Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ranthambore, Landscape for Tiger!

“In India, where there are no passports or identity discs, and where religions counts for so much- except among those few who have crossed the 'black water' - I believe that a man wearing a saffron robe, or carrying a beggar's bowl, or with silver crosses on his headgear and chest, could walk from Khyber Pass to Cape Comorin without once being questioned about his destination, or the object of his journey,”… Jim Corbett.

His above quote is from “The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag” & though the books shares most memorable fight between a man & an animal, yet on way Jim shares some wonderful insights with us about the land where this battle happened. Though a very different quote to start topic of forest yet no forest can be protected unless we understand two things, one is language of the forest & second is mentality of the people in & around the forests who are worst enemy of the forests! And who better than the person named Jim Corbett who has understood both things & mastered them as he has literally lived in the forests for his most of the life. That’s why for me he is my idol since childhood as well a reason to get me in forests more & more! As usual came April end & our Forester group (few likeminded friends) is set for our yearly forest trip & this time its Ranthambore as well a lesser known forest named Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary about which I will be sharing ahead. I remember my first trip which was in month of May, some fourteen years back & however diehard fan I am of the forests I frankly shared it’s the only forest which made me feel depressed with its first look. It was hot Rajasthan summer & till then whatever forests I have visited even those of Melghats which shreds all leafs during summer does still carries green shade but here in Ranthambore all you see at first is yellow & gray & no tall trees but shrubs or bushy terrain & on background stands the Ranthambore fort with its massive red colored rocky structure & that’s it! Even the sambhar dear’s fur coat is worn out & after just eight am in morning everybody is looking for some shade. But then I get to see Jogi Mahal & Rajbaug lake & the more I started moving around I realized why Ranthambore has most clicked tigers than any other forests in country! The very same dray harsh gray black terrain which made me feel depressed becomes the best canvas for those yellow black stripes & the red rocky walls of Ranthambore fort provides perfect backdrop for every snap making it memorable. After that I fall in love with Ranthambore landscape as I realized even gray can be a shade of green!

And our this trip wasn’t exception though I have told my group  about being depressed at first sight & be ready for 44degrees temperature & dust, lots of it which surrounds you by the gypsy’s & add canters to it now! After landing at Delhi airport enroute Agra where we get to se Tajmahal, a man-made wonder & Agara air base courtesy one of our defense friends we reached to Sawai Madhawpur at 2am in morning, which is base to Ranthambore. The safari was supposed to start at six am means we has to get up by five am, with merely two hours sleep I was ready to explore Ranthambore, with sleepy eyes yet fresh mind. As I have shared earlier also, forests oxygen filled air does takes away your tiredness & more than that the search for not just tiger (in the back of mind yes it is) makes your sleep melt the instant you are in the gypsy. We have been allotted route 2 as in Ranthambore vehicles are divided in 10 routes to avoid traffic jam scene on any one route & obvious reason is tiger sighting. Though this route system is mostly unpopular amongst the guides as well drivers as it creates lots of confusion due to constant shuffling policies by park authorities is what the feedback was. Main complaint is where there is more sighting of the tigers that route, the park officers close down resulting no sighting for many tourists & that’s the main reason they come for in the forest! Before coming to Ranthambore we have gathered the information that on route one & two the tigresses are with cubs, the main attraction of Ranthambore so we have opted for these two routes. It’s very important to have upfront knowledge of the forest before you visit to avoid disappointment of not having sighting of the tiger but of many species. As one is water situation in summer, if the route or zone doesn’t have enough water holes or natural water sources then most of the animals move away from that area leaving you end up looking at trees only! Equally important is having information of tigress with cubs or any recent kill a particular tiger has made as these two are main reasons when tiger remains in a particular part of forest with more chances of sighting. Also in hot summer of Ranthambore entire life cycle moves around the water holes so all the action is here only. Even the smaller animals like pangolin or hare or mongoose & birds sighting is possible only around the water holes, so it’s important to move around such routes or areas for being able to sight the tiger. This is the main reason why many tourists complains later that they didn’t get to see any wild life during their safaris as they keep moving in the area from where most of the animals have already migrated to other zones or areas of the forests.

That very day I have taken half day safari, a very sure way to have your special moments of photography. Half day or full day safari is booking being allowed to spend even noon in which other regular safaris has to move out of the park but your vehicle can remain inside during that time. Another most important aspect is you are not bind by route or zone system, your gypsy can roam anywhere in forest of-course in tourist open areas only yet it’s very much important as from the information gathered by regular safari vehicles you can change course of your safari & that’s sure way of sighting a tiger or other animals. Here again when you ask for full day or half day, be sure about having proper information of current wild life scene or else it’s a costly affair & your money can go in drain as even with full days I have met people who were unlucky on sighting front! Remember with all information & full day advantages yet its vast forest & to sight a tiger is a chance, so don’t focus on just tiger but try to see as much wild life you can is the advise I will share. Especially in a forest like Ranthambore when in summer the afternoons are extreme hot & every animal run towards the water hole or just try to find some shade.

Its obivious that in forest the tigers have their first right on water hole & usually spends most of the noon hours lazying in water or nearby shadow, especially after eating their kill the raw meets generates tremendous heat in tiger’s body & it has to take shelter of water to cool down. At such times for hours you can do photography of the tiger without disturbing it. And its fun to see the reaction of the animals coming to water hole & when they suddenly find a tiger is already sitting in the water! Most of the time even in water the tiger prefers shadowed part of the water body & with its just head above the water it gets perfectly camouflaged in the water hole. That surprises other visiting animals as till they come real near to water or get its scent they doesn’t notice the tiger in water & each animal reacts in their own way. At such water hole I found two sub adult male tigers relaxing & water hole & after clicking enough snaps I put aside camera & keep observing other animals. A chital herd headed to the water hole & when they saw the tigers, chitals gave peculiar alarm call & the whole herd sprang away. Birds like drongos are unfazed as they knew tiger can’t catch them so they behave normal. A peacock came slowly with cautious steps & waited till long looking at water but finally decided not to drink & went back. A pea-hen came & kept looking at tiger & finally the thirst took over the fear & she went in to extreme opposite corner of water hole & drank & ran away, the tiger was just not interested in any of these yet kept watching curiously to peahen & I was totally engrossed in all the actual jungle rituals. And it’s this observation of animals which helped us in sighting a tiger as on one of the safaris our driver spotted a herd of sambhars all very alert with their tails up & heading cautiously towards a water body in low laying area. We realized that sambhars has sensed some scent as they couldn’t see what danger is in water, yet one sambhar advanced to the water body & suddenly he gave an alarm call. We then become sure that there is tiger as unless a sambhar actually sees tiger it rarely gives alarm call so we advanced towards the water body & there the tiger was, just getting out of water! This is what makes forest experience memorable as now you can read the language of forest! This I reminded myself is really feeling the jungle as to click the tiger is one thing & to experience how the entire jungle behaves in its presence is to know the jungle, to live the jungle, this is what makes you love the jungle & make you come back again & again.

Then our other friends in other gypsy joined us & told about the cubs being sighted with a tigress named i.e. Noor. Those who are not familier with tiger parks, in all the forests now the Tiger Authority, a apex governing body of all Project Tiger, has decided to identify the tiger by serial number & not to call them by names. Technically it might have got some logic but to call a tiger by name, mostly given by locals or guides makes the tiger much familiar to our mind than just calling it by some number i.e. T19 or T60,! It feels like we are referring to some machine than a living animal as elegant as the tiger! Yet at many places still the guides , drivers & even forest guards refer to the tigers by the names they only has given. So we rushed to the spot told by our friends & to our delight the Noor was very much there with her three cubs of hardly four to five month. At this age the cubs are most play full & in presence of their mother they are in mood of jumping around while the mother just relaxes in shadow. It’s interesting to watch the behavior of tigress when she is with cubs as she has very difficult task of looking after their safety as well to feed them. And when cubs are small say up to age of one year they can be victim to leopard, so she has to move around for kill yet keeping the cubs in close vicinity & being a tiger isn’t easy job as its said tiger succeeds in kill i.e. hunting once in fifty attempts. In the heat of Ranthambore summer to move around & search for kill is very tiring & looking & in this trip many a times we came across Noor as well other tigresses with cubs to see them really tiered in chasing the kill.
Best part was being able to see a tigress names T19 with her cubs of just two months, they are hardly of size that of large cat & yet with every feature of a tiger in budding. When the cubs are so small then tigress is very alert & here she was at kill. Relaxing near the kill of a sambhar deer The T19 (see how boring it sounds) was sitting in shadow & in her sight’s range two tiny cubs were sitting. I have never saw such small cubs of tigers & it’s only because of the kill tigress has taken them in such open area which she never does otherwise.

The most shocking experience came when we saw a sub adult male tiger sitting & clutching white object in its paw. First when I saw it through haze of shrubs I thought it has killed heron & trying to play with it feathers but soon it came in open & I was shocked, it was holding aata carry bag in its mouth looking like a stray tiger on some city streets! No, its wasn’t because of any tourist vehicle but the guard said it’s because of Bhairoji temple which is on route 2 in RTR & the locals still come here for their prayers & leave the marks in form of garbage, outcome is this. Here is where we Jim’s understanding of the people especially around the forests is important as then only we can make them aware about not damaging jungles by their rituals which are outdated practically!  I think high time we should segregate our religion & wild life or else such sights will be more often! Forest dept can take help of NGO’s to make villagers aware as well can depute some staff to keep such places clean at least. Here the important aspect is giving enough support to forest guards who patrol the forest on feet & without any weapon, not all guards even has basic Walkie-Talkie i.e. a wireless instrument to be in touch with each others. These concerns the guards themselves have shared with me as they feel very insecure especially while patrolling in areas where tiger is roaming. We watch on National Geographic channels that all other country’s forest guards has every modern equipment available, right from patrolling by four wheeler to guns but why we don’t give it to our forest guards is a big question & still we expect them to protect the tigers as well wild life by putting their lives in danger!

Then in next four days just flew as last two days we were to visit Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary right in city like Jaipur about which I will share in separate article as that itself is a big topic, a wild life sanctuary surrounded by urban locality, just like Sanjay Gandhi Park in Mumbai yet very well maintained. Friends many of us has never visited forests in their life, not even nearby small natural piece of wilderness too & I strongly recommend to do it for two reasons, one is its in nature you come to realize many things about your own self & mostly it’s your physical limitations; as we the humans consider ourselves as most evolved & intelligent species but take example of small ant & see the ant nest it builds! Remember it don’t have have auto-cad drawings or consultants or any JCB type machinery support & yet it builds a nest which is million times bigger than size of an ant. Where as we build a Burj Khalipha named tower that too in span of six years with all so called modern day machinery at our service, so ask yourself who is more evolved & intelligent, man or an ant? Such many examples you get to see in forest & second thing is here you learn to use your senses more effectively especially observation skills. 

In jungle nothing happens without a purpose & if you want to enjoy the jungle then you should keep your all senses at their efficient best to understand the purpose of scene happening in-front of you! This is what my take way from the jungle is & I think no college or institute can teach you what jungle teaches you & for that at least one must visit the jungle & then to achieve that one should protect the jungles in first place as if no wild life survives then we will be actually killing our best teacher, sealing our future along with it!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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  1. Next Time you go anywhere in wild I would like to be in your Team


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