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Zubbie15

India 2019 – Christmas in March

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ice

ok, thanks for explaining...behaviour like this would annoy me, too, especially since pretty much all the guides in Africa I've been guided by for the past 20 years acted very differently (with the odd exception, of course)

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Atdahl

@Zubbie15, great report and photos so far.  We had to scrap our plans for Sir Lanka and India next March but I am super interested in your report since India is still on the list for the future.

 

Alan

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Zubbie15

Thanks @Botswanadreams for the suggestion, I'll keep that name in mind for if/when we get back to Ranthambhore.  

 

Day 3, afternoon.

After eating lunch, we continued on, ending up in zone 2.  All the while we’re scanning for pugmarks and listening for alarm calls, without much luck.  We eventually meet another vehicle, who tell us a young female (Noori) was by the road up ahead.  We went and spent time, alone, with her, but it was getting hot and she mostly stayed lying in the shade. Because it was a narrow road where she was located, we headed out before the afternoon drivers could arrive and trap us, returning to where we’d seen the young male.  He (or his brother) was visible through thick bushes, and starts to slowly make his way toward a waterhole. However, he’s too slow for us, as we need to leave before 5PM (even though exit time is 6PM), since we’re a zone and a half away from where we entered, and apparently we need to use the same gate to exit as we came in.  So we traverse the rest of zone 6, cross the gate into zone 1, and start to head out.  Not much going on, until we see a couple of cars stopped up ahead.  Tiger?  No, but in many ways much better – a female sloth bear with two young cubs on her back.  She completely ignored the 3 cars following her, going about her search for food.  Photography was tough, given the fading light, branches and trees in the way, and the fact the cubs were constantly moving and she kept her head down 90% of the time, but it was an amazing sighting.  Once she lumbered off into the forest, we headed very quickly to the gate, getting out just in time. This evening my wife teases me that all day I looked like a 4 year old opening presents on Christmas morning (hence the title of this report).

 

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We spent a lot of time at this waterhole, particularly in the middle of the day - we ate our lunches here twice.  The tigress who's territory was here had been giving very good views recently according to our guide; she definitely played hard to get for us.

 

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Noori - she was awake but didn't seem to be interested in moving.  She also was in fairly deep grass, and getting clear views was a bit of challenge.

 

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In Ranthmabhore, unlike the other parks we visited, any time you stopped you'd immediately have multiple Babblers and/or Treepies on the vehicle (and occasionally on us) searching for crumbs. I'm not sure why it was only the case in this park, although in Kanha at least food was only to be eaten in designated locations, which may have helped explain why.  Photos were in fact rather challenging, as they were often closer than the minimum focusing distance of our lenses.    

 

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Sloth bear mother and her two cubs.  Photos were a challenge - we were in a deep valley, the sun was basically set, and she spent most of the time with her face in the ground while her cubs were consistently moving.  The resulting photos were pretty noisy and the light was pretty mediocre, but still a great sighting to have. 

 

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Zubbie15
On 6/23/2019 at 12:06 AM, Atdahl said:

@Zubbie15, great report and photos so far.  We had to scrap our plans for Sir Lanka and India next March but I am super interested in your report since India is still on the list for the future.

 

Alan

 

Thanks Alan - hopefully you can get to India sometime soon.

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michael-ibk

A wonderful Sloth Bear sighting! Sorry to hear about your guiding issues, but still you had great sightings so far. I agree with you btw, of those three parks I think Kanha is the most scenic. Are they still doing the big trucks in Ranthambore? I found that quite offputting.

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Zubbie15

Day 4, morning.

Even before we get into the park, we see Arrowhead’s two cubs in the bushes on the other side of the fort wall.  It was very dark for photos, and they were still uncomfortable around cars, so they quickly melted back into the forest. This morning, we travelled through zones 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but so nothing beyond the standard animals.  In fact, according to the WhatsApp group the guides post to, no one had seen tigers this morning beyond the brief view of the cubs that we shared.  Returning toward Arrowhead’s territory, other guides relayed that the cubs had crossed the road (based on pugmarks, no one saw it) and were in an area of thick vegetation with no roads.  So we decided not to wait, but returned to zone 2 for our lunch.  It remained quiet – both my wife and Ashlesh had extended power naps during the heat of the day.

 

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One of Arrowhead's young cubs. Unfortunately the light was almost non-existent (this is brightened at least 2 stops) at this time of the day, so more of a record shot that anything else.  

 

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Spotted Owlet roosting for the day.  There were definitely some well-known roosts in the parks, the driver and guide would always check these known roosts to see if anyone was home. 

 

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It's really too bad the tigers didn't come out this morning, the light was very kind.  Wish I hadn't cut off his antler though!

 

 

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Even a wild boar can look good in the right light.

 

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Ranthambhore wasn't that bad in general, but there certainly were some moments when things got rather dusty. 

 

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I've seen other images from this area online, and I think it's known, if only informally, as suicide point.  You definitely drive right up to the edge of a pretty sharp drop.  There was a tiger, based on the alarm calls, somewhere down there.  We ate breakfast here.

 

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Very dry, the trees looked skeletal.

 

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While waiting for the tigers, I wandered a little looking for subjects to photograph.  This Sambar played along, she had wandered a little away from her herd.  

 

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A palm squirrel hung around, hoping we'd drop some crumbs he could steal. 

 

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This crow also was on the hunt for crumbs. Our guide claimed it was a Large-Billed Crow, but checking my book it doesn't seem to occur that far south.  Perhaps an Indian Jungle Crow?  I'm happy for any input. 

 

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This purple sunbird and his mate were flitting around the trees.  It took a while, but eventually I was able to get a decent picture of him.

 

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When birds weren't around, we moved on to vegetation...

 

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Not exactly sure where this is - after breakfast we went through this wetter area.  The ponds were very good for all kinds of shorebirds.

 

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janzin

Wow, Sloth bear with cubs is quite a fantastic sighting! And on her back, even!

 

I remember Suicide Point! I insisted our guide move us away from the edge as it was making me really, really nervous. We also were told that there was a tiger sighted down there...somewhere!  

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Zubbie15

Day 4, afternoon.

After the naps were done, and having staked out a waterhole in the hope that a tiger known as Ms. Ranthambhore (T-105) would show, we decided to leave the zone and head somewhere else.  As we were getting toward the gate, we saw a car in front of us frantically gesturing for us to come.  Tiger!  She had come down for a quick dip, we watched her for about 5 minutes before she headed off (presumably to a kill, which we could faintly smell).  We decided to return to Arrowhead’s area, where we heard that she had crossed a road not 50 meters from where a couple of full day cars, with a photo workshop group led by Andy Rouse, were stationed.  But because it was around a curve, they only knew so based on the pugmarks, and they all seemed a little depressed. Everyone in that zone ended up at a nearby waterhole, hoping she’d show up there. 

 

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Red-wattled Lapwing.  This was returning back past the ponds shown in the post above.

 

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Pretty sure this is a Common Greenshank, although I'd be happy to be corrected (can you tell I'm not much of a birder? :P)

 

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Sambar with some decoration

 

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Brown Fish Owl.  Ashlesh picked this guy up from a quick glance into the canopy while we were driving along. 

 

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We were told this is a Collared Scops Owl.  I'm not convinced based on the distribution shown in my bird book; that, along with the fairly sparse marking on the chest, would seem to be more likely to be an Indian Scops Owl.  

 

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Red-vented Bulbul.  These guys were very common in parts of the park, but would fly away the second we stopped the car.  This was the only one that proved remotely amenable to photographing.

 

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Tigress marking her territory.  We were leaving this zone pretty shortly after all the afternoon drivers arrived - the last gypsy into the zone was the one that located her.  It was funny, we could hear the husband in the other car saying (quietly) to his wife that in the end it was a good thing that he'd delayed them on leaving.  Haha! 

 

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We got to spend a decent amount of time with her, but most of it was her lounging in this dirty waterhole facing away from us.  

 

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After finishing with her soak, she crossed the road and headed back up over a ridge.  We could faintly smell what must have been a meal she'd caught a couple of days previous, which must have been up there somewhere.

 

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Pretty much all the cars in zone 3, as well as at least 4 of the full-day cars, ended up by a small pond hoping Arrowhead would appear. This Grey Francolin, and his family, seemed a little confused by all the attention.  But would Arrowhead show up?

Edited by Zubbie15

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Zubbie15
1 hour ago, janzin said:

Wow, Sloth bear with cubs is quite a fantastic sighting! And on her back, even!

 

I remember Suicide Point! I insisted our guide move us away from the edge as it was making me really, really nervous. We also were told that there was a tiger sighted down there...somewhere!  

 

Yes, the sloth bear was special - it was the one time Ashlesh took out his phone to video.  We figured if it was significant enough to excite a guide with 30+ years experience, it was something to cherish.

 

I definitely leaned away from the edge when we pulled up to suicide point. I wasn't entirely clear what we were going to do if the tiger appeared, the area was pretty distant and didn't seem to have any roads...

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Zubbie15
3 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

A wonderful Sloth Bear sighting! Sorry to hear about your guiding issues, but still you had great sightings so far. I agree with you btw, of those three parks I think Kanha is the most scenic. Are they still doing the big trucks in Ranthambore? I found that quite offputting.

 

Yes, the canters were still there.  To be honest, the first afternoon they were also searching the same area as us, but after that we didn't see them much. They can only go in some areas, and I think we did our best to avoid them.  To be honest, what was worse in my mind were the vehicles with sun canopies in Tadoba, they would park themselves right in front of waterholes and block the view of people in the second row.  But in general, I guess I had heard so many horror stories about safaris in India that I didn't find anything that really bothered me. 

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Zubbie15

Day 4, afternoon (continued).

 

Ashlesh thought Arrowhead was patrolling her territory, and after a few minutes said we should quietly leave the group and try to intercept her back in zone 2.  We left, leaving everyone else at the waterhole (one car did follow us eventually), and returned to the other zone.  After a short while, we crested a hill and who was on the road – Arrowhead.  We ended up driving with her for quite a time (based on the timestamps on my camera, 33 minutes), most of which was just with one other car (they admitted that they saw our car leave, and thought Ashlesh might be up to something so followed) before a second car coming back from that zone arrived.  It was an amazing sighting, and our first experience of the “speed the car ahead 50 meters – stop, take photos – she’s getting close, quick move another 50 meters” style of dealing with a tiger on the road.  She even made a halfhearted attempt at a sambar, but had no real chance.  Eventually she veered off into the forest, and it was time to head home.  Fair warning - if somehow you don't like tiger photos, the next post(s) will be all Arrowhead.

 

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Tiger!  I managed to get 2 pictures of her in the road, with the car still running, after we crested the hill and found her.  She quickly veered off into the opening on the right, and for a little while we were worried we'd lost her.

 

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But, no - she reappeared in the next opening and came back onto the road.

 

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Yummy tourists.

 

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Back on the road.  One thing that happened on our trip (not give too much away) - we ended up with a lot of tiger sightings where the tiger was walking along the road, so some of the sightings end up looking similar.

 

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It was nice that we were gradually going downhill - it meant we were more eye-to-eye with her than shooting down on her.

 

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She was definitely paying attention to what was going on in the forest on either side of the road.

 

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Getting a little close - too close for my 400mm lens, couldn't get all of her in the frame.

 

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What a pretty lady... more to come. 

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Zubbie15

More Arrowhead (sorry, but tigers are just such great photographic subjects, and she really cooperated).

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Around this time, as you can see in the background, the third car arrived.  This made photographs harder, as it was obviously a better background without a gypsy in it. As well, the light was getting lower, so I didn't process too many more of the photos.

 

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Off after a sambar.  It was impressive to see how fast she could move.  She wasn't successful, and returned to the road fairly quickly.

 

Not long after the failed hunt, she began to give clear signs (even to me) that she was tired of the vehicles following her, so we left. It was time to get out of the park anyway. 

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janzin

Lovely Arrowhead! We saw her too, but not as well as you. Did your guide say anything about her cubs? She should have some sub-adult cubs now I think.

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Atravelynn

The cubs on the mother sloth bear are a trip highlight for sure.  A major "gift under the Christmas tree."  Great light for the tigers.  Impressive vegetation shots too--even the sambar decoration.

Edited by Atravelynn

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Atdahl

@Zubbie15.  Wow!  Those sloth bear cubs on the mother's back is an awesome photo...then I get to all the fantastic tiger shots.  What a trip! 

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Zubbie15
9 hours ago, janzin said:

Lovely Arrowhead! We saw her too, but not as well as you. Did your guide say anything about her cubs? She should have some sub-adult cubs now I think.

 

Arrowhead is truly famous - we showed Rajan one of our pictures, and his first (unprompted) comment was "it's Arrowhead."  I did a little digging on the internet, it seems Arrowhead lost her litter of cubs probably not long after you were there.  Her current cubs were born in December, as best I can tell.  While we didn't get a good view of them, they did show well for Andy Rouse just before we arrived - this was roughly the size they were in March: https://www.instagram.com/p/BxZCcMGF-5y/

 

8 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

The cubs on the mother sloth bear are a trip highlight for sure.  A major "gift under the Christmas tree."  Great light for the tigers.  Impressive vegetation shots too--even the sambar decoration.

 

6 hours ago, Atdahl said:

@Zubbie15.  Wow!  Those sloth bear cubs on the mother's back is an awesome photo...then I get to all the fantastic tiger shots.  What a trip! 

 

The sloth bear cubs were so exciting to see - she was hanging around that area and showing well for at least a couple of days, as we heard other people mention having seen her a couple of days later.

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Zubbie15

Day 5, morning.

It was warmer today, although any descents into valleys caused it to cool off quickly.  We scanned through many tiger territories, notably that of Krishna and her cubs, and while there were a lot of fresh pugmarks, all led off into the forest and we didn’t find any tigers.  In fact, only one tiger was seen all morning according to WhatsApp, and quite far from where we were.  So we enjoyed the scenery, and all the animals we would have by-passed if on the hunt of a tiger.  It was interesting in Ranthambhore, we could tell how the sightings were going based on our guide’s attitude toward non-tiger animals.  If there was tiger(s) around, he would drive along without consulting us.  If things were a little quiet, he’d turn around and tell us to let him know if we wanted to stop anywhere.  And if it was dead quiet, he’d start suggesting photo opportunities himself.   We ended up having lunch by one of the lakes, as Arrowhead had been away from her cubs for almost 24 hours at this point and Ashlesh expected she’d come from a specific direction to get to them, so we staked out the likely path she would take.  A few photos from a quiet morning:

 

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Brown Fish Owls were relatively common in the park, we had 4 sightings of presumably 3 different individuals.

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Zubbie15

Day 5, afternoon.

We spent almost 3 hours hoping Arrowhead would arrive; I’m generally a patient safari goer, but just sitting around hoping you had correctly predicted where a tiger was going to pass for that long made me start to get antsy.  At least we were parked on the shore of one of the lakes - I passed the time photographing some of the birds that passed by. As the afternoon cars for the zone started arriving, we decided to move on (apparently she did show up eventually, but was moving quickly to get back to the cubs and didn’t really show well).  We returned to zone 2, and after making our way through most of the zone came across a traffic jam, which can really only mean one thing.  Yes, T-105 (Ms. Ranthambhore) was asleep, visible but a decent distance from the road.  She was right in the area where we’d been searching for her the previous days.  While watching her and hoping she’d move, another car came around the corner further along, and said a male tiger was coming in this direction.  This male was rather shy, and with all the cars already in the area he never came out to give a clear view.  We, along with 3 other gypsies, spent as long as we could with her - luckily we left first, as the drive back to the gate was quite fast and led to a decent amount of dust being kicked up.  

 

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Pied Kingfisher - they were all over the place, but a little wary of the car so hard to photograph

 

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Sambar were ever present

 

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The White-browed Wagtails spent a lot of time near us - the male would court the female, and then they would mate.  This occurred for quite a while, it was fun and a challenge to try to get them photographed.

 

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Common Myna that came by to look for crumbs

 

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T-105.  After spending a lot of time in her territory (it was the one I mentioned earlier, where we'd eaten lunch) we finally found her.

 

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Shy male.  This was the best view we had of him,  he didn't come out for us. 

 

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T-105, closer.

 

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Portrait of a beauty.  

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Atravelynn

"We spent almost 3 hours hoping Arrowhead would arrive; I’m generally a patient safari goer, but just sitting around hoping you had correctly predicted where a tiger was going to pass for that long made me start to get antsy. "  I remember taking the opposite approach and napping.  But with results like the "Portrait of a beauty" you can justify some of those long waits. You never know what might happen with tigers.

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Zubbie15
18 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

"We spent almost 3 hours hoping Arrowhead would arrive; I’m generally a patient safari goer, but just sitting around hoping you had correctly predicted where a tiger was going to pass for that long made me start to get antsy. "  I remember taking the opposite approach and napping.  But with results like the "Portrait of a beauty" you can justify some of those long waits. You never know what might happen with tigers.

 

I think I was the only one out of the four of us who didn't nap during this break (it would've been funny if we all fell asleep and she passed during that time!).  I guess I just had a sneaky feeling that "waiting for the tiger" was partially just to avoid actively searching for a sighting.  

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Atravelynn
16 hours ago, Zubbie15 said:

 

I think I was the only one out of the four of us who didn't nap during this break (it would've been funny if we all fell asleep and she passed during that time!). Only if you were promptly awakened when it appeared with the alarm that goes "Tiger Tiger Tiger."  I guess I just had a sneaky feeling that "waiting for the tiger" was partially just to avoid actively searching for a sighting.  I recall lots of waiting for tigers that did or did not appear.

 

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Zubbie15

Day 6, morning.

Our last morning in Ranthambhore, and feeling kind of weird that we’re restricted to a single zone.  Will we be lucky and have a tiger here?  We were assigned zone 5, which passes through the territories of several tigers (T-73, T-74, T-102 and Lightning, Arrowhead’s sister).  We went through all these territories with nary a sign of a tiger, until we came across fresh spoor, combined with fresh pugmarks.  We followed these, and eventually located a big male, T-64.  There were already several jeeps and a couple of canters there, so our driver maneuvered us to a good view point.  Eventually T-64 crossed a stream, which led to some pretty crazy jockeying by the drivers to not only find him on the other side, but to be at the front of the line.  We ended up third in line behind him for a while, until he reached a fork in the road and we chose the right direction, such that we were now right behind him.  He was great to watch, but didn’t really turn around so hard to photograph.  After a while, the drivers and guides in the car behind us started yelling (presumably to let them get a chance in front?), so we stopped to let people pass, which was a little frustrating.  This was compounded by the fact that after a couple of gypsies passed, a canter tried to pass and hit our gypsy.  We ended up having our driver and guide yelling at the driver and passengers (all Indians) in the canter for several minutes.  This was our one true bad experience in terms of traffic when I tiger was present, and really soured a nice sighting.  Furthermore, once we had let everyone pass our guide told us the rangers had seen them parked off-road at the start of the sighting, and he wanted to go to the ranger station right then to sort things out.  We ended up sitting in the gypsy for 45 minutes waiting for the rangers to return and then for things to get “sorted.”  From there, and with little further explanation from our guide, we headed straight out of the zone, even though we ended up leaving 45 minutes before the morning drives were scheduled to end. Certainly not the way we wanted to end our time in Ranthambhore.

 

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My wife really wanted a picture of a displaying peacock.  It wasn't the right time of year for widespread displays, and this was the best that we ended up getting.

 

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T-64, wondering what all the fuss is going on behind him.

 

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His best pose of the sighting.

 

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Atravelynn

Looks like that "best pose tiger" was a professional model.  I can just hear the photographers saying, "Work with me."

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Zubbie15
10 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Looks like that "best pose tiger" was a professional model.  I can just hear the photographers saying, "Work with me."

 

Not sure I said “work with me” but I was definitely hoping he’d give us a nice pose when I saw him heading toward the branch, and sending him vibes to not bypass it! Sometimes, rarely, they hear your requests!

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janzin

wow that's an incredible shot of the "posing" tiger. Rare to see something like that I'd think, much less get a photo!

 

What a drag though about your little "fender bender" with the canter, and then the sitting at the ranger station...and leaving early! Not a great way to end :( but that posing tiger makes up for it.

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