It was winter in Northern India and the weather was very cold. Temperatures dropped below 6 degrees centigrade in the month of January. Myself and 3 of my friends reached Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan in the second week of January 2015 hoping to see and photograph the country’s National animal- The Tiger. After 4 safaris and no sign of the tigers in Zone 3 and 4, we decided to visit the greener zone 5 on our 5th safari. We entered the park with high expectations and a tiger had made a kill by the roadside much before we reached that place. There were pug marks in both directions. This created a confusion between the driver and the guide on which direction we should check out. After an hour, there was a sign of hope. Langur monkeys and Sambar deer started their warning calls. On following the warning calls, we finally saw the big cat resting in the tall grass. It was young male entering his prime. Since the grass was higher than the tiger, it was difficult to keep a track of where the tiger moved. Soon the direction from where there were alarm calls changed, which meant the tiger had started walking towards some other place. The driver drove us quickly to another place and the tiger ascended a small hillock by a riverbed. He walked for a short distance and walked up into a clearing.
On the next day, there was a thick blanket of mist over the forest. The fog reduced the visibility to a few meters. As we reached the Rajbagh lake, there were a number of vehicles parked. I was sure that they had seen a tiger. On finding a good angle amongst the trees, we parked up. The people who had been waiting there informed us of 3 tigers siting at a distance within the grass. After waiting for a while, I faintly saw two tigers run. The fog made it difficult to make out what exactly the tigers were up to. As the intensity of the fog reduced, we could see 3 tigers and they were cubs of the Tigress Krishna also known as T19. They played about in the tall grass and though the opportunities for photography were not good, it was lovely to watch such behaviour.
The last safari had a few surprises. We probably had about an hour to exit the park when suddenly we came across this big male leopard. He is probably one of the biggest Leopards I have seen so far. I didn’t have anytime to react on seeing him and light was shading. The ISO in the camera was pushed up to 2000 and I handheld my 600mm lens. He looked up for moment and then walked away.
Having seen the leopard, we were all excited. Our guide Aravind, spotted this Jungle cat and miss took it for a Mangoose as it was very far away. Then he looked through his binocular and confirmed it as a Jungle Cat. He helped me locate the cat siting far away from where we were. I had time to put on my converter on the 600mm lens and waited for the cat to pause eating and look at me. The cat did that a few times. Soon, there were warning calls. On the hearing the warning call, the cat sprang up and ran away. We got out of the Park at 5:30, reached the resort, packed up and headed to Jaipur for a night’s stay before our flight to Mumbai and then to Coimbatore the following day.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan