Zone 7 was allocated to us on current booking at the office of the Ranthambore National Park. Such is the resistance that even a first-timer to the national park refuses to visit Zone 7. The gypsy driver and the guide squabbled about my request to get the zone changed to either zone 6 or zone 8. The driver was convinced with my reasoning. Money came to rescue and we were able to get the zone 6. The guide was in his mid-50s with thick mustache spread till center of his cheeks, his looks quite unusual for a guide. Most of his front teeths were lost to the excessive chewing of tobacco and age. His lose Rajasthani-styled trouser was out-of-place for a jungle safari.
Danish and I had traveled to Ranthambore National Park by bullet from Delhi. We started at 6 pm from Delhi and drove for 9 hours. The strain of night driving, unfamiliarity of the route and excitement for the first bike trip arose adventurous feeling within us. We were determined to reach well in time to get a 2-hour sleep before we got ready for the safari at 6:30 am.
I had no hopes of citing the tiger since it was 7:30 am and we were still negotiating with the Shahid (the driver) and our guide. Ours was the last vehicle to enter zone 6. In early hours of the day, the tigers are usually seen taking a stroll across the jungle marking their territories. After first few kilometers into the zone 6, I was assured that this was not the best part of the jungle and regretted not managing a booking to the main zone – Zone 1 to Zone 5. Danish, on his second trip, was exploiting his cyber shot camera and large memory chip in it. He was busy clicking using hills bordering the park, the dry trees and the rocky track that lead us into the jungle. A couple in mid 30s with two kids occupied the center seats of the gypsy while Danish and I took the rear seats. The gypsy cruised along the dusty road with driver negotiating the large rocks.
First few kilometers into the jungle and we did not see the preys of the Tiger- the spotted deer, sambhar and or chinkara. The driver and the guide replied in chorus, “We’ll try our best to help find a tiger”. This was in response to the disappointment we exchanged with the family sitting ahead of us.
Tigers are shy and difficult to trace without observing the pug marks or calls of Sambhar and or monkey. ‘You help us see a tiger and we promise you a treat’, I said confirming to the notion of people responding to incentives. The bumps on the track helped the 3 year kid take a quick nap in his mother’s lap.
We were busy sharing our past safari experiences speaking loudly to hear each other clearly on a speeding open gypsy. We heard 3 calls of monkey in quick succession. The driver braked immediately to hear it clearly. The guide whispered seeing the tigress on our right, ‘Reverse and take the track. It’s T22 – the tigress’. In next 30 seconds we were following the tigress keeping a safe distance. All of us were now standing and focused on the tigress moving ahead. ‘Her feets are so big’ said Danish. ‘Lets not get more close to her’, he said. The tigress, disturbed by the early morning chaos turned her head towards us. T-22 looked slim may be she had just delivered babies. ‘She is hungry’, the guide said. Taking a lazy stride, she never looked like making a kill but her prey in close vicinity were on alert.
This was not the best of citings at the park but the excitement of seeing a tiger- the king moving carefree at its home- is a great feeling to have. The driver reversed and returned to drop us at the hotel by 9:15 am well ahead of the schedule time. While returning, I was busy negotiating the possibility of getting one of them main zones but could not get it. We were at zone 8 in the evening safari but not lucky the second time. After all, citing a tiger is not akin to seeing a dog.