Cities – a blue city … a pink city … a city that specialises in cremations … and a city that’s been made famous by a love story etched in stone. So don’t sign off yet!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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