Looking for a tiger in India....part 3

The story so far. I had arrived in Mumbai, toured Udaipur and drove through Rajasthan. I had also broken my leg. I refused to go back to Mumbai as I was searching for a tiger.


We drove into Jaipur to the Hotel Alsisor Haveli. The hotel was built in 1892 as the family mansion of the Shekawat clan. In 1993 they turned it into a heritage hotel.





Once again I was put in a room up numerous stairs. I asked to be shifted to the ground floor and was moved. I finally met the group, a father and daughter, two female friends; one had just had a heart bypass operation and was a little grey, two Indian guides and an Australian guide, a very over-weight female with an attitude towards Indians. She barked at the  hotel staff as if she was a  Maharani ordering the staff around. A very small group. I told the Australian guide about my badly sprained ankle (really a break) and she got another pressure bandage and some more ice for it. The only things that were helping the pain were copious amounts of alcohol and pain killers.

Jaipur is known as the Pink City. In 1876, when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted pink to welcome him. Today the avenues remain painted in pink, providing a distinctive appearance to the city. We toured Jaipur visiting the Hava Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. It was built in 1799 by the poet King Sawai Pratap Singh; it is a very narrow building, five stories high but only one room wide, over-looking the main street. It was for the royal women to be able to look outside without being seen.



We also toured the Amber Palace. This was built in 1640 and is also known as Ganesh Pol. It is high on a very steep hill. Looking up from the car park I didn’t think I’d make it then I realised that we would be taken up by elephants. The architecture of the fort and palace was well thought out. Interior rooms are heavily mirrored to allow the dark rooms to be well lit. There was an arrangement of pools and waterfalls that faced the prevailing winds. Instant air-conditioning. The group was moving very slowly because the woman who had just had the heart operation was starting to find it hard to breathe and I was just limping along.








Another place of interest was Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantar is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharajah Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 to 1733.  The sundial is still accurate to 20 seconds for Jaipur time. It was an uncomfortably hot day and I discovered that I could keep up with the group by hopping. It’s hard hopping in the heat.



Alongside this complex were the City Museum and a large parade courtyard. A procession of elephants, horses and carriages was being prepared for a ceremony so we had a break to watch the festivities. The priests were having a hard time blessing the horses. Every time they put floral garlands on the horses they would eat them before the blessing was finished, so another garland would have to be found. It became a race between the priests and the horses. The horses won.





Also in the courtyard was the Diwan-i-Khas, a meeting place, that also held two giant silver urns, listed in the Guinness Book as the largest silver objects in the world. They were made to carry sacred Ganges water for the Maharajah Madho Singh II's visit to London in 1901.



I would have loved to explore Jaipur a lot more, to go to the markets and investigate the bustling streets that we flew passed. It looked vital, energetic, noisy and colourful. Unfortunately I was in no condition to strike out on my own. Finally it was time to leave and we were introduced to our driver and van. The  van had a very high step-up. By keeping the broken leg very straight I was able to haul myself up using the hand rails and the strength of my good leg. I was getting closer to a tiger.

We drove to Ranthambore. This is what I had come for. The Ranthambore National Park used to be the hunting grounds of the Jaipur Raj set. In 1973 it became a Project Tiger Reserve. The Park covers an area of 237 sq km and it holds around 30 tigers. That’s a lot of space to try and find a tiger.

We were staying at the Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge; the hunting lodge of the Maharajah of Jaipur. It was built in the 1930’s and is a brilliantly preserved piece of Art Deco. The interiors have been retained with period furniture and Art Deco murals. The lodge is setting in a vast garden area with the accommodation being in outlying servants’ quarters. I was put in one that was far away from the main house. It would have taken me ten minutes of pain to hop to the dining room and bar. I had a dummy spit and sat outside the room refusing to go in until they shifted me much closer. The tantrum worked and I was moved. The tourist with the heart problems was getting raspier and greyer.
I wasn’t walking any faster.





That night over dinner the softening up process started. We were given a talk by a couple of park rangers who told us that rangers who had worked for years at Ranthambore had never seen a tiger. That if we saw a paw print or tiger droppings that was an exciting sighting. Bah! But we would see plenty of deer, birds and monkeys. I can see those in Bali.

We were to be the first into the park in the morning. They stagger the safari trucks to avoid traffic jams. We were picked up at dawn by a large open-topped jeep that held 20 people sitting three across. It was very Jurassic Park with large gates being opened and us being waved through. The sun was just rising and it was very beautiful. In the park is the Ranthambore Fort. The fort, built in the 10th-century, towers over the entire park area. Inside the fort, there are three red Karauli stone temples devoted to Ganesh, Shiva and Ramlalaji. The temples were constructed in 12th and 13th centuries. We saw deer and birds and monkeys. Then the ranger saw a paw print. Everyone oohed and aahed and took photographs of this bit of disturbance in the  dust.  About an hour later a tiger was spotted. At least I think that’s what they were pointing out. With a lot of looking I saw the top of a head and two ears poking up through the tall grass a long, long away. So far away that it was only a distant dot on the photograph. So I didn't even bother to keep it.









We went back to the Lodge for lunch and were to return the Park later that day for another shot at the hunt. We cleaned up and ate. The day was hot, the Park was very dusty and we had came back covered in red dirt. The jeep came back and we were off again. More deer, birds and monkeys. The rangers were all talking to each other on walkie-talkies asking if anyone else was seeing anything. All of a sudden the jeep jerked to a stop. Every time it did this I banged my leg. Ouch.

The ranger with a bit of awe in her voice directed us to look to the right. There was a water hole and on the far side was a TIGER. A full size, real-live tiger, just minding its business sipping water. Every-one went very quiet. As we watched a deer came down to the front edge of the waterhole. The tiger spotted  it and eased itself into the water. With its eyes just above water level it slowly waded towards the deer. When it was only about ten feet away the deer looked up, started and ran for its life. The tiger came out of the water and looked over at us. Oh the embarrassment, oh the shame we’d seen it miss catching lunch. The tiger lifted its tail and sprayed on a tree. Now normal cat spray is rank but this was much, much worse. It sauntered of into the woods looking over its shoulder at us as if to say “coulda caught it…..wasn’t really trying”.

The shots aren't fabulous but they are proof of seeing a tiger.




We became the talk of the Park as it was one of the best sightings of a tiger in years. I done what I’d set out to do. See a tiger. The next day there was time for another trip to the Park but I was in too much pain and stayed at the lodge with my leg elevated. I kind of hoped that they wouldn’t see anything. They saw deer, birds and moneys but no tigers.

Now I'd seen the tiger it was time to deal with the broken leg. But not immediately.


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