Something ginger and stripey this way comes?
Boy did we feel the effects of that bumpy road this morning - there wasn't a joint that didn't feel shaken apart. Add to that a half dozen sneaky mosquito bites and my hair's serious issue with humidity and I'm feeling just peachy!
Our last chance this morning to see that damn cat but as we expected, no gypsy turned up so we were relegated to another packed canter. And it even started to rain as we reached the park gates so our chances were reducing by the second. The canter's guide is a young chap though, who got us into the park in record time so it's not all bad.
Unfortunately, the trip was all deer, deer and more deer and inevitably, the canter turned it's head home. However, the guide calls for a stop as he heard a spotted deer alarm call. We didn't hear a thing, but our cynicism was running pretty damn high at this stage. He just wanted to look keen didn't he? Oh, how wrong we were.
Amazingly, the canter did an about-turn and headed back into the park. The passengers, ourselves included, started to get a little edgy as silence (for once) ruled the roost. We'd picked up four other gypsys and canters by this point so 100 pairs of eyes scanned the forest in the hope of something ginger and stripey. We moved further back up the trail and our guide, who could see further ahead than us, turned and said quietly, 'get ready for tiger'...
Semi-contained panic pretty much erupted in our canter at that point. I'm not saying chaos reigned or anything but all you could hear was Velcro tearing as en mass we ripped open our cameras bags. A collective intake of breath was heard from the front canter and this was prompting enough for everyone to stand up and in our case, stand up on seats so we could see past them all. There, near the front canter, sauntered the near-mythical beast we'd been waiting for and the promise of an extra big tip to the guide would be made good!
For a split second I caught a glimpse of it head on, strolling towards us, before it then disappeared from view briefly between the vehicles. Popping out on the other side, he then slowly ambled (and I do mean 'he') his way back into the forest. Mark managed to reel off a few shots so we've got photographic evidence in case any of you doubt me!
We'd been told half a dozen tales about how the Ranthambore tigers don't give two hoots about the noisy vehicles but until I saw it, to be honest, I didn't believe it. Fabulous though it was to see this incredible creature, which will invariably disappear from our planet in the next 50 years, it is sad to see it so habituated. The guides all say they know they are the 'King of the Jungle' and just look down their noses at us but I don't think it's that simple. I guess there is no other way though in today's world and the tourism revenue generated is the one thing keeping them from instant extinction.
Hearts still racing and smiles on our faces, we passed several vehicles on the homeward leg who did not look quite as happy as we. That was nearly us (and had been for the last 2 days) but thank goodness it wasn't anymore. Just call me Lisa 'cutting it fine' Whiffin!
Not content with just tigers, CB had a chat with the 1st check point guard and we were allowed to sneakily drive back in a ways to spot some critically endangered long-billed vultures. Another car stopped and we met a very nice chap from the Bombay Natural History Society. Told us that India had lost over 90% of it's vulture population. We'd noticed the distinct lack of birds circling overhead since arriving so this was interesting yet worrying news. He told it was due to a build up of diclofenac (an anti-inflammatory drug) in the food chain and the rise of feral dog packs.
Whilst we were mooching about taking photos of cow fountains, like you do, another park guard drove up and told us off. Surprise, surprise, according to him we shouldn't have been there so we packed up and scarpered. As we exited the park, we spotted him driving back to find us and 'cause us problems' as CB put it - not this time sunshine!
We left the hotel for pastures new that morning and were sad to go, particularly as there was something of a celebratory tiger atmosphere - they seemed as happy as us that we'd finally had a sighting. They provided a packed lunch to take with us so what mysteries that held we saved for later. One can only take so much excitement in one sitting.
You may remember in a previous blog I mentioned the interest in my pale skin? Well today it came in to it's own. Stopping on a deserted road in the middle of arable farmland, Mark scampered off after something feathery. Within minutes, a bloke on a bike had stopped, along with two others from whence I still have no idea (available options include a ditch, a haystack or a bush). They seemed content to chat with CB whilst watching Mark do his thing until one of them spotted the car had another occupant. I just have two words: zoo and freaky. The nose marks on the outside of my window are probably still there to bear witness. I don't believe I can be that interesting to anyone, not even my mother!
30 minutes later we stopped again for another bird and this time, a pack of small girls descended on me. Ignoring Mark, all 5 of them leaned in through the window whispering various things at me, the most common being 'tata'. Other than being India's most popular vehicle manufacturer, I'm pretty sure this also means 'hi' but I could be wrong. However, the minute I started replying they all dissolved into a fits of laughter. This went on for quite some time with them obviously attempting to get me to say more and more outlandish things. The ringleader had a distinctly devious glint in her eye and said something to me which must have been a step too far as it earned her a clip round the ear from the two elder girls (all of 14) who were watching over them and far too sensible to join in. This mollified them for a while until I got out of the car to see the bird. They left me alone just long enough to shut the door and then the barrage of 'questions' began afresh. They didn't seem to mind what I said as long as I said something so for the next 10 minutes I happily wittered on about not a lot in general (no sly comments thank you very much). Eventually, CB must have taken pity on me and wandered over so I asked him what it was they kept asking me. It turns out they wanted to know if I was hot and how I protected my skin in the sun. After distribution of sweets and much waving, we finally set off again. A few words might have been said to the husband at this point so that we now only stop for near-extinct birds!
Another huge rainstorm descended and sent CB scurrying off the road to a motel for shelter as visibility was non-existent. It looks like the rain is being blamed on us again as we got told that 'this is not normal weather.' Despite a mere 30 yards to run to the door, we got drenched again and squelched around the over-priced souvenir shop whilst CB got some lunch. When we'd had enough of being followed around by salesmen, we went for refreshments. Tea with condensed milk is an acquired taste, particularly I find, if you've also put a large lump of sugar in it.
The rain had stopped to be replaced by sheet lightening but we made it at last to Hotel Sunbird in Bharatpur. A renown birder's hotel with a reputation for great food so I was looking forward to my dinner (no change there then). We were not disappointed and our friendly waiter helped us pick out a delicious vegetarian meal. The freshly made garlic paratha was incredible and the butter masala paneer so good that I asked for the recipe.
With very full but contented bellies, we had an early night as breakfast was ordered for 6am. I'm thinking another day off is in order but we'll see what the morning brings.