I have just returned from two weeks in Ranthambhore, India where I was leading two, one week photo tours with clients. I have been visiting this area now for several years and have enjoyed many safaris into this magical place each time the smell, the noises of this place truly leave you breathless. Both sets of clients from their separate weeks enjoyed good sightings as all had come to see this beautiful animal in one of the best settings in India.
This image below captures a female Tigress coming from nowhere, catching us out as we sat in a small Jeep waiting with the engine turned off. I took a couple of images and we moved as the situation could have become dangerous, this is one of those images captured.
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.
After the early evening flight on Saturday from Heathrow, Terminal 5, British Airways, we arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning where our air conditioned transport was waiting to drive us the 370km drive to Ranthambhore and our accommodation on the outskirts of the National Park. We drove through many cities and small towns that were a cauldron of beeping horns, mopeds, cows and children and tuk-tuks, crossed level crossing seeing the real India all around us.
When we arrived and after lunch and a quick change and freshen up we visited and photographed the fort at Ranthambhore along with the people that visit this place to pray and pay respect to their gods, the women bringing their children as the men walk behind,passing through the many gates and dark corridors on the way to the temples to pray.
The Ranthambhore fort 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 defence 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.
During our time at Ranthambhore along with the Tigers we managed to see Jackals and Leopards which was brilliant as both share the same habitat as the Tiger but are very shy and nervous. The whole area is full of different wildlife and has to be seen to believed.
There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we’d pass through the main gate, our way to one of the 5 zones you are allocated before each trip,with each zone being around 25 km plus in size, where your Jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around the chosen zone,with a very strict code of conduct on board eg.no shouting/loud noise, you cannot get out of the Jeep its all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount.
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 is the most beautiful of them all.
Once we settled into our daily routine with an early rise at 5am, coffee from the staff before the two Jeeps I hire came to pick up the different groups, then setting of in search of the Tiger. It is guaranteed to send adrenalin coursing through the veins, whilst every movement in the undergrowth raises the expectation of a sudden appearance of this animal, striped body, footprints in the dust or the warning cries of deer all serving only to heighten the almost unbearable sense of excitement as you watch and listen for the first clue that a Tiger is around you.
The routine for both weeks never differed as this is the pattern to this trip I have now been running for several years. Next years trip is the fifth year and the place always offers something different with each visit. Sightings for the first week were good and its hard to explain each one as both sets of groups had some amazing encounters. So did my clients on the second week. I’m going to try and just show you some of those amazing encounters with the following images.
During the first week both of my Jeeps had some amazing encounters with many different Tigers, but the many special moments we all shared with a one year old cub called The Sultan Of Ramthambhore, after a famous ruler in these parts centuries earlier was the true highlight of the week. He is the only cub so there’s no competition for the prey his mum-T39 catches. During the week they moved from zone to zone and all my clients had a wonderful ringside view into their world.
Close and tender moments captured between Mother and son born out before our very eyes that where so enduring and wonderful to witness.
The Sultan of Ranthambhore was the real star from the first week and here are some more images of this beautiful animal who I hope becomes a dominate male there in years to come.
Some truly amazing encounters with this cub, moments that will live long in the memory for everyone lucky enough to have shared those precious times on that first week. This for me was the best sightings I’ve ever had of a cub during the four visits I have made so far to Ranthambhore, next year will be my fifth year so fingers crossed he’s still around when I return next April.
As the first week drew to a close I travelled back to Delhi to say goodbye to my first clients and the following day I met the next clients. Its was an amazing shock to the system having been in such a remote part of India to then be thrush back into one of the busiest cites in the world, Delhi. A total mad house and a place you have to get in and out as quickly as possible or it just swallows you up with its noise and traffic.
Once we were back from Delhi and settled in once more we visited the fort again, so clients could soak up this amazing place that stands guard over Ranthambhore. The following morning our safaris began once more and back to the tired and tested routine which is designed to give clients the very best chance of seeing wild Tiger during their time in India. There are two safaris per day each one lasting around 4 hours. During the hottest part of the day we rest at our lodge accommodation.
On that first morning my clients witnessed a dominate male called T6 or Romeo by the Indian people patrolling his territory. We’d picked up his pug marks very early on during that first morning drive and began to track him the best we could. None of my clients had seen Tigers beforehand so to be so close to this most majestic of animals so soon I think blown them away. His tracks eventually led us to a small watering hole in which he was sitting in. We pulled up, turned the engine of and enjoyed around 15 minutes watching this stunning animal who wasn’t in the bit concerned about our suddenly arrival.
He then got up and began patrolling his kingdom, hunting, listening and watching for anything that was around. Its was amazing to be part of this and a magical start for my clients on the second week, day one.
We caught up with T6 later on that same day and managed to find him sleeping in his favourite cave. This next image is one of my favourite from the trip and see’s T6 leaving the safety of his cave and heading out as the sun was starting to set.
As the week passed the Tiger sighting where as good as I can remember, with all clients capturing some amazing moments. During our safaris we would stop off at a check point for a cup of India Chai. The traditional tea they drink in India which is really nice. Over the years I have visited Ranthambhore I have become friends with many people, including the forest guards.
One of the unsung heroes of Ranthambhore national park, Kailash a forest guard of almost 17 years here. With little equipment and poor working conditions they protect the Tigers here in the best way they can. Over the years I have seen their equipment, poor radios and a stick to protect themselves. It still shocks me as the world asks so much of these guys with numbers of Tigers failing all the time even while I have been here numbers have been down with know one admitting nothing.
The next time to so called experts meet for a big convention on how to save the Tiger, inviting a big name from Hollywood and around the world they ought to donate their fee and 5 star accommodation costs to the forest guards in India and invite one of these guys and they will tell them how it is on the ground far away from the free drinks and fancy food.
I said goodbye to Kailash and told him I’ll see him next year. I always take him a grift, last years was a A3 signed Tiger print, this year was a wide up torch and sweets. I always make a massive point of getting out of my Jeep to shake his and the other guards hands and make they feel valued. I wished you could see the conditions these guys work in protecting one of the most rarest living animals, truly shocking.
The second week drew to an end and my clients had some amazing images and encounters. Both groups on their consecutive weeks all had some amazing photographs which I was over the moon for them. I’d like to thank all my clients, my guides, our hosts, Aditya and Poonam Singh. This for me Tiger wise has been the best year for sightings all resulting in wonderful moments captured by every single client who joined me.
The photo above is thanks to my friend and guide,of Salim Ali showing my clients. We have some great times, lots of laughs along the way and some great memories and images to take home. I wish you all well and many thanks for your company, the laughs and much more all the best.
Next year will be my fifth trip to India in as many years so if you would like to join me then please click here. I am running two trips once more over two weeks and this place is magical, just like the jungle book. I hope you can join me and once again thank you to all my clients, guides, staff and people that have made this years trip one of the best.