Ranthambhore – A Tiger Stronghold

Filed in Articles, Workshops on Apr.27, 2019

There is an aura of power and majesty about the Tiger, unchallenged while patrolling their territory. In the famous Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling acknowledged the undisputed status of the mighty Bengal Tiger by introducing Shere Khan as the King of the Beasts. Although the cat family includes many impressive and attractive animals, the Tiger for me is the most beautiful of them all.

The Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the single largest expanse of Dry-Deciduous Forest left intact in India. Such forests were found all along the North and Central Aravalis but in the last few decades they have been badly degraded and right now this Tiger Reserve is one of their last strongholds in India.

The Ranthambhore fort which forms part of this stunning place is believed to have been built in 944 A.D. by a Chauhan ruler. It is strategically located on the border of Rajasthan and the surrounding forests were used as an outer defense to the advantage of the fort, making it one of the strongest forts of Northern India.

The fort had many buildings inside of which only a few have survived the ravages of wars and time. Among the remaining ruins, the two pavilions, Badal Mahal and Hammirs court and parts of the royal palace gave an idea of the old grandeur. This magnificent place sits high up, overlooking the national park and the Tigers that live there.

I have just returned from this magical place where I was leading my Tigers of India tour over two weeks. I have been visiting this area in India now for over a decade and I’ve ran my own trips to this region for almost as long. Both sets of clients from their separate weeks enjoyed great sightings as all had come to see this beautiful animal in one of the best settings in India.

After an early evening flight on Saturday from Heathrow, we arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning where our host was waiting for us all. We then headed to Delhi train station and boarded our train for the 350km to Ranthambhore. The train ride gives clients a wonderful and real life view of  India. The one you see once you go off the beaten track and emerge yourself with the local, native people and how they travel and live.

Once we had arrived, we were picked up and taken to our beautiful hotel accommodation which is on the outskirts of the National Park, the perfect backdrop to be based from during our time there. Once we had settled in, we then relaxed in readiness for the start of our safaris the following morning.

I have hundreds of safaris in this wonderful national park to my name which gives my clients first hand experience in the very best ways to find, track and photograph Tigers from the constraints of a small jeep where timing is everything.  We have two safaris per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon taking us into the late evening light.

We soon settled into our daily routine with an early rise at 5am, coffee from the staff before the jeeps come to pick us all up. We then set off in search of the Tiger. The routine for both weeks never differs as this is the pattern to this trip to maximise the time so my clients get the best chance to see these beautiful big cats.

When you enter the national park your jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around your chosen zone. There is a very strict code of conduct on board eg.no shouting/loud noise, and you cannot get out of the jeep it’s all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount.

There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we passed through some of these on our way to one of the zones you are allocated before each trip, each zone is around 25 km in size. The Tigers also pass through these gates as they use the same “highways” to travel through their territory.

The following images were all taken alongside my clients during the two weeks we spent in this special place. I used a mixture of focal lengths from 600mm right the way down to 24mm-70mm. The close up images were taken with a focal length of 600mm on a cropped camera.

None of the Tigers snarled by our presence or were intentionally disturbed for an image. We just sat, watched and waited and often had that special moment to ourselves which was priceless.

I’ve posted them in sequence as we saw them. The National Park is also home to many other species of wildlife that make their home there, from Peacocks, Wild Boar, Black-tailed Mongoose and many more amazing species that you will see.

Here Kumba, a large male Bengal Tiger comes from cover and I managed to photograph him as he came around this tree and then patrolled his territory.

Using a slow shutter speed I wanted to freeze his strips to give an arty feel to this image.

We also saw a female Tigeress known as Noor, drinking from a small forest watering hole suddenly, without warning looked up as me.

After watching Noor drinking, a Black-tip Mongoose came to the watering hole and managed to catch a frog before taking it away to eat. Fantastic to watch and see this creatures.

Later on we saw this male Tiger just laying in this shaded area. I really loved its wonderful, yet inquisitive look as we all took a few images before leaving our zone to head home.

On the following morning as we entered the national park we came across a male leopard, getting a good angle on him was almost impossible as he was above us in the dense cover. We waited and listened to see where he was, they are really shy and hard to spot often, The following images were taken alongside my clients who all managed some lovely images.

Later after that incredible sighting we found a mother Sloth Bear and her baby. My guide informed us that the baby was around twenty days old. Again due to the nature of this shy creature it was challenging to get images before she disappeared back into the desne cover of the jungle.

The following images were taken alongside my client and show the baby at the rear of her mother, before climbing on top before they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

We had a very brief encounter with an Indian Jackal not long after and I composed the following image as he walked past our jeep at distance.

A very close up image of one of the Tigers main prey, the Samba deer here, I love their eyelashes.

We also managed to see this tiny and gorgeous Indian Gazelle just peeking around this tree. Stunning little creatures with beautiful, textured horns.

A couple of Indian Myna birds here against the overcast sky taken as we drove around our zone looking for Tigers.

The following morning we were very lucky to have this encounter with a female Tigress called “Arrowhead” in the morning light. She had cubs in the area but sadly she didn’t bring the cubs out on the road.

Later on we saw this stunning Rat Snake hunting for prey, a Greenshank and aPeacock feeding in a small pool with fallen leaves adding a splash of rich colours to the images.

Later on we came across a famous tree in the zone we were in, where Fruit Bats lived. The following images were taken alongside my clients of these fascinating creatures

Later we had a special few hours just watching this male Tiger, T74 sitting in a watering hole cooling off before getting up and disappearing into the forest. The first image is of him roaring and I really wish the image had sound as his roar was so loud and powerful.

While at this watering hole we saw a male Shikra, a shy bird of prey that lives in this area. He was cooling off in the heat by standing in the water with his wings outstretched, such a stunning bird to see.

The following morning we were really lucky once more to find a female Tigress whose mother is named Noor, a beautiful female I’ve come to know for many years. Later on we had a very brief moment with a female Leopard.

She shot out in front of our jeep to cross the path before disappearing into the jungle. The following images of that morning were taken alongside my clients.

Later that same day we were in the same zone and saw the same female Tigress and followed her as she patrolled her territory and then went to drink from a waterhole. We also spent some time watching a pair of White-throated Kingfishers that were building a nest inside a small wall.

The following morning we had a beautiful time with a female Tigress called Arrowhead. We watched as she patroled her territory before hunting for her cubs that were hidden away. The following images show what we saw and witnessed, all taken alongside my clients. As we entered the zone the sun was coming up and this lone Jungle Babbler was cleaning himself.

After a brilliant morning we headed back to our beautiful hotel for breakfast and a rest before starting our afternoon safari. We drove around for sometime before coming across a male I’d seen a couple of years ago who is called Fateh,or T42. Named after the famous Fateh Singh Rathore and thought to be around thirteen years old.

He is an aggressive male, who is prone to charging both vehicles and people.The last time we met he walked towards my jeep with a real look of menace and purpose, it was only down to our brilliant driver we got out of his way. You can read about this meeting on a blog post I wrote by clicking here.

I’m happy to report though that our encounter went alot better as we found him asleep in a waterhole. He slept for most of the time, occasionally waking and then going back to sleep. He did sit up and stare at our jeep but it was all fine and my clients got some incredibly images. We left him as we found him in peace.

The following morning we were up as normal and on entering the national park we came across a family of Brown Fish owls. We first saw the adults who then flew to their nest which contained two younger ones. Its was an incredibly lucky find as these owls can be very shy and flighty.

Later on we came across the large male Tiger known as Kumba once more. He was sitting in a watering hole and then got up to patrol his territory, scent marking and scratching at the highest points on certain trees.

Later on we had a lovely encounter with Noor, a female Tigress I know well hunting through the forest for prey, just amazing to watch her.

On the next morning a storm came in and so it rained as the temperature dropped which gave a totally different feel to the place. We managed to still see lots of birds and the following images were taken alongside my clients as we dodged the rain. Firstly a Peacock cleaning, then a cheeky Jungle Babbler up close, a Indian Scops Owl asleep, Magpie Robin and a stunning Greater Coucal

Later that same day in the afternoon safari we were lucky once more and found T74, a male Tiger asleep in a natural watering hole. He slept for sometime before heading off as the skies opened and the morning storm returned.

Ranthambhore National park supports so much birdlife and here are a few of my favorites we found on our next safari. The stunning Peacock and the Red-vented bulbul feeding on the flame of the forest tree as its known for its gorgeous flowers that are bright red in colour.

Later we found the daughter of Noor sleeping on the ground motionless. I took this images of her beautiful markings and paws as she just lay on the forest floor. She slept for a while before getting up, scent marking her territory and heading off into the forest.

The following morning we entered our zone and we came across a pair of Black-faced Langurs grooming each other. I saw one with his arm in the arm as the other checked for ticks but it looks as though he’s tickling him which made us all laugh in the jeep.

Later on we came across Noor’s daughter, Noorie hunting Spotted Deer. We managed a few images but then had to leave our zone for breakfast.

In the afternoon we found another of Noor’s daughters, Sultana, she was sleeping on a small dirt track within the national park. She stayed there for a couple of hours almost until the sun had set. We left her as we found her asleep and in peace on the road. The following images were taken alongside my clients of this special moment.

The circle of life is everywhere here as most items are prey for something higher up in the food chain. On our morning drive we saw a dead male Spotted Deer that was being eaten by wild Boar. The image is slightly graphic but this is nature and in this sanitised, sheltered, apologetic lifestyle we live it’s important for us all to know where we fit in that circle of life I believe and to understand the balance of this.

The only predator of the Bengal Tiger though is man and in the decade or so I’ve visited this place a number of the Tigers I’ve known have disappeared, either killed or poached showing the precarious nature of their lives. I wish this wasn’t the case but Tigers aren’t safe and much more needs to be done to help them to survive for future generations.

Later on we revisited the Brown-Fish Owls nest and the chicks looked slightly bigger and more alert from last week. We saw the one chick close to the female and the other was hidden away. The male was a very short distance away watching us with one eye open and the other closed.

On the very last morning we were extremely lucky to find a very shy and rarely seen female Tigress known as T61.  We entered our zone and we first came across an Indian Hare feeding in the shade with just a tiny amount of light coming through the trees and lighting up their large ears.

We then drove around but saw and heard nothing so we waited at a couple of watering holes. After an hour or so my driver and guide decided to drive around and we came across a few tracks that we followed. “Tiger Tiger” he shouted as his voice broke the morning silence and to our front was a female Tigress.

We quickly got our cameras ready and began taking images as she went and found water to drink and cool off in, before then heading off looking for prey all the time. The following images were taken of this lucky sighting alongside my very happy clients.

Twelve safaris per week clients have and so I do twenty-four ( 2 weeks). Each one lasting around four hours so that’s around ninety-six hours I do in the park and I can honestly say I love every minute. Here is a short film showing the terrain and us entering our zone at dawn. 

 This was the very last image from an amazing two weeks in Ranthambhore National park. we found this female Leopard this and tried to follow her at distance. We found her under these trees, we turned the engine off and watched, after a while she came from the cover and went off into the forest. This image was taken as she slowly moved off, she knew we were there and moved so slowly it was incredible to watch.

Sadly the two weeks drew to a close and we had to leave this amazing place. My clients had some amazing encounters with well over twenty different wild Bengal Tigers over the two weeks. Next April I’m back running my Tigers of India trip once more. I only have a few places free if you’d like to join me. Click on this link to see all the information and previous trip reports and client testimonials.

There are lots of organisations today trying to help save Tigers, many Tigers in my time visiting Ranthambhore have disappeared and been killed which underlines the fragile life they live. Tiger conservation isn’t perfect and these national parks could do more but it’s all we have to stop these stunning creatures being consigned to the history books.

The all day and half day safaris here have changed the dynamics of Ranthambhore and I don’t do these because they are disturbing the Tigers to much. I hope those in power stop them and revert back to the old system of morning and afternoon safaris only. Tigers need space and we should give them this.

I’ve always gone out of my way to show my respect to all the forest guards in Ranthambhore as they do an amazing job with so little. Some of those same guards helped me over ten years ago and I’ve never forgotten that. To those that visit Ranthambore National Park spare a thought for these forest guards that are asked to do so much with so little resources.

While around the world conferences and events are set up that really don’t have any direct link to those at the cutting edge. We need less talking and more direct help on the ground.

Thank you to all the staff at Ranthambhore Regency for such a warm welcome and looking after us all, absolutely brilliant hotel. Thank you to Suraj Meena and Ranthambhore Hemraj for all your expertise and knowledge because without this none of us would have seen what we have. Thank you to Sanjay and the other people in India that help me also.

Lastly I’d like to thank all my clients for joining me over the last two weeks. I really hope I helped you not only see these incredible creatures but also get some images you will always remember, many thanks.

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