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Ranthambhore Feb 2018: Tigers galore!


janzin

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janzin

tiger_JZ5_2893cfx.jpg

 

In February 2018 my spouse and made our second visit to India, visiting Gujarat and Rajasthan for lions, leopards, tigers, and birds. Instead of a single long trip report, I'm dividing it up into three individual reports because each area was so unique (and it also makes it more manageable to both write and read!)
 

I've previously posted the report on Bera, Rajasthan and its incredible landscapes and population of leopard here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/18566-leopards-in-luxury-the-leopards-of-bera/
 

So now on to part two: our time at Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan.
 

Prelude: While we did see some tigers on our first trip to India, in 2016, we felt that we needed to see more. :D And I wasn't satisfied with the tiger photos I'd taken on that trip.  So one of the primary goals of this trip was to have an excellent chance of tiger and tiger photography. Of course wildlife, and especially tigers, are never guaranteed but after some research and discussion with our T.O., Vikram Singh at Wild World India, we opted for Ranthambhore as our best bet for quality sightings. Not only had tiger sightings been really excellent there of late, but the park itself looked beautiful with varied terrain and many natural water features, ruins, lakes, etc.
 

On top of that, a main attractant of Ranthambhore was the ability to do full-day safaris, without the restrictions of having to leave mid-morning and return after lunch.  A full-day safari here allows you to be in the park from about 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. non-stop. Another big plus of the full-day safari is that you are not restricted to any single zone, you can basically go wherever the tigers are being seen and stay as long as you like.
 

While "conventional wisdom" says that mid-day is not a great time for wildlife, with animals resting out of the hot sun, we did not find this to be the case here. Interestingly some of our best sightings were from around 10 a.m to noon. The regular morning safari has to exit the park by 10:00, potentially missing the action or even more frustrating, having to leave a tiger sighting to make it to the gate. Depending where you were, that might mean starting back to the gate as early as 9:15--its a very large park! It is a wonderful feeling to be at a sighting at 9:30 with maybe 10 or more vehicles and then all of a sudden there's a mass exodus, as most have to leave to make it to the gate in time, leaving just you and maybe one or two others on full or half-day permits! (Yes, there is also a 1/2 day permit which runs 6:30-12 or 12-6--this also has no zone restriction.)
 

While technically only five full-day gypsys are allowed per day, even mid-day sightings may have multiple vehicles because all of the half day and full day and VIPs may be at the same sighting, but its still a lot better than the multitudes you might have during the regular safari hours...and there no canters (large open bus-like vehicles) permitted during these mid-day hours.
 

The full-day safari is indeed expensive, somewhere around $750 per day (I'm actually not sure exactly what we paid as it was rolled into our safari cost) but if you can afford it, its well worth it--in my opinion. Especially if you are serious about photography, or just desire a more relaxed pace.
 

As for practicalities (because I wondered about this in advance!) there were ample places to use a restroom--rarely in the bush (tigers!!), but usually at one of the forest guard-houses or entrance gates. Breakfast was brought with you in the a.m. and eaten in the vehicle somewhere in the forest, often by a water-hole or some other spot where we might sight something. Lunch was delivered mid-day by our lodge (The Ranthambhore Bagh) to one of the gates at some pre-arranged time. It usually arrived by motorbike :) along with a replenished cooler of cold drinks. I am not sure if other lodges handle this the same way. We would then take our lunch and again, park by a waterhole or shady spot and enjoy a bit of a break. Unless of course there was a tiger spotted!
 

Enough preamble, I am sure you want to get to the action!

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janzin

Day 1

On our first day, we arrived in Sawai Madhopur at lunchtime, so we had only booked a normal afternoon safari. After checking into the hotel and partaking of a nice lunch (more on The Bagh at the end of the report) we met up with our guides, Mohammad and Suchil. Technically Suchil was the driver and Mohammad the guide, but they really seemed to do the guiding almost equally. They were very experienced and considered one of the top combos in the park...we had a few minor issues with them though (will detail later.)


After a brief rest it was time for the afternoon safari, which goes from about 2:30 until 6. (This may vary by 1/2 hour or so depending on time of year.) With these "normal" safaris, you have an assigned zone which you have to stay in. (I had a feeling though that the top guides may have a bit of pull in which zone they got.) 

 

We were very lucky to get Zone 2, which was the territory of Noor and her three cubs (all female.) The cubs at this time were about 18 months old--so not little cubs but still dependent on mom.

 

Well it didn't take very long (following the crowd) until we saw our first tiger of the trip! One of Noor's cubs!

 

Initially she was walking through the forest and sight lines weren't great. Also, in my excitement (and being our first safari drive) I had mis-set my camera so that it was not in the proper AF mode, so most of my initial shots were not sharp! Luckily I realized this sooner rather than later. Here's one of the sharper ones.

 

 tiger_JZ8_5041a.jpg

 

The road where we were in Zone 2 was quite narrow at this point and there was quite a line-up of gypsies, so difficult to follow her.  So we are stuck for awhile and getting frustrated but whoa, what's that moving back in the woods?

 

A Sloth Bear! Amazing! in our first hour a tiger AND a sloth bear!

 

 sloth_bear_JZ8_4866a.jpg

 

 

We soon realized the bear was playing with the remains of a kill, probably why the tiger cub was in the area too.

 

After a while the bear went on its way up over the hill and we again attempted to follow the tiger up the road (the traffic jam was moving now.) We could see now that up ahead, there was a small bridge with some water alongside...a very small pool of water...and there was not one, but two tiger cubs in the water! But it was really frustrating because we were stuck at the back of the line!

 

Because it is so narrow here there was no way to pass and of course you can't go off-road (and even if you could, this was deep forest with no place to go alongside.) Luckily, we now saw that a ranger was there and moving folks along. After a bit of a wait it was our turn and we were directly above the cubs in the water...so close that I was getting head shots with my 70-200mm lens.

 

 tiger_JZ5_2893cfx.jpg

 

These are two different cubs. We actually also saw the third one as well, but it was a bit further back in the woods.

 

 tiger_JZ5_2909aw.jpg

 

But we couldn't linger as the ranger was moving the line along. And believe it or not, it was already almost time to head to the gate. I was really, really glad that the next day...and the day after and the day after that...we had full day safaris booked.

 

Off to an amazing start...I think I will be very happy in Ranthambhore! Will our luck hold up for the next 3-1/2 days??

 

Edited by janzin
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madaboutcheetah

@janzin - Amazing start ........ look forward to this report and glad you did the all day zone-free pass. I hear zones 7&8 have had some amazing sightings of Caracal etc etc., 

 

What do you think for January next year?  Should I go to Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh?  I must show some friends visiting from Overseas some Tigers.

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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xelas

Indeed staying the whole day in the park, any park we have been to, was always productive. Your photos, as always, are splendid (linked to your website gallery??), and I am looking forward to see them more ... and to read more details about this part of your India trip.

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michael-ibk

Aweseome start with great pictures, Janet! Glad to hear that the whole-day-permits payed off for you, and looking forward to your report.

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offshorebirder

Thanks for this report @janzin.    I am looking forward to following along.

 

What a great first game drive you had!    I would prize a Sloth Bear sighting even more than a Tiger.

 

 

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janzin
8 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

@janzin - Amazing start ........ look forward to this report and glad you did the all day zone-free pass. I hear zones 7&8 have had some amazing sightings of Caracal etc etc., 

 

What do you think for January next year?  Should I go to Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh?  I must show some friends visiting from Overseas some Tigers.

 

Interesting about zones 7&8.  Zones 7-9 are in the other direction from town from zones 1-6 and we never ventured there. Our guides told us these were not great areas for tiger and were pretty much on the bottom of the list of desirable areas.  But Caracal would be a life mammal, one of those that has eluded us in Africa too! So maybe next time...?

 

Re: Bandhavgarh, I have never been so I can't really speculate. As you know the tiger population varies from year to year depending on territories, cubs, displaced males, etc etc.! However with all the cubs in Ranthambhore this year I'd say you can't go wrong there next year.  I would hope to someday combine a return trip to RTH with Band as well.

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Botswanadreams

@janzin Thanks for going ahead with your report. Your Tiger luck in Ranthambore is incredible. We weren't this lucky but Bandhavgarh was much better for us. Every single Safari ended there with Tigers.  

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks @janzin - I think my friends are doing cultural stuff in Rajasthan too - so, will make sense to do Ranthambore logistically ....... also, I think as you say with the plethora of cubs this year - next year looks promising! 

 

Also @Botswanadreams - sorry you didn't have such good luck in Bandhavgarh in the winter.  I've seen some fabulous images online from visitors this summer ......... However, I think to take friends visiting from overseas, I think given that it's going to be winter again I'd hedge my bets on Ranthambore.  I think the Tiger is high on their list of must-see things on their first visit to India.  

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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janzin
26 minutes ago, Botswanadreams said:

@janzin Thanks for going ahead with your report. Your Tiger luck in Ranthambore is incredible. We weren't this lucky but Bandhavgarh was much better for us. Every single Safari ended there with Tigers.  

 

Sorry that you missed out in Ranthambhore but at least you made up for it in Bandhavgarh! You there the week just after us, so I wonder why you didn't have such good luck. Of course, having the full days helped but we did have several tigers during "normal" hours.

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janzin

Day 2 (morning)

 

I will divide our days roughly into morning and afternoon sightings (pre- and post- lunch :)  just to make it more manageable.

 

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that the WWI-provided guide who we had in Gujarat and Bera dropped us off once we reached Ranthambhore...there was no need for yet another guide and we didn't need another body in the vehicle, that's for sure. We had resigned ourselves that we would not be birding in Ranthambhore, although of course we looked at birds whenever possible (and we did see some very good ones!)  Vikram had warned us that the guides here were really focused on tigers and not particularly keen on anything else. We certainly found this to be the case with Mohammad and Suchil....there were a few times they actually drove past interesting non-tiger sightings and we had to prod them to go back (for example, two head-butting fighting Sambar which would have made a fantastic photo, but they didn't pay any attention to it! By the time we stopped them to go back, it was over...) This was one of the minor issues we had with them...although not unexpected.

 

So time for our first full day! After 5:30 a.m. coffee/tea/cookies in the lobby of the Ranthambhore Bagh, we left to get to the main entrance gate of the park. The Bagh is about 15-20 minute drive from the entrance...at top speed...which we were doing! We wondered why we were leaving so early if the gate doesn't open until 6:30. Well what we discovered was that there are secondary gates off the main tarred entrance road, that lead into each of the zones. So the FIRST, main entrance actually opened at 6:15 or so which allowed you to reach the secondary gate by 6:30. And as in other Indian parks, it behooves you to be first in line...even with a full day permit...as who knows, there might be a tiger lying in the road. (Apparently tigers and even leopards are sometimes seen on the main road, before the secondary gates...but we never saw anything on this road except for monkeys.)

 

The plan for the morning was to return to Zone 2 and do it a bit more leisurely than the previous day. We hoped of course to find the cubs and their mother, Noor. There was also another tigress in this zone, I believe it is the sister of Noor. Or maybe the sister of Arrowhead. I confess I could not follow all the complex family trees of the tigers...and this time I DID take some notes!

 

Of course, we did stop for some other wildlife...but not as often as we might have in say, Africa. Tigers really were the goal here.

 

But there were Chital, including this lovely nursing foal and mom.

 

chital_JZ5_3215a.jpg

 

and the common scene of Chital with head ornament (Rufous Treepie)

 

chital_JZ5_2969a.jpg

 

and there were birds! We were really thrilled to even get a life bird...the Painted Spurfowl. We hadn't expected any lifers on this part of the trip, as the birds here are much the same as in the tiger parks we had visited in 2016.

 

painted_spurfowl_JZ8_5122a.jpg

 

But it wasn't long after breakfast that we came upon this scene (this shot taken with my iPhone.)

 

tiger_IMG_4108.jpg

 

Two of Noor's cubs lying in the road! As you can see we were third in line, with no way to get into a better position. But by standing up and leaning a bit I was able to get some shots.

 

The closer one got up and started grooming.

 

tiger_JZ5_3056cfx2.jpg

 

And then started walking towards us.

 

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We couldn't believe our luck when she lay down alongside the road directly across from our vehicle!

 

tiger_JZ5_3170a.jpg

 

After awhile (and many hundreds of photos, which all look pretty much the same, as she was just lying there panting) she got up and started walking down the road behind us.

 

tiger_JZ5_3186a.jpg

 

As you can see by this terrain, there was absolutely no way here to turn around. The other cub had headed off into the woods. So we carried on....very satisfied with the day so far!

 

By the way...all of this occurred after 10 a.m.!  And there were only those other two vehicles present.

 

 

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Botswanadreams
49 minutes ago, janzin said:

Sorry that you missed out in Ranthambhore

@janzin This isn't correct. We found one male tiger close to the road laying done short after we entered the gate to No. 6 in the morning. We had a very good view and this in the beginning completely without other cars. 

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offshorebirder

The Spurfowl is a gorgeous creature!    And the tigers are not bad either.    :)

 

 

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janzin
1 hour ago, offshorebirder said:

The Spurfowl is a gorgeous creature!    And the tigers are not bad either.    :)

 

 

 

Yes the photo hardly does it justice, it really is iridescent in the sunlight! We saw it again and I think I have another photo to post later, but they were usually scurrying around in the undergrowth.

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janzin

Day 2 (afternoon)

 

After picking up our lunch at one of the gates, we decided to try Zone 3 for the afternoon (there's no need to stay in one particular zone for any specified time, but some of them don't seem to connect easily, so you often have to go back to the entrance gate to change zones. Some, however, are interconnected but sometimes with locked gates or chains across the road. Our guides seemed to have keys to some of these gates, but not all, and some keys didn't always work. That led to a bit of an adventure but that comes later....!)

 

Zone 3 is perhaps the most picturesque zone as it holds the big lakes. Ranthambhore was originally a hunting reserve of the Maharajahs of Jaipur, and still contains a very large fort up on the top of the hill, as well as the ruins of several smaller buildings. You can visit the fort and I wish we'd had the time to do so, perhaps next trip! Because the fort is open to visitors who are not on safari, the main tarred road is busy all day long, as it serves as the entrance to the fort.

 

The fort. We never seemed to be at this spot when the light was good, so I converted to black and white.

 

ranthambhore_FUJI0540bw.jpg

 

We found a shady place to have our lunch. While we were eating, the tree above us hosted a Coppersmith Barbet. This bird is seemingly ubiquitous in India, but almost always high in a tree and I'd never been able to get a decent photograph.  This one came down a little lower and made me happy :)

 

coppersmith_barbet_JZ8_5270a.jpg

 

Another common inhabitant of the forest... Indian Scops Owl. Guides always seem to know which trees these little guys will be roosting in.

 

indian_scops_owl_JZ8_5220b.jpg

 

A few views of the lake.

 

ranthambhore_FUJI0535a.jpg

 

The area around the lake held some nice flats where birds and antelope congregated.

 

ranthambhore_FUJI0537a.jpg

 

Waterbirds, of course, were abundant. Most were too distant for photos, but I managed a couple.

 

white_breasted_waterhen_JZ8_5274a.jpg

 

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And it was also a good place to spot a tiger :)

 

At some point after eating lunch, our guides heard through the mysterious grapevine that the tigress Arrowhead was by the lake. When we arrived, she really wasn't in easy view, as she was resting in some high grass right by the lake shore and from the road there really was little vantage point. But good things come to those who wait...especially when it concerns tigers!

 

Eventually she emerged from her hiding place and started up the bank!

 

tiger_JZ5_3250cfx.jpg

 

Arrowhead (or T-84) is about four years old, the daughter of tigress Krishna.  We were told that she currently had two tiny cubs that hadn't yet been seen by the public, although one of the guides (not one of ours) had seen them.

 

She found a spot for a bit of a cool-down. Although she never got further in than her butt!

 

tiger_JZ5_3298a.jpg

 

After awhile in the water, she went back to her hiding place. It seemed that she had a kill in the grass, but no one could actually see what was going on in there. We decided to leave for awhile and come back, as there were a lot of vehicles by this time.  (I don't remember where we went!)

 

We came back towards the end of the afternoon and found her still in hiding, but we waited. After awhile she emerged, but there was still a lot of vegetation blocking us.

 

tiger_JZ8_549a.jpg.df25fffec10a8a8c1ab5ab3a17116b17.jpg

 

She did finally move into a spot where we could see her, although still by peering in between branches (which I've cropped out.) There was a lot of contorting going on to try and get a clear shot.

 

tiger_JZ8_5357a.jpg

 

It was now 5:40 and we were already late to get to the gate--this would be a common occurrence...me saying "just one more shot, one more minute" lol ! It was really frustrating to have to leave at such an early hour, because light was just getting golden and sunset wasn't until almost 7 pm. 

 

Even with nearly 12 hours in the park, I could have stayed longer.  But we were content. Tigers on every drive so far (if you count pre- and post- lunch as separate drives!) Can we keep the streak up tomorrow?

 

 

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Game Warden

@janzin I took the liberty of editing one of your images into the first post, that way it displays in the Latest Trip Reports slider at the top of the home page, meaning more visibility for the report. Hope that's ok. (Let me know if otherwise and I'll remove it.)

 

Thanks, Matt

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Atdahl

@janzin Wow, what great pictures!  A tiger trip is definitely moving up the list for me.  Can't wait to see/read more.

 

Alan

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penolva
9 hours ago, janzin said:

 

Sorry that you missed out in Ranthambhore but at least you made up for it in Bandhavgarh! You there the week just after us, so I wonder why you didn't have such good luck. Of course, having the full days helped but we did have several tigers during "normal" hours.

This is fantastic. I am thrilled to see the photos you have already posted. Pen

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janzin
7 hours ago, Game Warden said:

@janzin I took the liberty of editing one of your images into the first post, that way it displays in the Latest Trip Reports slider at the top of the home page, meaning more visibility for the report. Hope that's ok. (Let me know if otherwise and I'll remove it.)

 

Thanks, Matt

 

No problem @Game Warden  I had forgotten that the first post should have an image for the slider!

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janzin

Thanks @Atdahl and @penolva  It was reading some great India trip reports here that got the tiger bug in me too, so I'm just paying it forward!

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Zubbie15

As mentioned in the 2019 trip planning report, we're going to Ranthambhore next year based on Vikram's suggestions (and after having seen some of you photos earlier on Facebook I readily agreed).  Hopefully we'll have even a portion of the sightings you had!  Out of curiosity, was it ever an inconvenience to have to go back to the gate to pick up your lunch?  

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@janzin

 

you mentioned that a full day permit cost you 750 US$ - is that per person or per vehicle? And does it include all costs or are there any additional surcharges, like for the car, the guide...etc? How does that compare to the "regular" (half day?) permits?

 

thanks

Edited by ice
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Zubbie15

@ice I can say that  for our trip next year, and with 2 travelers, Vikram said there was a $730 difference in overall cost for a full day versus two half day drives. I’m not sure how that exactly breaks down further.  Interestingly, a full day game drive in Kansas was more expensive, with a supplement of $870 per day over morning+evening drives.

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7 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

@ice I can say that  for our trip next year, and with 2 travelers, Vikram said there was a $730 difference in overall cost for a full day versus two half day drives. I’m not sure how that exactly breaks down further.  Interestingly, a full day game drive in Kansas was more expensive, with a supplement of $870 per day over morning+evening drives.

 

So you break this difference down among yourself and the other two travellers? Meaning the difference is per vehicle and not per person?

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