We awoke at 5.45am and our cereal, eggs and toast arrived at 6, Ruth is still feeling unwell and waiting in the predawn cold didn’t really help, the Gypsy (actually a jeep) arrived at 6.45am and we clambered aboard to join the three Europeans already aboard. Just before departure one of the hotel staff came forward and handed us a blanket each which came in very handy as it was freezing in the back of a moving vehicle and we began our Tiger safari in high excitement.
We arrived at Rathambhore National Park a short time later picked up an obligatory “guide” at the gate where I purchased Ruth some gloves from a tout before taking the opportunity to clamber in to the front seat. Each vehicle is assigned a different route so it is rare to come across other vehicles on the road, the tracks were bumpy and full of holes but for the first time since coming to India we were alone and were able to enjoy some peace and quiet.
We drove around the park for about three hours but we did not see a Tiger, the terrain was open grassland for the most part which
I had not expected to be Tiger territory. We were lucky enough to see various other animals including Indian Gazelle, Cheetal, Nil waiting gai and a number of mongooses. The highlight of this safari though was the pair of healthy young wild Sloth Bear I spotted as we were making our way towards the park exit. I enjoyed watching them fossick for food in the coolness of the early morning.
We arrived back at our hotel around 10am heading straight to the restaurant for snack and a drink before purchasing some Tiger T-shirts and caps and then booking a couple of seats on the afternoon safari. At 2pm Ruth pulled herself out of her sick bed and we went down and boarded our gypsy this time we have a Frenchman and a Spanish girl with us. It did not take long to travel the thirteen kilometres to the main park entrance where there were many vehicles and huge numbers of people waiting for their drivers to arrange permits. Inside the park are the 10th
Century Rathambhore Fort and various old temples and mosques, leading to these is a public road covered in noisy vehicles and people which really annoyed
me, these types of distractions are not ideal for wildlife viewing.
Soon we began to see signs of wildlife a crocodile here a family of Hanuman Langur there, the Spanish girl kept yelling “where is tigger” it was very funny. Suddenly our driver increased his speed and we were bouncing around all over the place; apparently there was a Tiger sighting up near the Fort, we questioned some passing tourist vehicles and some Americans claimed to have seen one. When we arrived at the area there were several hundred screaming people milling around in various vehicles, it was truly ridiculous, if there was a Tiger it was long gone and the noise would discourage any return. The guide and driver just relaxed in their seats and sat there for maybe ten minutes while more and more vehicles turned up, finally I had had enough, I told the guide that any Tiger would be long gone and that sitting like idiots was wasting our time and to get his arse moving.
The guide wanted to argue you could see it on his face but after a moment’s hesitation thought better of it and ordered the driver to move his
vehicle to the actual park entrance which we entered a few minutes later heading down a dirt road surrounded by India’s national tree the huge and impressive Banyan into what I had always envisioned as Tiger country, long grass and thick forest. It wasn’t long till we saw our first Samba deer and Cheetal, even more importantly we could hear their distinctive warning bark followed almost instantly by the warning howl of the Langurs in the tree tops. I was excited because I had been told that this was a sign that a Tiger or Leopard was likely in the vicinity.
The driver pulled to halt seeking instructions from the guide when from out of nowhere appeared a stunning sight, she was beautiful and heavily pregnant and without fear walked straight toward me, I was awed and a little uneasy moving backward away from the side of the vehicle. Her massive paws and amber eyes glowing and her beautiful coat just shimmered in the afternoon light, I swear she came within two metres of me sniffing at the air, before moving to a nearby tree to mark the boundary of her territory. I was in a state of high
excitement as were all my companions as we trailed slowly down the road behind her snapping photos and taking some great video.
She showed no concern occasionally turning to make sure we didn’t come to close, as she continued calmly about her business, we followed for about ten minutes or so before she crossed a small rivulet and disappeared into the jungle, yet the sense of awe and wonder remained for quite some time. The later guide claimed it was the best sighting in years and it certainly left us all incredibly happy that we were able to see what may have been Sundari one of the few remaining wild tigers in India. We saw other wildlife as we continued our safari but nothing can compare with our once in a lifetime wild Tiger sighting.
It was time to leave Rathambhore our efforts to get here had been rewarded by our Tiger sighting, so the next morning after breakfast we hit the road, it took nearly five hours to get to Agra, at one stage we had to detour through some interesting villages as the road ahead was blocked. On arrival we found a decent hotel and then
set of for McDonalds. Later that evening I emailed Kartik to tell him we were in Agra and keen to visit the SOS India sanctuary a few kilometres outside of town.
The next morning after a wonderful breakfast we set off for the sanctuary which was very easy to find and were greeted by great guy named Manu. There was an Indian family from Malaysia also at the entrance but they are only slightly less ignorant than the local peasants letting their child urinate inside the sanctuary, this made Manu very angry I heard him mutter “this is why we don’t let Indians into the sanctuary”, Manu treated us like royalty, we had a private tour of the entire complex established in 2002 and were lucky to see many bears. A young vet came out of the hospital and showed us the facilities and the poor dying Nilgai that was lying on the floor. After chai Manu escorted us down to the river and we boarded a ferry that took us to the other half of the sanctuary where we spotted birds, turtles, more Nilgai and of all things camels.
Next we visited the Elephant sanctuary “Elephant Haven”
located about thirteen kilometres further along the Delhi Rd, Wildlife SOS cares for four elephants here the two males Bhola and Rajesh and the females Maya and Sai Geeta all in their forties and all in less than ideal condition. Rajesh often comes into musk and subsequently becomes very dangerous having killed one Mahout in the past. The Mahouts caring for the animals are the same ones who abused them during their working lives which is ironic. The sanctuary also boasts a young rescued Macaque that likes to mother the sanctuaries puppies.
Soon it was time to leave, Jitu dropped Manu off at the park’s entrance and we returned to Agra to visit the Chini-ka-Rauza the Persian style tomb of Afzal Khan and built in 1628 which had some stunning ceiling murals and the remains of blue tiles on some of its exterior walls. Then we visited the Itimad-ud-Daulah more commonly known as the Baby Taj the final resting place of Mizra Ghiyas Beg. It is much smaller than the Taj and appears extremely delicate due to its finely carved marble lattice screens and looks like a jewel box glittering in the sun.
We then stopped to take
a last picture of the Taj from the opposite bank of the Yamuna River, as I leaned over the wall to take my snap I came face to face with a filthy beggar taking a shit in the park, that’s India.
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