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Tigers of Rajasthan

Rajasthan, The desert State of India, has long been considered the true home of the Maharajas with magnificent forts and places. Rajasthan also offers some of the best wild tiger viewing in India due to its dry deciduous forests. Tony Karacsonyi drops into the Ranthambhore National Park to find himself meeting Mr Stripes.

Cradled in the Aravalis and Vindhya mountains of Northern India, Ranthambore is famous for its 1,000-yearold fort, tropical forests and hunting palaces of India??s Maharajas. A red castle set atop of a hill was to be my lodge for a few days. ???That??s the Maharaja??s old hunting lodge, Castle Jhoomar Baori. That??s where you??ll be staying,?? says Salim, my jeepsy driver.

Traditionally, hunting parties left from this castle on horseback and elephant. Dozens of tigers were killed by the early rulers, even by today??s ???Maharaja of Jaipur??. Hunting tigers in India was legal until 1970. It is about 40 years since the Duke of Edinburgh and his wife went on a tiger shoot in central India. The last Maharaja of Suguja, claimed to have shot 1,150 tigers.

Salim picks me up at 5:30am for the half hour drive to the National Park gates. We enter through wooden gates and under a stone arch. A lovely lake appears. There is a samba deer feeding on water lilies and white herons are hitching a free ride on its back. Herons also forage on the banks and a chunky Nile crocodile lies nearby. They are fish eaters but will attack a samba deer. ???Whatever you do, don??t get out of the jeepsy,?? says Salim.

A tigress has made a kill, only 100 metres away. We arrive to see the female tiger dragging a samba deer into the bush, her three cubs waiting nearby. We watch the tigress until she leaves her lunch for a siesta. In the forest, we watch five wild peacocks fossicking on the forest floor. Teenage tigers often hone their hunting skills by chasing peacocks, which more often than not, fly up into a tree. A pair of squirrels scurries across the road, while a golden oriole flits about in a blackberry tree, and there??s a few spotted deer. Ranthambhore N.P. is home to spotted chital, barasingha, antelope ??? nilgai and sambhar, sloth bear, wild boar, porcupine, jackal, leopard, jungle cat and Nile crocodile.

We cross a creek covered in fallen orange ???flame of the forest?? tree flowers. Langur monkeys frolic on the banks among the peacocks. One of the male peacocks breaks into a mating display, the morning sun illuminating its emerald plumes.

That evening, we watch the tigress drinking at the creek where she made her kill. Her chin is crimson red with blood and her belly looks pretty full. She lies in the stream, splashing with her great paws. Her tail flicks to and fro, sending sprays of water through the air. With each dip of her face into the stream, more blood is washed away. Her three cubs emerge from the long grass and one starts lapping water with its tongue. Flies are bothering the tigress, who tries to squat them with her oversized paw. The scene is electric ??? there are four tigers at the stream ??? everyone watching is trying to stay quiet.

Next morning, we pop open a few soft drinks and share tiger tales with Kasim, our senior nature guide. Kasim tells us of a shocking story from Ranthambhore??s first lake. On this day, Kasim was chatting to his guests, when suddenly a Nile crocodile grabbed a samba deer by the leg. Something had to give, and it was sadly the deer??s leg.

Jaipur, the ???Pink City??, which was painted such in 1853 to honour a visit by Prince Albert, was our next city of call. Jaipur is well known for the Jantar Mantar Observatory built by Jai Singh II, between 1728 and 1734. Jantar Mantar means ???instruments for measuring the harmony of the heavens??.

After Jaipur, we drove to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, then to Khajuraho ??? famous for its 10th Century erotic sculptures. Eighty-five temples were built here by the Chandela Kings, but only 22 temples survived. The carved stonework of Khajuraho is exquisite. Bandhavgarh N.P. in Madhya Pradesh was next. This seven hour drive takes you through rural villages. Watch families picking fallen flowers, from which they make a beverage, watch locals driving buffalo herds, and stop at ???tea?? truck stops ??? Indian truck drivers love to stop for a cup of tea. These are the wonderful things you will not experience if you just fly everywhere.

Bandhavgarh N.P. is famous for a tigress named Sita, who appeared in National Geographic. I first saw Sita, lying in a pristine pool in a grassy meadow. She met with her three cubs, their faces rubbing in a lovely show of family affection. Sita has passed away, but her cubs live on. Charger is a super-sized tiger, and the dominant male of the tourist zone. If he wants to cross the road and there is a jeepsy or elephant in his way, he will just charge. His ears flatten, cheeks enlarge and he roars ??? at the top of his lungs. If you??re lucky, he will stop one metre short of you.

At Bandhavgarh N.P. elephants are often used to take tourists tiger spotting, and you will also see wild boar, samba deer, spotted deer and langur monkeys. Satyendra, my nature guide tells a tale. ???I was guiding a group of English tourists and I was helping an 80-year-old lady up to the ???Shesh Shaiyya?? shrine. Someone noticed pugmarks. Eighteen people were scattered around. Sita lay 30 metres away with her cub. The fully grown cub starting stalking my visitors. Well, you have never seen so many people run for their lives, and the driver was first! The cub came right up of us (the old lady and I stayed), then the cub went back to its mother. The cub Mohene now has several cubs of her own.??

Tiger viewing is an extraordinary experience and I recommended to ???go now, before it??s too late??. At least two tigers are killed each day to meet international demand for tiger products. Although there are several reasons for India??s declining tiger population, it??s mainly due to mainly poaching and poisoning. The other major cause of tiger decimation is deforestation. In Madhya Pradesh, they have lost about 4,000 square kilometres of forest, and 13,000 square kilometres of dense canopy.

There is some ???good news?? though ??? Lifeforce, a tiger conservation charity, is conducting a successful tiger project at the Satpura Tiger Reserve. Located in the 1,500 square kilometre Satpura National Park, Lifeforce was founded in 1997 by Geoff and Cherrie Whittle, along with Geoff ??s younger brother Nigel, a tiger biologist with well over 20 years of experience.

When they first arrived in Satpura, hostility between the indigenous tribes living in and outside the park was rife. The tribes resented the forest department restrictions, because they couldn??t graze their cattle in the park and couldn??t grow crops freely. Some turned to poaching and illegal logging. The forest guards considered the tribes a nuisance. Sometimes the tribes lit forest fires, which devastates tiger habitat. Wildlife conservation became very difficult.

Healing the rift between tribes and park authorities has been a high priority for Lifeforce, which believes that the key to successful management lies in the support of the forest people and local community.

Lifeforce has instigated a medical camp, treating more than 600 villagers and has supported a compensation scheme for cattle killed by tigers. It also initiated a microloans scheme.

Those who were poaching and thieving have turned their hands to farming, through the opportunity of loans, support and the chance to earn an honest living. The incidence of fires has dropped dramatically. Timber theft has ceased in the park??s north. Many villagers have given Lifeforce their full support.

Satpura, Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh are but three of several national parks/tiger reserves in India. Other notable parks are Kahna N.P., Corbett N.P., Sunderban N.P., and Kaziranga N.P., where you can see one-horned rhinoceros. So plan your own trip to India, and make a date with Mr Stripes.

Tiger touring
If you are visiting India for the first time and want to see wild tigers, I would suggest starting in Delhi. From here travel to Jaipur, then to Ranthambhore N.P.

Then travel to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, then to Khajuraho to see the erotic temples and from here travel to the Bandhavgarh N.P. In this way, you will see some fascinating cities and monuments, as well as wild tigers. Nature tour companies are good at planning such itineraries, but it??s possible to plan your own itinerary by booking lodges near the national parks.

Best time to visit

  • For Bandhavgarh N.P. ??? November to June, with March/April being prime time.
  • For Ranthambhore N.P. ??? October to June, with March/April being the best time.
  • For Kaziranga N.P. – November to March.

Lodges
At Ranthambore N.P. ??? Sawai Madhopur Lodge, Nahargarah Fort, Oberoi Vanya Vilas, Castle Jhoomar Baori. Sherbagh Resort ??? luxury tented camp.

At Bandhavgarh N.P. ??? White Tiger Forest Lodge, Tiger Trails Resort, Royal Tiger Resort ??? tented camp, Tiger Den Resort ??? near Tala Village, Tiger Trails Resort ??? in Bijaria Village, and Nature Heritage Resort.

How to book
Natural Focus Safaris ??? www.naturalfocussafaris.com
Adventure World ??? www.adventureworld.com.au
India Tourism, Sydney ??? www.incredibleindia.org