Dry, arid lands — like a shot from an Animal Planet documentary about the Madagascar lands — Ranthambore was a desert dream and we, the four adventurers, my husband Andrew Peris, my daughter and my mother-in-law Philomena Peris decided to explore it as best we could. Our journey through the picturesque land began on the April 4.
The real adventure began when we made our way to the National Park. The heat was trying, reaching 44 degrees at some points in the day, making me sprinkle water on my three-year-old daughter’s face. Open jeeps and canter trucks are the only vehicles permitted; as you sit in the jeep — hot wind greeting you with every advance of the vehicle, sweat dripping down the side of your face, hands invariably reaching above your head to protect oneself from the heat — you can’t help but wonder how anything survives here. The land is dry and sparse, leaving it to look like a scrub forest — a mere shadow of the Jungle Book forests. Everything is brown and dull — a mono tone of colour… the foliage looks hungry and bare and with sights this harsh, how do the animals survive? It’s at right about this time that one could possibly start yearning and dreaming for a greener and lusher world.
This forest area defies every rule of the typical story book forest with lush, thick trees and bursts of colour from the flora and fauna. But were it not for this monotone… the contrast of the richly coloured animals wouldn’t be half as marvellous and awe-inspiring. The Tiger truly burns bright here. Widely spread peacock feathers with spots of royal greens and blues (this is the Land of Kings — Rajasthan, after all), the bright green and red wings of parrots against the clear and plain blue sky — the sights were jaw dropping only because of the mono tone… the contrast offered a beautiful, rare perspective.The drive starts at 1:30 in the afternoon and goes on till about 6 pm in the evening.
The park itself is divided into 10 different zones, and each zone costs a different amount to enter. Travellers are allowed entry to only one zone — the rules are strict, in order to preserve the special wildlife. As we make our way through the zone, we are accompanied by Shashank Saraswat, our tour guide and walking encyclopedia, and the pitter patter and chirps of the birds and wildlife around us —spotted dear, rabbits, birds — we are not alone.
There is a haunting sense of history as you make your way through this adventure… the roots of the thick, timeless and old Banyan trees spread through the earth, and show no signs of moving — like small rivers running through the ground. The ruins of the forts from the Chauhan period pepper the landscape, suddenly taking you back in time but also keeping you grounded in the present — the history of the park is abundant and cannot be ignored. Ruins from the 9th CE are still here, but so are you —this land has been home to so many over the years, and you are just passing through this bubble of history.
Ranthambore is known to have the highest tiger sightings and that is what draws people in… what drew us in. And we are extremely lucky to have been able to spot tigers in all their natural glory. My husband Andrew was the first to spot them — a mother and three 18 month old cubs. Their thick, luscious coats laden with bright orange and intense black stripes, is a sight that can’t fully be described until you see it. Each step they take informs you about just how human you are. The most terrifying thing about an encounter like this is their gaze — stark dead in the eye, no qualms about who owns this land as the orangey yellow, white and black striped creature glides past — magnificent.
Our next tiger spotting was of two tigers in their pre-mating ritual — they roll and growl and dance with each other, their streamlined and feline bodies move in rhythm with each other — an animal tango. If you are lucky enough, you will hear a growl — one that silences the jungle… its vibrations carried through the air and remaining with you forever. This is their home, and we are just visitors. The tigers of Ranthambore rule this land, evocatively.
— as told to Ahalya Narayanan