March delivered some spectacular wildlife viewing during two separate trips to Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan. Asia’s iconic cats treated me to a couple of superb sightings early in the month. The first was a 2.5 hour sighting of a big male tiger on a territorial patrol through zone 4 of the park. After marking his territory, he stopped to rest and scared some spotted deer half to death when they unknowingly grazed a little to close to him. After taking an hours ‘cat nap’, he headed off again in search of some Sambar deer near one of the perennial waterholes. Unfortunately, a setting sun robbed us of the chance to see him in action as he slowly stalked towards the unsuspecting deer.
A few days later, on a morning excursion in picturesque zone 3 of the park, I experienced my best game drive in India to date. A well known tigress T17 (AKA ‘The Lady of the Lake’) was hunting and we were fortunate enough to witness her multiple attempts and stalking manoeuvres before she got lucky.
Fortune favoured us as we sat watching a herd of spotted deer grazing the green grass along the shore of Raj Bagh Lake. A cacophony of tiger-induced distress erupted from the deer as the feline burst out of the forest at full tilt. However, somehow the chital managed to evade her best efforts and escaped. The tigress turned and retreated into the ruins of an old hunting palace before emerging out the other side to cross a thin strip of land cutting through the middle of the lake. It was a spectacular sight to see her crossing shortly after sunrise with her reflection mirrored in the glassy lake. After stopping for a noisy drink and rest in the water, she detoured to Padam Talau Lake where she spotted another unwary herd of spotted deer grazing along the lake shore. She bided her time until two rutting males engaged each other in a fight, then she charged. Bursting out of the aptly named ‘tiger grass’ she was at full speed by the time the chital became aware of her. The distracted male deer never stood a chance. She barreled into one of them knocking him down and going straight for the throat. Five minutes later his legs stopped flaying and peace once again descended on the scene as the tigress retreated back into the grass with her prize to feed. What a sighting…
After enjoying such superb tiger sightings I doubted that anything could eclipse these great experiences. However, as we raced for the gate one evening a pair of mating leopards tried their best to steal the honours for ‘the most spectacular sighting of the trip’. Later in the month we spent over an hour with a big male leopard in zone 1 as he tried to escape the incessant alarm calls of some perplexed langur monkeys and sambar deer that shadowed his every move. He was a brute of a leopard with a huge dew lap hanging from his neck and he walked with the swagger of a cat that knows he owns the place!
It wasn’t only tigers and leopards that entertained me royally while I explored Ranthambhore. Khem Villas provided a luxurious and friendly base offering a pristine nature experience on the fringe of the park. Extremely friendly staff, delicious food, beautiful cottages overlooking small lakes with a rich birdlife kept Katherine and me suitably entertained outside of game drive hours. This lodge comes highly recommended for anyone fortunate enough to visit Rajasthan’s most famous wildlife sanctuary. Those with budgetary constraints should opt for the Ranthambhore Bagh, which is a great mid-range option. Dicky Singh is the owner and a keen wildlife photographer. His excellent images adorn the walls of the hotel ensuring that you will ‘see’ plenty of tigers as you dine!
I managed to fit in one more trip up to the Ganges River before the rafting season draws to a close next month. A friend, Rory Pryde, was visiting from Australia and he joined Katherine, me and a couple of Delhi mates for a fun weekend of wild white-water just outside of Rishikesh. The weekend culminated with us running The Wall – a grade 4+ rapid – in a little two-man inflatable ‘ducky’. We surfed a big hole towards the end of a long stretch of white-water before getting cleaned up and washing out the bottom of the rapid. Rory’s saucer-sized eyes greeted me when I popped up downstream and, after we realised we had survived, it was high fives all around!
As I look ahead to April, Katherine and I will be heading home for 5 weeks of ‘home leave’ to enjoy the ‘wedding season’ in South Africa. My sister gets married over the Easter weekend, then a good University friend, Garth Kingwill, gets married the following weekend in Mozambique and, finally, Katherine and I will be having a South African wedding celebration for all our friends and family that couldn’t make it over to Minnesota last year. So next month will see us enjoying a change of scenery back in Africa and a much-anticipated holiday back home to catch up with friends and family. Watch this space for further details on this next adventure…