travel diaries: in search of the bengal tiger at ranthambore

It was pitch dark outside. I fumbled for my phone to switch off the alarm. My heart was heady with excitement at the day that lay ahead of me.

I was at Ranthambore National Park, and had an early morning game drive to catch in an hour. Shucks. There went my heart, dancing all over the place again.

Seeing wildlife is a hit-and-miss affair, I rationalised to my heart. There were no guarantees. I should know, having spent a large chunk of my life in Botswana and South Africa where visits to game parks were a quintessential part of one’s existence. But not in India. I had made a long drive from Jhalawar last night, just for this.

Whenever I enter game parks, it always strikes me that these lands are both, ruled and belong, to the animal kingdom. We, humans, are the outsiders here. It is their laws that govern its inhabitants. It is another world and we have no place in it.

I felt exactly the same way as we crossed the gates of Zone 2 into a world of dense forests and hiding eyes. There was silence everywhere except for the occasional shriek of a chital or monkey. A warning that the Kings of this Kingdom, the Royal Bengal Tigers, were out in search of prey.

Deep in the Park’s depths an hour later, we were straining for a sound, any sound, that would give a hint on the exact whereabouts of its grandest residents. Scouring the earth for some lead. Waiting patiently, with bated breath, our eyes darting in all directions.

Ennead, emerging from the thickets. 

And then, just like that, a rustle in the thickets, a stone’s throw away, opened up to reveal one of the most beautiful creatures on earth. Ennead, or T120 as he is also called, sauntered past our jeep, visibly bored with life, yawning every now and then. After spending some minutes wandering around lazily, he turned to look at us perched on our seats agape with wonder. Not impressed, he went back to his thickets for a nap. And we couldn’t keep our excitement in check.

See the number 9 by his armpit. The Pythagoreans, followers of the school of philosophy developed by Pythagoras, referred to the number nine as Ennead. Hence, his name!

Ennead is young. Just four years old and still trying to find his territory. In this photo, though, he is trying to figure out why we were there.

Portrait: Ennead.

Most of the remaining morning game drive and the subsequent afternoon game drive was spent in a desperate attempt for one more look, one more chance meeting with the elusive Bengal Tigers.

In the process, I passed countless families of Gray Langurs, Old World monkeys indigenous to the Indian subcontinent seated comfortably on meadows amongst herds of spotted deer or Chitals, also native to India. There was the solitary Nilgai, one of Asia’s largest antelopes, and part of Indian culture since the Vedic period as a mother animal, and the Sambar Deer which camouflaged into the landscape seamlessly. Amongst all these were packs of wild jackals and strutting vibrant birds.

Crumbling Rajput palaces and temples popped up every now and then; a reminder that once upon a time these forests and lakes were used as royal hunting grounds.

That I could see one of the Park’s most prized inhabitants, and that too at the very outset, and at such close quarters, had been a brilliant stroke of luck. In the hope of a second sighting, I traversed across the ravines and meadows of Ranthambore for the rest of the day. I was greedy.

But my search was in vain.

All I managed to come across was a tantalizing pugmark on the dirt road before dusk was about to fall, and the gates were about to close. It seemed to say, “I was here. Just now. Find me if you can, second time around. You see, I choose when and who sees me. Not you.” 🙂

Note: Ranthambore National Park is a wildlife reserve near Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. I visited Zones 2 and 3. There are 10 zones in total. The Bengal Tiger I saw was T120. Every tiger in Ranthambore National Park has a story. To know T120 or Ennead’s story, click here.

Gray Langurs are Old World monkeys indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. I wonder what he’s thinking …

This Nilgai’s heads-up is of a more practical nature: breakfast.

Jogi Mahal, the old hunting lodge.

Surwal Lake, with Ranthambore Fort in the background atop the rocky outcrop, is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Some of our winged friends I found around Surwal Lake. Clockwise from top left: Rufous Treepie, Woolly-necked Stork, Great Stone-curlew, and the White-throated Kingfisher.

A gateway of banyan trees.

Just passing through.

Sambar Deer. Do you notice how every species blends in with its habitat perfectly?

Large ravines cut across Zone 3 in the Park. Come monsoon, there would be a gushing river on this presently dry river-bed.

Infant spotted deer.

Going back home.

“I was here. Find me if you can.”

PS: The birds in my images were identified with the help of a birder friend Lalit Arora.

Travel tips:

  • Staying there: I stayed at the super-comfortable Ranthambore Regency through Easily one of the best hotels in Ranthambore.
  • Game drives: I took two game drives [morning and afternoon] through the hotel.
  • Getting to Ranthambore: I used Rajputana Cabs for an intercity drop from Jhalawar.
  • How many days?: I stayed for 3 days, 2 nights.

[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]

14 thoughts on “travel diaries: in search of the bengal tiger at ranthambore

  1. Wow! The king surely knows how to make an appearance. So majestic!
    It seems that you hit the jackpot, Rama 🙂
    Did you need a telephoto lens to make these photos? Or was the tiger at a very close distance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Maggie. It was fantastic. I don’t think pictures do any real justice to the moment of an actual sighting. But it is one small way of holding on to the experience. 🙂 Glad you liked the photos. Did you get to visit Ranthambore National Park? Your travels in Rajasthan, and India, were very extensive from what posts I have read of yours.


    • Getting to see a tiger is pure chance. That’s one thing I have learnt. There was a couple in the hotel who had done some 10 rides over the week and not seen a single one. But I always maintain that it’s great to see wildlife, but parks need to be enjoyed for their landscape and tranquility too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, to be honest, I’m not a wildlife enthusiast. Till date, this was the only safari I ever took because I was with friend who never misses such opportunity. I was happy that I got to see the terrain of the jungle there. I have never been to Jahalana safari for this very reason. Until they started this safari, I have walked in those jungles so many times. For me it is the topography that holds importance. In winters, the landscape glows in the golden sunlight; it is beautiful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: the complete travel guide to enigmatic jhalawar | rama toshi arya's blog


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