I was in Jaipur for work and the work had been long drawn and stressful. I really needed to detox. But it was nearly the end of December and I could only take a leave for a day and I would have to return to Mumbai quickly.
I had always wanted to go to a jungle and Ranthambhore was so close. How could I let this opportunity slip and I really needed this getaway. I immediately called Shyama because I knew she was the go to person for solving such wildlife travel problems. I was giving her a short notice of 5 days and she almost called me names and pulled her own hair out before asking me to give her an hour to come up with a plan.
She called me and said that it was the peak season for safaris in Ranthambhore and all jeep safaris were full. Even a single seat was not possible. But Shyama was hopeful. She said, even a canter safari could lead to a good tiger sighting experience in Ranthambhore, especially if I was not into photography and was doing this simply for a jungle experience. I agreed and I did not understand the rest when Shyama said she was not happy with the available zones and that we would have to wait for a day more. I left everything to her.
She had arranged for my travel to Ranthambhore from Jaipur for a safari and t bring me bac kin time to take a flight back to Mumbai the very same day. She had promised that she had got me int the best zone possible and her positivity rubbed off on me.
I reached the park by 7:00 AM and boarded my cantor. The cantor was not bad at all. It was spacious, comfortable and allowed a higher vantage point. The safari started and I found myself pulling my jacket tighter around me and hiding my face and hands from the cold winter breeze. But I overcame the cold because I had the FOMO on the forest. I was surprised to see so much greenery. I had expected to see a more arid region. But Ranthambhore was wonderfully green subtly switching into browns and offered varying sights of hillocks along the safari paths, streams with rocky beds, boulders strewn here and there, waterbodies, lots of grasslands and plenty of Jujube trees. I had to keep extreme control to not pluck out a few !
The jungle’s peace and quiet was definitely making me tranquil and giving me the calm that was much needed after the stressful few days. But the excitement to see the tiger in the wild was increasing its peak now.
Suddenly our cantor comes to a halt. I was a little confused at first because I did not see any other vehicles nearby. But my heart was racing and I knew something had changed in the air. And then I saw the stripes of black and orange ! My heart had literally stopped ! She was beautiful. I was so stunned by the grandeur of the animal – the way she walked, the way she paused to look and the way she simply knew that even though we were there, it was her territory and she was the queen.
Only my racing heart can bear witness to what I felt in that moment of pure awe and joy. I watched as she walked straight towards us, cut across the bath just behind the cantor and disappeared into the thicket on the other side. That one second of eye contact was just wow ! I was told that she was Sultana.
And no this is not the end of my safari. We still had an hour to go and I revelled in the beauty of this semi-arid forest. Another sudden halt and this time at a stream. The cantor had to halt in order to allow the tigress to cross. She came out from the jujube and grass and nimbly crossed the shallow stream and walked up to the gypsy in front of us and walked away into the grass. This tigress I was told, was Arrow-head, although I only did get to see her from the side and back. I had literally missed the mark !
But who am I to complain. The planetary alignments may have been awesome. One single cantor safari and two tigress sightings ! This will be the most memorable moment for a very long time – until my next safari…