Explore's Prue Payne has had the privilege of going on our tiger tracking tour in India not once but twice. We learn about her experiences and find out why she wanted to repeat this magnificent tour.
"To witness the behaviour of any animal in their natural habitat is an incomparable experience, be it parrots in a rainforest, whales breaching in the ocean or giraffe nibbling acacia leaves in the African bush. For me this was particularly poignant with the tiger, an animal most have only seen in the artificial surroundings of zoos and animal parks. To observe a tiger in the wild, knowing that it can walk freely and act instinctively is a primary reason for choosing to travel to India, and in particular to Ranthambore National Park. India has several national parks which are working towards the preservation of the tiger, and our Tiger Trails and Temples tour delves in to some of these. My own choice was the Tiger, Tiger tour which involves a short time in Delhi followed by a five-hour train journey down to Ranthambore.
Ranthambore in itself is a beautiful park with a variety of landscapes. Without creating too much of a clichéd image it is, at times, like stepping into the Jungle Book with rivers, streams and banyan trees engulfing colonial hunting lodges. You can then emerge into sparsely vegetated open hillsides, reminiscent of the African savannah, with phenomenal views over the surrounding hills and cliffs which are only a tiny portion of the national park.
Picturing a tiger in either of these landscapes seems alien. Even when driving through the specified zones where tourists are allowed it seems surreal to think at any turn there could be a tiger (or two!). I have been lucky enough to go to Ranthambore twice, and have seen both male and female tigers as well as some truly special highlights.
The first unforgettable experience was spotting the largest male tiger of Ranthambore across a lake, sitting in the water in the midday heat. Our naturalist guide was superb, and knew from experience that at approximately 4.30pm he would leave the water and hopefully cross back over to our side of the lake. Needless to say that at 4.30pm exactly he started to roar continuously for a few minutes before standing and walking slowly to the crossing point in the lake. Taking his time he crossed back over to within 20 metres, where the water in the lake got progressively deeper and we were fortunate to witness a very rare occurrence – a male tiger swimming across a lake and then climbing the bank towards us. He passed us within metres; but this close encounter was not the only one of the day.
The same day we found a female sitting in a pool by a bank where we were able to watch her for 15 minutes before she chose to move. We would never choose to obstruct a tigress (apart from not wishing to intrude on their daily movements, it would be incredibly dangerous as the vehicles are completely open) but by chance our vehicle was in her direct path. She moved with confidence and elegance as she approached, staring directly at us, monitoring our every move. We posed no threat so she passed without concern only centimetres from the side of the vehicle and my leg! It was truly magical, if not slightly hair-raising at the time. When they are within touching distance you can completely appreciate their size and strength, as well as their unique markings. Your trust must lie with the guides, as they knew immediately from her behaviour, noises and stomach size (as to when she last ate) how she is going to act and react to humans. This was especially poignant when we heard the familiar sounds of a male roar, but this time the guide knew something was different – he was mating.
Using the knowledge of the local guides we knew the rough location of the tigers and when turning a corner, we came face to face with both. As the tigers moved through the bushes at a slow and steady pace we were able to follow at a respectable distance taking the opportunity to take rare photos where both a male and female tiger were in one shot. The male continued to show mating signs by growling, roaring and raising his nose and followed the female for ten minutes without concern of our presence. After a further ten minutes of fascinating behaviour they both went to lower ground to find watering holes where they lay separately. We were able to spend around 30 minutes in total with this pair, and it was truly unforgettable.
To complete the day, upon exiting the park, we heard the familiar warning calls coming from both a monkey and samba deer. The naturalist guides stopped and listened for a moment to isolate the calls relating to one particular area on the other side of the valley. There among the rocks a male leopard was casually walking, his hopes for a kill ruined by the ever observant prey.
The parks house a great variety of wildlife from spotted and samba deer, crocodiles, sloth bears to the obvious highlight, the Bengal tiger. The warning calls that echo throughout, as well as the roaring tigers and scattering deer and antelope help create an exciting atmosphere, and the landscape is as varied as it is stunning. Nothing, however, compares to the feeling when you first spot a tiger walking towards you, or sat idly by the pathways. This is a rare species that needs complete protection. While I was fortunate to see numerous tigers over my trips they are wonderfully camouflaged and a species with whom it is extremely difficult to spend time. If you are travelling to India, with time enough to spare in a national park, then I truly hope you will be lucky enough to see this absolutely fantastic cat in its natural surroundings. In the relative sanctuary of the national park the cat can prowl unharmed and thrive in an area where it should always remain; its home.
Why not go Tiger Tracking in India and experience the excitement of seeing tigers in the wild for yourself? If a group tour is not for you, our Tailormade team can put together a tiger safari itinerary to suit your own requirements.