Ranthambore National Park, New Delhi and Varanasi, Ganges, India
I embarked upon this photographic journey mostly to encounter seeing the largest cat, the Bengal Tiger, at fairly close proximity in its natural environment. Not to mention, I had never seen a tiger prior to this and it certainly did not disappoint!
The trip was with familiar faces from previous travels cleverly put together by Marius Coetzee of Oryx Photo Tours and my first journey with Penny Robartes from Oryx ….making this an all-girls trip and of course our wonderful man-on-the-ground in India, Mr Ikrar Bablu….fondly known as Bablu.
What a trip this was, the laughter, the pranks and the sense of fun not to mention the amazing photographic opportunities that presented themselves. Really an amazing experience with such a super cool group of people.
I landed in New Delhi and was whisked to our hotel for the night. I shut my eyes and relaxed into the traffic chaos giving way to my fear of being driven by strangers! The following morning we set off by train for Ranthambore National Park in Rajistan. This was an experience of note….a 5 hour journey, but so blessed to have Bablu looking after us, heaving luggage and camera equipment onto and off the train and making sure the scatterbrains didn’t leave valuables behind, nor wander off amongst the hordes of people. After catching up on the international news, 2 ladies from Singapore, 1 from London and the two of us from South Africa and of course, Bablu from India, much laughter and interest in our ever changing surroundings created the environment for the beginning of a very happy trip.
In Ranthambore we barley blinked and we were whisked into the ‘Marutis’ to start searching for Tigers. Debbie (from London) and I shared a vehicle and got to spend the afternoon in Zone one , both vehicles on this occasion were in the same zone, and which we learnt in the on coming days was where Debbie and I would spend many an hour …. and noted too that this was obviously Sloth Bear hangout. I experienced my first sighting of a sloth bear, so lucky, we were the only vehicle there tracking this bear…..for those of you who know the parks in India, this is rare, to be the only vehicle, but so, so special.
In the coming days we were allocated our different zones and sometimes the group was split up….with secretive (joking) tales of what each group had witnessed in their allowed time.
My first tiger was T39 Noor …. (Tiger number and Name granted to the tiger when they are three years of age). We were driving around slowly looking for pug marks and/or alarming sounds (in India no radios or networking when tracking) when I heard our Indian driver blurt out in a high pitched loud voice “Tiger Tiger” …..to say the vehicle flew into reverse and we bounced around hanging on for dear life, clutching cameras nervously….. our driver jostled and pushed and got us into a wonderful position for the entrance of Noor. This was our baptism of fire and we soon realised what the order of the days to come would be. Speed like I have never known before….however, we had the most fantastic driver and guide. We remained in the same vehicles daily so bonds were formed and by the time we left we were a little family! Our driver always had to be first in the queue at the gate, first at a sighting and the friendly competition between the different vehicles was hysterically funny. In the days to come tigers, sloth bears, Sambars, monkeys and abundant bird life was evident in its brilliance.
After many glorious days at the Ranthambore Klothi it was time to take the long 5 hour train journey back to New Delhi where we were to overnight and then catch the red eye for Varanasi ….
The peace and “quiet” of Ranthambore a thing of the past as we entered the chaotic roads, motor bikes, rickshaw, cows, dogs, vehicles all vi ing for position on the road….again time to shut eyes, pray and hope to see South Africa again. We travelled the streets by day and night photographing in rickshaws and on foot which gave us the real feeling of Varanasi, India….the energy was palpable, the smell, the feel of it, was magic. We attended the Aarti Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges River and it overwhelmed me with the crowds of people who congregate on the banks of the river every evening and always peaceful.
After two days we set off for home….with very, very happy memories and some amazing experiences!