The first week of my Tigers of India photo tour is now over and like in the title the time has really flown for my clients on their first week. Tomorrow I leave the peace and quiet of the rural countryside of Ranthambhore for the noise and chaos of Delhi to drop clients off to the airport and then pick new ones up the following morning before heading back to Ranthambhore on Monday. The first week as been everything and more with regard to Tiger sightings and images so I’m so pleased for all my clients my wish is that the second week continues with the luck we have had.
The routine as mentioned in previous blogs does not alter, 5.30am and we are on our way to the National park. Once we enter, anything can been seen and your cameras are ready. Over the last two days I have visited my favourite zone which has some amazing lakes among its landscapers.
One the first day we entered this zone, went through our checks with the guards and paperwork, a few moments later we were among the landscape. My jeep turned a tight bend on a small dirt track and there was a massive male Tiger- T28 just sitting on the ground sleep. We approached with great care and turned our jeep engine off and just watched him, amazing.
He woke up though and I just watched him and his actions, making a wonderful first contact as captured here. He seemed alittle troubled and let out a bit of a raw/yawn and the image below I think was a clear warning to leave him be. A few moments later he was up and just walked off, vanishing into dense cover and away from us.
An amazing encounter once more for my clients very close and very lucky we felt. Soon after we were back on the small dirt track and carried on searching and looking for the Tigers. An hour or so passed and we had a bref encounter with Sultan Of Ranthambhore, a two year male who I last saw in 2013 with his mum as a one year old. he was the only cub and grew really big very fast. We saw him around a watering hole before he vanished. he doesn’t have a territory of his own yet so is still quit nomadic.
The morning passed really quickly and it wasn’t long before we headed back to the guard house and back to the Ranthambhore Bagh for breakfast. Yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, toast and then a few hours of sleep and rest thats the basic pattern we all do each day after each mornings drive. 3pm and both jeeps packed with our supplies, and water and we are back out heading to our allocated zone. This first week has just been brilliant and on most occasions both of my jeeps had the same zones and shared in their riches and success photography wise. My hope is this continues next week.
Serval hours had passed on that afternoon and there was no Tigers around, the zone we were in was very quiet, some nice birds and other images to be had but the time was nearly up.
As we were returning to the guard house and home after a very hot and dusty day with Salim Ali– the best guide/tracker in India. We turned a small bend on a tiny road and this was what was coming our way. Almost a quarter of a ton, dominate, ruling his kingdom with fear and removing anything that stands in his way.
I think we’d almost in our heads switched off as we were returning home, I had easter eggs on my mind as I just couldn’t believe loving chocolate so much that I was away from home at such an important time in the year to eat as many as you can in a day which is often what I do on this day.
Knowing animal behaviour is often the key to better photographs and a more relaxed subject on ethical grounds and you never stop learning and in the five years I have worked and ran my trips here in Ranthambhore I have learned alot about wild Tigers from my good friend Salim Ali. We have great banter too, lots of jokes, laughter and practical jokes during those many hours of searching for them in tough, hot dusty conditions carrying your heavy camera gear across your forearms so you dont smash it up as the roads and journey is very rough and bumpy. Yesterday I witnessed for a brief moment something that may have gone so wrong through just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and Salim took the wheel and got us out of a tricky position.
I’m not going to dramatise this event, these are wild animals and when you’re in the way its your own fault as this is there home end off. But here we were just in the wrong place. As this male Tiger was walking towards us we started to reverse which is hard on a small dirt track with a 100m drop down to a small river on one side and a sheer wall of earth on the other. You have to go back and get out of the way. We were doing that at the same time watching what he was doing, then a canter, a large bus with people in came around the corner, it too going home and this blocked us in and stopped us dead in our tracks. I heard the gear system of the canter change and the driver put the vehicle in reserve and try to go back as he did this the Tiger changed his behaviour and went from Tiger walking to Tiger hunting in a second and his face, the situation felt instantly different.
As Salim tired to reverse the jeep,the canter found it hard to navigate going backwards all the time this Tiger was covering the ground to our front fast, crouching down and looking to the right as he had seen Samba Deer his main prey. Alarm calls from Deer, Monkeys rang out as Salim in Indian shouted at the canter driver to get the thing moved and back as quickly as he could as a situation was coming that might go wrong.
The Tiger was now 2 foot away from the left hand side of the jeep, Salim was on the right of me and I was the passenger making me closet to him in hunting mode. When a Tiger is in this mode everything else around him is of no concern, blocked out, focused purely on the hurt. Here though with the angle, the noise the deer escaped and he kept coming forward to look for another from the road and once again came so close to the jeep I could almost touch him.
None of us panicked , you go into auto mode and all I thought was if he enters my side of the jeep or goes for me as they swipe their prey with their massive crawls which breaks the neck of the prey I will have to put my long lens and monopod to my front and in his way. It would do nothing but it was my best bet and thats all that went through mind as Salim shouted above the engine noise to the canter driver behind to move backwards fast. I had never been in a position like this and through no fault of our own we were in the middle of a hunt with a highly charged male Tiger. bursting with adrenaline. The whole thing seem to last ages but it was only a few mintues, time enough to see the dangerous situations you can be invoked in by being in the wrong place and the wrong time.
We all feel fear, it can render you powerless, but its what you do with that fear that counts and we managed to get clear in the end as he carried on coming forward. Pulling to the side as he vanished into cover chasing those deer. We still had to pass this place and get out of the forest and we just then drove like crazy to get back.
It wasn’t until that evening after our evening meal that Alan and I spoke about what could have been and there were people inside that canter staying at our hotel that later said they watched all of this and saw us in this position and though it looked really bad for us. Underlining just what could have been.
I hope I have explained this the best I can, the image shows him smelling the air, licking and tasting the air and an intense feel about him. I feel we were very lucky, so lucky but my thanks, respect and hand goes out to Salim who got Alan and I out of that potential very dangerous situation where for a moment I was going to have to walk the walk should he get angry or attack our jeep something I wouldn’t recommend however much you can do some as I say.
Wild animals can never truly be trusted and understood and if you ever forget this as visitors in their world then thats the time you could pay with your only life and thats the lesson I learnt on Good Friday whiling dreaming of an easter egg. The following images tell that story I hope.
The image below is the last one I took before I put my lens down and readied myself incase he came. Its not sharp and slightly soft due to this changing situation.
That evening all I could think of was our lucky escape before going to bed. This morning was the last safari for some and then to the airport so I was up early once more and got a coffee and bananas and went out onto the road to watch and hear a new day begin. Then our jeeps arrived and we went to got our permits and entered the kingdom of the Tiger. The sky had a few clouds in and as we drove around the sky became really angry and displayed the signs of an incoming storm.
We checked around the usual places that Tiger frequent at Ranthambhore but no sightings. We then headed back to the main gate and waited out the storm that had started, angry raws of thunder followed by lighting.
An hour or so passed where the heavens just opened up, in India rain is really bad and heavy and soon some of the roads and buildings were flooded. After the rain had stopped, we decided to go around our zone but the rain had unsettled everything so we didn’t really see much this morning. We packed our cameras away and headed back to our hotel. A welcome warm brew was waiting for us once we got back home and my usual breakfast of fresh yogurt and fruit was also ready for me.
I was sorry for some of my clients as this afternoon was to be there last drive. Two of my clients have booked the whole two weeks so that have the next seven days once more to increase their already amazing images of this place. After lunch we headed into Ramthanbhore and drove to the lake area once more and saw a male Tiger sitting in long grass. We found an ideal vantage point to watch him and after around half an hour he moved off and as most of the Tigers do here just vanished into the forest without trace.
No matter how many times you see these amazing animals you never tier of seeing them, natures most beautiful animal. below are a few of my favourite images from today that I hope you like.
Tomorrow I head to Delhi airport a trip of around 7-8 hours by road to drop of some clients. I then go and meet my friend and his family who live in Delhi before getting some sleep then back to the airport in the early morning to pick those new clients up and then back to Ranthambhore where the whole trip starts again with safaris and Tigers fingers crossed working with the same drivers and I cannot wait.
I’d like to thank all my clients for your company over the last seven days, I’m over the moon you have seen the most beautiful of animals and captured some great images. Thank you to my guides too, Salim and Raj for your hard work, banter, and jokes along the way. My Ranthambhore Live blog posts will continue next week, where once more I really hope to transport you to this magical place in the north of India and its amazing wildlife. Until then I’d like to wish you all a happy easter and all the best from India.