About Me

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Hyderabad, AP, India
I used to be a bit of a drifter, still am partly, but life is getting more and more organized recently due to a special someone. I love playing and watching cricket, I have recently realised that I have a very big interest in wildlife and birding. I work for a blue chip company. I am well and truly blessed! No complaints there :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

T17, T6, T39 . . . raining cats ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


After the great sightings we had in Tadoba in April, it was time to try our luck at the country’s premier tiger reserve, the Ranthambore National Park - known for its much-documented legendary tigers like Machili and Genghis. On the outskirts of the small town of Sawai Madhopur, Ranthambore also enjoys great access from many parts in India due to its relative proximity to the city of Jaipur. A visit to Ranthambore provides one with an wholesome experience as the park boasts of a range of flora and fauna endemic to this part of the country.

This time it was Navin, Vidya, Rohit and your’s truly who made the journey up north in to Tiger country. Our flight in to Jaipur was a bit of an adventure in itself as we ran in to heavy turbulence and an unhelpful captain whose announcements were patchy and ineffective most of the time. After duly arriving at Jaipur close to midnight, we did the relatively shorter drive in to Sawai Madhopur and checked in to Ranthambore Forest Resort at around 3 AM! With the morning safari starting at 5.30 AM, we had better got some shuteye to avoid dozing off in front of a tiger ;)

The first safari began at 5.45 AM in the morning and we got a gem of guide in the form of Nadeem. He was well-read, very knowledgeable and conscious of our photographic needs. I would strongly recommend Nadeem (Ph: +91-9875186731) for anyone who is interested in visiting Ranthambore in the near future. We entered the jungle in to Zone 2, a relatively popular zone for tiger spotting due to the abundance of water bodies. With heavy rains this year in and around the core and buffer areas though, the viewing of tigers has come down reportedly. We went in with the hope that we will get ample bird life and if lucky see a tiger or a leopard :)

Bird life we did see, a few lifers at that - Brown Fish Owl, Stork-billed Kingfisher.

Stork-billed Kingfisher
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Spotted Owlet
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Brown Fish Owl
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


However, our luck with the cats was looking spotty and before long almost all of us nodded off mid-way in to the safari :)
With the heat rising from the ground and bird life settling down in the shades, we decided to head back to the lodge for a break and some rest. On the way out Nadeem led us towards Jogi Mahal (some info on Jogi Mahal) which is just near the main exit gate from the park. We saw a few gypsies with people excitedly pointing to the other side of the lake and there she was - T17 (aka Sundari aka Sattar), the resident queen of the lakes (link of Tiger queen). For some of us it was the first sighting of a tiger in the wild and the setting could not have been better! After observing the tigress for some time and seeing her walk around the lake, Nadeem alerted us to the possibility of being able to get closer to her if we rushed outside the park gates. Nadeem’s reading of the situation and his knowledge of Sundari’s beat helped us get this frame!

Tiger!!
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


Sundari aka T-17, up-close
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


Jogi Mahal, has hosted dignitaries like Rajiv Gandhi
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Just before the tiger came by a beautiful Indian Hare ran in front of us to escape from the tiger. Since all eyes were on the approaching tiger, we missed an excellent opportunity to photograph the Hare in motion. Lesson learnt!

With elation at having seen a tiger at our very first safari, we returned back to the lodge an happy and boisterous bunch with all the sleep forgotten in the adrenaline rush.

The second safari in the afternoon began under a scorching sun and with news that we had been allotted zone 3 which houses the Padam Talab and Raj Bagh lakes. These lakes have played hosts to many a tiger in their time at Ranthambore and we were excited at the prospect of being able to see for ourselves the eco-system present around these lakes. Am also told that zone 3 is the smallest within the park. Having entered in to the park at ~3.45 we immediately ran in to a resting Sundari right next to the main entry gate near the fort complex. She had selected a dilapidated temple for escaping the heat of the day. Immediately we were surrounded by hordes of gypsies all eager to see and photograph the striped beauty.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


After some time she started licking her paws and started grooming herslef. Nadeem, ever alert to the possibility of getting good pictures instructed the driver to get in to the road behind the temple ahead of the other gypsies. Within 10 mins, Sundari crossed the road right in front of us, not before sitting right in front of our gypsy for a few mins to think of her next course of action.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


After a very short while, she moved in to the thicket and headed towards the lake to cool off. Her departure led to a mad rush to get to the lake to see her cool off in the water. After waiting next to the lake for close to half hour under the roasting sun we saw Sundari saunter in to the lake after alarming a group of Sambhar deer standing by the lake!

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From that point on it was cat and mouse with Sundari as she moved back towards the main entry gate. At one point, she walked along the ramparts and was only about 10 meters from us and standing up at an elevation. But due to our excitement and constant movements in the jeep, all of us messed up the shot :(

After this brief walk she entered in to zone 2 and we had to say goodbye to her. Post all this rush, we settled down to explore the jungle proper within zone 3. Ultimately this decision to venture closer to the lakes turned out to be for the best because we ran in to some severe weather in the form of an andhi (sand storm). Since we were very close to the Raj Bhag lake we got to see some stunning display of waves splashing about in an otherwise calm surface and birds struggling to fly against the rough winds. With all the sand around, we had to put our cameras in and spent the time just enjoying the beautiful cold air and talking to Nadeem about the issues plauging the wildlife and the jungle in Ranthambore.

Andhi Pics and video Courtesy Navin Sigamany here and here

After this respite we did a quick circle around the lake and saw some interesting bird life in the form of the Eurasian Thick Knee and Great Thick Knee (lifers for most of us). We also saw an interesting piece of wildlife interaction between a couple of parakeets and a monitor lizard which was vying for space on top of a tree. The birds were pecking the living daylights out of the lizard which had pushed itself in to a tight corner. We would have loved to see this through to the end, but with time running out and some tree-falls expected within the jungle due to the strong gusts, we decided to head back to the main gate and end the day with some great memories!


Great Thick Knee, notice the leg bent outwards after the knee
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


A great slideshow on the history of the park and legendary stories around Machli and other popular tigers awaited us at the lodge (courtesy: Gaurav from Jungle Lore).

Safari 3 again saw us venture in to zone 3 - the news earlier in the day was that Sundari had completely entrenched herself in zone 2 and we would be lucky to see any more of her in any other zone. This time we decided to spend more time on the bird life. As soon as we entered and reached the Padam Talab, we saw a beautiful Osprey (lifer!) perched on a distant tree. With expectation we headed deeper in to the jungle and came across a pretty Little Heron (lifer!) who was sitting relatively closer to the road. After spending some time photographing her, we also a full grown marsh crocodile slowly come above the surface of the water to check us out. With just the eyes jutting out, she was quite a sight!


Little Heron
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Marsh Crocodile
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


The rest of the Safari was spent around the Raj Bagh lake with some sightings of spotted deer, wild boars and a few huge Sambhar deer. With no predator in sight, the animals were just enjoying their time in water as we headed out of the park

Safari 4 took us to the intensive and tough zone 1. The enticing factors were the presence of 2 tigers in this zone as observed earlier in the day and the chance to sight a leopard, much more elusive than the tiger. With hopes really high we ventured in to what personally turned out to be the most frustrating and demanding safaris on this trip. This particular day was extremely hot and the roads in to his zone were particularly difficult and extremely steep at many locations. With the heat belting down on us and driving on such difficult roads, holding on to the camera and also to the railings on the jeep proved to be quite a task. We finally stopped near a forest chowki to stretch our legs and the only thing that we were able to spot and photograph were a few ubiquitous Rofous Treepies (aka Tiger Toothpick) that had gotten used to human presence. With no action and a very still summer afternoon, we could not wait for this safari to end. But we did manage to shoot a painted spurfowl (lifer!) and the relatively small and shy Jungle Bush quails on our way out. An evening spent in the pool in lukewarm, chlorinated water completely what turned out to be a disappointing day in comparison to Day 1.


Painted Spurfowl
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Jungle Bush Quail
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


On Safari #5, we got zone 4, the home range of the most popular and most photographed wild tiger in the world, Machili. Zone 4 was also home to a sub-adult male tiger called T6 and the news was that sightings in this zone were particularly good. After the relatively dry safari the earlier evening, we were all hoping for a change in luck. Ranthambore has been a very productive location for many a wildlife documentary filmmaker, not only due to the rich flora and fauna, but the relatively better educated and equipped guides available here. During our visit, we were privy to 2 filming units doing stories on Tigers. Some popular documentaries shot in Ranthambore include Tiger Queen and Broken Tail. The reason I mention is that the jeeps carrying the filming crews always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, so much so that we ended following them whenever we sighted them in our zones. In our safari in to zone 4, we saw one of the filming crew vehicles coming towards us from the opposite side. We sensed that something was afoot and we followed their direction to get to a cave about 20 feet above the ground to see our first male tiger on the trip, T6. Though we could see striped skin showing through the dense foliage, the situation was not most conducive for photography. We waited for a long period for the tiger to move, but from what we understood, the tiger could have possibly made a kill recently and would not move any time soon. We were however hopeful that we would get an allocation to the same zone in the evening and we would end up spending some time with this tiger. With these thoughts, we proceeded to exit from the park, but not before photographing a white-eyed buzzard circling directly overhead.

Jeep carrying film crew and right up-close with a tiger
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



White-eyed Buzzard
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



Instead of getting zone 4 as we had earlier hoped, Safari 6 pushed us in to zone 2. With some news on sightings of T19 and T39 in this zone, we headed in to the jungle with cameras ready. This time instead of pottering around and shooting all kinds of bird-life we decided to go all out just for the tiger and headed deeper in to the jungle. We did briefly stop to shoot a beautiful peacock with all its feathers out in full glory

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


As we made our way to the Nalghati area of the park, we noticed a bunch of gypsies parked by a small water body. With a rush of adrenaline we made our way to the small pond and we were greeted with the sight of T39 cooling off along the banks of the pond!! The light was brilliant and the whole area was abuzz with excitement. Nadeem helped position the vehicle directly in line with the tigress and we got some memorable photographs of this beautiful feline cat.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


After about ½ hour of this special show, the tigress made to get up and walk away from the pond

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



But with all the vehicles lining themselves up all along the shore of the pond, she had but no choice to look for an alternative route. She sat down wherever she was to ponder the conundrum before beginning to walk along the river bed.


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



However, all the vehicles (which had grown close to 20 now) was keen on getting more of this beauty and kept following her wherever she went. She climbed a small hillock to catch a breath before coming back again for quick sip of water. All this while, the filming crew vehicle kept parking their jeep at whatever location the tiger wanted to cross over in to the Jungle. Eventually a ranger of the forest who had come in with his family had to step in and warn them off to give the tigress enough space for her to get in to jungle. She made a dash for it sensing the opportunity and we were all slightly disturbed that all the people who sighted her, us included, did not think of her needs while clicking away to glory :(

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


After the exhilaration of spending so much time with the tigress we went back to the lodge to catch the finals of the IPL. The day ended, personally on a great note, with Chennai pulling one over Bangalore in the finals :)

The great sighting the previous evening had satiated our thirst for tigers. However, with Machili not having been sighted recently, we were really hoping to wind up in sytle after a look at her in Zone 4. This particular safari Nadeem was unable to join us and we had to venture in with a new guide who hardly opened his mouth :\

On the way came across an Indian Hare foraging for breakfast in beautiful early morning light and also a brilliant interaction between a pair of kingfishers who were making a meal off a frog.


Indian Hare
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)



White-throated Kingfishers, sharing is caring ;)
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)


Proceeding onwards, we reached the forest department’s chowki within zone 4 to check with the resident guards on any sightings. They informed us about the time that Machili spent in a water body nearby. With curiosity aroused we proceeded to check out the spot and look for signs of her presence. It turned out that she had spent time at the water body the previous evening and she probably had found some food to keep her away from there. We also saw a few tiger pug marks leading away from the main road and the resident experts opined that it was T19 and we probably missed it by about half hour.

We proceeded on from that location to try our luck at other water bodies within the zone, but it did appear that our luck finally ran out and we would return back with no great sightings this time around. While stopped to listen in to any alarm calls, we heard a call coming from a bund above where we were, we rushed to the spot and we came close to a bunch of sambar deer which were raising loud calls. It was clear that a tiger was hidden inside, but after a brief while the tiger seemed to have gone back to sleep. We waited around this area for close to an hour before realizing that it was time for us to leave if we were to make it out of the park without facing any fines. So with a mixed feeling we finished our last safari in the park and headed to the lodge for the long journey back home.

In total we went on 7 safaris, on 4 of which we had sightings of the tiger. Would have been incredible if we had spotted a leopard, but that was not to be. Ranthambore, in addition to the big cats is also popular the smaller cats like Caracal and the Jungle cat, hopefully next time around we would be able to see these!

The trip was organized through tour operators Jungle Lore, the same guys who took care of my earlier trips to Pench and Tadoba. The total trip (7 Safaris, stay @ 5 nights/4 days, all meals during our stay, pick-up and drop in an A/C Xylo) cost us INR 21,600/-

If anyone is interested in going on future tours with Jungle Lore, get in touch with either Gaurav or Kaustabh (numbers on their website). While you are at it, check out this awesome video of Machili attacking a spotted deer from behind a tourist gypsy. She is indeed a legend!!

Signing off until another foray in to another jungle happens soon . . .

7 comments:

  1. Hi Ajith,

    Awesome photos! I don't know the superlative for this, else you'd have found it here, in this comment! :)

    One query, if I may...how do we copyright our photos? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. God has created evry Human being in this world with a specific purpose probably you have been crafted by HIM to Love nature and picturise it and be a part of the development and noursihment of the same. Luckily you have identified it early God bless you Ajith Kudos to your skills. Please enhance the skills whenever you get an opportunity or feel that you are cot complete. WONDERFUL.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Awesome Photographs!!!

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  4. Amazing pics. Especially the tiger eye. Brilliant stuff Ajith.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ajith,
    Thank you for sharing these amazing photos and memories. You are truly gifted and look forward to more of your posts. carol

    ReplyDelete

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