Ranthambhore National park, India, a place of great beauty, colour, and vibrance, its somewhere I first visited several years back now. Its teaming with wildlife all living alongside one of natures most feared and respected predators; The Bengal Tiger.
The Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the single largest expanse of Dry-Deciduous Forest left intact in India, such forests were found all along the North and Central Aravalis. Its one of the best place’s in India to see the Royal Bengal Tiger. One of the most stunning, handsome and awe-inspiring creatures on earth. This place though is far more than just Tigers it supports some many other species of animals, birds and plants, its an incredibly place.
After an early evening flight on Saturday from Heathrow, we arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning where my friend Manoj was waiting for us all. We then headed to Delhi train station and boarded our train for the 350km to Ranthambhore. The train ride gives clients a wonderful and true view of the real India as I call it. The one you see once you go off the beaten track and emerge yourself with the local, native people and how they travel, live and go about their daily lives untouched by our modern, hectic way of life in the west.
Once we had arrived, we were picked up and taken to our accommodation which is on the outskirts of the National Park. With the Aravali hills as our natural backdrop it makes for a wonderful and tranquil place to be based from during our time there.
Once we had settled into our hotel accommodation we then relaxed in readiness for the start of our safaris the following morning. On my trip, which I have now been running since 2010 I have two small jeeps that can sit 6 people plus driver and guide. However, I only put two people in each then rotate myself between the jeeps enabling better movement and space for my clients photography.
I have over five hundreds safaris in this wonderful national park to my name which gives my clients first hand experience in the very best ways to find, track and photograph Tigers from the constraints of a small jeep where timing is everything. We had two safaris per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon taking us into the late evening light.
We soon settled into our daily routine with an early rise at 5am, coffee from the staff before the jeeps come to pick us all up. We then set off in search of the Tiger which is always guaranteed to send your adrenalin coursing through the veins, whilst every movement in the undergrowth raises the expectation of a sudden appearance of this animal.
All of which just heightens the almost unbearable sense of excitement you have as you watch and listen for the first clue that a Tiger is around you. The mornings for me are the best, the sights and sounds of the jungle are amazing.
Twice a day for around three and a half hours each time you drive around the national park. You have too stay on a track, you’re only allowed into 20% of the park and things have got strictly with arriving and leaving. Tigers are free to roam they don’t pose or stop for you, its hardwork to often find them. Both guides and drivers know I don’t like to chase Tigers or get involved in this and they work amazingly well to get us into place with this in mind. Without them you really have little chance in this place.
The rest of my blog will be written like a diary, covering each days events and what we saw. I hope to show you this truly magical place and the wildlife that lives there.
Monday -We had an amazing first day in Ranthambhore national park, India. Both safaris we saw a female Tigress known as “Arrowhead” due to her facial markings that look like an arrow. We have one of the best and longest serving guides from this area working with us; Hemraj Meena whose expertise and knowledge of this park is second too none.
We also have Harsh Vardhan with us and helping me, one of the original conservationists of “Project Tiger”. A tiger conservation programme launched in 1973 by the Government of India during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi term of office.
It was a conservation project set up to save the Bengal Tiger back then and it lay the foundations to the current work today, helping to save these amazing big cats.
An amazing team and so much knowledge and experience among them all which allows us to be able to find and take such images of one of the worlds most beautiful creatures. Here are a few from that first day back in Ranthambhore National Park, India.
Everything in nature has beauty and has a role too play. This is a wild male Boar walking through the forest with the dappled light shinning down on him.
Tuesday -We saw a male Tiger in the morning but he was well hidden and very shy and it was tough to get a clean shot on him. A Monitor Lizard coming from its tree home and a Scops owl were two of my favorite images from today.
Wednesday – I’ve been coming to Ranthambhore for many years after being introduced to this place by one of the best, but very modest wildlife photographers in India; Ganesh H. Shankar. Several years later and today has to rank up there as one of the best.
After seeing a male Tiger in the morning we started the afternoon safari wondering what else we would see as on each drive so far we have seen a Bengal Tiger. Once we entered the zone we soon came across the cubs of Noor, a female Tigress. The cubs were hidden away under some large rocks and it was around 43 degrees so incredibly hot for them too come out.
So we decided to go and find their mum as she wouldn’t be far away, after a few minutes drive we found her sleeping under the base of a small tree. There was just a few jeeps, no noise from anyone as we turned the engine off and spent over 2 hours watching her. She’d wake up, turn over, scratch herself and sleep for the whole time. Truly amazing to be around a wild Tiger for so long. She didn’t give us any need for concern , no stress , no stares, nothing just a relaxed Tiger.
After around two hours she got up and went back in the direction of where she had hidden the cubs and called them out to which they all came running from the tall grass. The cubs played with each other, climbed a tree before they got their final call from their mother and off they went and off into the distance and that was the last we saw of them. Afterwards we couldn’t believe what we’d just witness and there was an eiry quiet in the jeep as we left the park as the sun was going down.
Six safaris and six sightings, just incredibly and all the thanks go to Hemraj Meena and Hemraj our driver for their efforts, time, dedication and knowledge and help and many laughs so far too on the long drives around searching and looking in soaring heat.
The following images I hope in some way convey this special day and show you these amazing animals and their characters and beauty.
Thursday – After the amazing day we had the previous day, we were all still sort of in a daze to what we’d seen the day before as we entered the park at dawn. We soon came across a Jackal hunting for food in open ground in the morning light. Later we found a male Tiger but he was asleep and hidden from view and didn’t move before we had to leave the park.
In the Afternoon we visited an area of countryside outside of the national park that supports a vast amount of different species of wildlife. We saw Indian Skimmers at distance and around us were many ground nesting birds like the Stone Curlew and the Yellow Wattled Lapwing both quiet rare and endangered.
The area also has one of the only populations of Blackbuck antelope in India. This species is classed as crucially endangered by the ICUN Red List. We spent a few minutes with them before they moved on. They were just beautiful to see and watch. When they moved they “bounced” to cover ground, it was just incredibly to witness.
Friday – Another amazing morning as the sunrise filled our faces full of warmth, while the park came alive around us. Here a male Peacock crosses our path showing off his stunning plumage.
We soon came across Noor and her cubs once more, all of them were very well hidden in the dense vegetation. We did get fleeting views of them, the following images were my favourite ones of the cubs.
On our afternoon safari we had almost three and a half hours watching a dominate male Bengal Tiger calling for the female. He was wandering around his territory and calling. The deepness of his call is hard to explain but it boomed for miles and was really powerful and moving to listen too.
After walking around he found a vantage point up high and sat and watched, looking for the female. Then without warning he got up and headed to a island where she was. Crossing the water he went to where she was and we lost sight of him. Everything ten to twenty minutes we would hear a really loud fighting kind of noise and it was them mating.
Soon after we had to leave the park and once more we couldn’t really believe what we had seen we really couldn’t. The following images show this afternoons amazing encounter.
Saturday – We entered the park early once more, the mornings here are just beautiful. It wasn’t long before we heard an alarm call and soon after we saw a female Tigress asleep on top of an old gate that you enter this part of the park through.
We watched her for a while, nobody else was around and it was amazing to see the sunrise cover the whole area in warm light as she slept. Hemraj our guide told us that she had two cubs hidden nearby. Without any warning she sat up and then headed off into the park and vanished, most probably heading back to her cubs.
Nearby we had caught the attention of one of the park’s most beautiful little creatures, Indian Gazelle. This was a young one with a Indian Drongo perched on his back. Another truly incredibly safari for my clients.
Towards the end of our afternoon safari we saw three Sloth Bears walking through the landscape. They are one of the national parks most shy animals and very difficult to see. It was a mother and her two young, we only saw them for a few minutes before they vanished. I will leave you with a few images of the family of Sloth Bears that we saw this evening.
An incredible week had now comes to an end and tomorrow we head to Delhi on the train to drop my clients off at the airport for their flight home. I will spend the night in the capital before picking my clients up who are joining me on my second week and head back to Ranthmabhore on the train. It then all starts again- 12 safaris with all the excitement and not knowing what awaits.
After dropping off my clients from the first week at Delhi airport for their onward flight home. I then picked up my clients the following morning from the airport before headed back to Ranthambhore for my second trip. Once we had got to our hotel we had an introductions and a wonderful talk by Harsh Vardhan about the history of “Project Tiger” and Ranthambhore.
Soon after we had our evening meal and it was time for bed and the start of another twelve safaris for my clients. Once again the rest of my blog will be written like a diary, covering each days events and what we saw just like my first week.
Above is my second team, driver-Hemrai, and Suraj Bai- guide, she is Hemraj Meena sister, and is the only female guide in India, in a male dominated industry and has great courage which I like.
This is my friend Harlal below, a forest guard and the best tracker in Ranthambhore patrolling and tracking Tigers in sandals, with a stick, a mobile phone to take images of any tracks and a radio. Its perhaps not the image you’d see published when experts gather for their “conferences” on how to save the Tiger.
On the frontline looks very different to what we’d imagine the forest guards monitoring and protecting one of the worlds rarest big cats to be equipped with. We need conservationists, we need experts but what we really need is to give each and everyone of these guards the best equipment and gear in which to protect and look after Tigers.
Without these guys you have nothing. Each year they are not looked after and are asked to do a dangerous job with equipment so far behind it’s shameful. Conservation starts with local people not with us in the west. Governments, NGO’s, charities, and those taking a wage to protect such animals need to do more to support these people you really do
Tuesday – We all set off before first light heading to the park, it’s always wonderful to see new clients all excited about this place as I still do after all my time here. Its a place of great beauty and just amazing really. My two jeeps were in different zones, one jeep headed in one direction and the other the opposite way.
The jeep I was in soon came across a lone male Sloth bear who was walking through the forest looking for termites. These wonderful bears are very shy but this big fellow wasn’t as he wandered through the trees, stopping the odd time to sniff the air before carrying on. After a few minutes he disappeared into the vegetation and we headed on with our journey.
We saw many fresh Tiger prints throughout the morning safari but we didn’t get too see a Tiger this morning. Once back to our hotel my second jeep had seen a Tiger. In fact they had seen five Tigers: Mother, Father and three cubs which was amazing. I was really happy and fingers crossed for the afternoon session with my other jeep.
The afternoon session was extremely good for both jeeps once more with clients seeing Tigers once more ending a wonderful first day of my second tour for my new clients. In the jeep I was in we came across Noor who then went and found her cubs she’d hidden away before all heading to sit in a watering hole too cool off.
Openly displaying loving gestures and actions to one another right in front of our cameras. So moving to see and very special behaviour. Once they had cooled off they headed off and out of sight. Not long after though we found them walking past a favoured place of Noor and they once more sat down, played and the cubs rubbed their heads against their mother’s head in a lovely show of affection.
A few moments after they disappeared into the landscape and that was the last we saw of them for today. Once I got back to our hotel I found out my other jeep had also seen yet another Tiger making this a brilliant start to the second tour.
Wednesday – The early morning light in Ranthambhore can be truly magical and this morning was no exception. Each one of my jeeps with my clients inside went separate ways. The jeep I was in came across a Stork-billed Kingfisher fishing. The light I describe was just amazing and can be seen in the below image.
Once more we drove around our designated zone listening for alarm calls for the Samba Deer and Langurs and it wasn’t long before the silence of the morning was broke with such calls. We headed to an area where we found Noor’s cubs and a kill she’d caught. We couldn’t see too well and in the end just one of the cubs showed and came from dense cover too drink. The following images were the ones I liked from this morning.
This afternoon one of my jeep’s saw nothing and the jeep I was in had a wonderful few hours watching Noor sleep – from a safe distance. Once she woke she had a yawn and a stretch and then went off hunting. Below are a few images of this beautiful Tigress from this afternoon.
Thursday – We headed off to our given zones and the light was as beautiful as ever. One jeep in zone three my favorite and my other jeep with myself in went to zone five. We soon came across fresh Tiger tracks both male and female. Not too long after we came across a very shy female Tigress known as T73. She is one of three cubs that were born to a Tigress known as “Lady Of The Lakes” or T17. She was the very first Tiger i saw in the wild and still holds a wonderful memory in my heart.
In Late March 2013 she left her three cubs by a tree and went off hunting, sadly she never returned and the cubs were left too fend for themselves. The forest department put wild Buffalo and other natural food out for them, and amazingly they all survived into adulthood. They all now live in Ranthambhore National park and the legacy of T17 is still alive.
I was in Ranthambhore in April 2013, a week after the very last confirmed sighting of T17, and there were lots of rumours too what had happened to her. I was told that she had been in a fight with a male Tiger and come of worst and was carrying a bad injury.
After this the stories differ alot to what happened, many local people believe she was poached and those involved were local people and hotel owners. Tiger disappearing out for the “back door” of Ranthambhore is something that is mentioned alot here. When you do a roll count of the Tigers though many are missing and its then said they are living in the 80% of the national park that visitors aren’t allowed in.
Whatever has happened to T17 I’m sure it will all come out soon and those involved will be exposed. With these three cubs still living though the legacy of T17 still lives and this is what I thought today when seeing this really shy Tigress. Once she and her cub had gone I smiled inside, having never forgotten my first encounter with a Tiger in this case their mother.
The following images are from this morning amazing encounter with T73 and her cub, the other cub was hidden away and we never saw it.
In the afternoon We visited one of my favourite zones and were really lucky to come across a female Tigress known as “Arrowhead” At first she was sleeping but not long after she got up and went off hunting for Samba Deer.
It was incredibly hot and she really didn’t have much luck with hunting so she decided to walk to the small island and slept for the rest of the day. We didn’t see her again before we had too leave our zone. The below image of her was my last one before she vanished.
Friday – Both of my jeeps were in the same zone today which was good as what one set of clients would see the others would too hopefully. We went to zone 7 which you access through the old city which I love. Once inside it wasn’t long before we came across a number of fresh tracks of a male known as T58 who lives there. Then our guides found where he was sleeping and we waited off the main dirt track for him too woke up and move.
Then as it was nearing the time we had too leave he appeared from the dense vegetation. He was massive, one of the biggest males I’ve ever seen there. He walked for a while the sat down and then got up and walked along the small dirt track we were on. All the time hissing and showing his displeasure at our presence. Not long after he vanished into cover.
The afternoon safari was really hot nearly 45c as one of my jeeps went into one zone and I went with my other jeep into another zone. While driving around we came across Arrowhead, a female Tigress who was sleeping in the shade by one of the main lakes. So we pulled over, killed the engine and waited for over an hour and she didn’t move.
Then as the sun was going down a little she decided too move too cover and this simple image above shows her moving off and away from our line of sight. My other jeep saw nothing but once again its been a magical day for all my clients.
Saturday – The jeep I was in headed to zone five and my other jeep to zone four. Once inside we came across lots of fresh Tiger tracks and tracked them the best we could, each time though the tracks headed into the dense vegitation and we lost the trail. While we waited one of my favorite birds from this place landed not far from us and began singing; the Magpie Robin. This was the female, caught singing away with her head outstreched and pointing upward.
They have a wonderful call and are like our Robins back home with their bold, brave nature. The male is black and white and the female is more of a grey/black and white. We didn’t get any luck this morning with the Tiger but once I got back to our hotel it was wonderful to know my other jeep and clients had seen two Tigers and got some nice images. In the afternoon we all set off again for our different zones, my jeep saw nothing but we had a lovely time driving around zone five looking for Tigers and other wildlife. My other jeep saw Tigers in zone three one of my favorite zones which was great.
Sunday – Today was our last day in Ranthambhore National Park which is always a sad occasion for me as I personally love this place, its smells, the noises and more importantly the wildlife. One of jeeps and clients went into zone four and the other jeep visited the Blackbuck and Waders sight that my other jeep visited on the first week.
The jeep I was in soon came across a female Tigress called “Lightning” just sitting on the ground in the early morning sun. She soon got up not long after and walked down a dry riverbed as the animals gave the alarm calls and Spotted Deer run away. It was just amazing to see and witness it really was.
She soon disappeared into the jungle and we could hear the alarm calls but it was hard too see her afterwards. Another brilliant encounter though on our last morning. My other jeep also had a great time with the Blackbuck and waders. In the afternoon everyone got some wonderful images of the Tiger once more. When we entered our zone we came across Arrowhead, a female Tigress hunting Samba Deer but she was unsuccessful. We managed get some lovely images of her before she headed to the island to sleep. These images are some of the last I took from this years amazing trip, it was like she was saying goodbye to me.
Monday – Today we head to Delhi airport on the train and my two weeks here are over. Its been an amazing time, my best trip ever here. I want to thank my clients for your company and the many laughs we’ve shared over the time here. I want to say thank you to Hemraj Meena and Suraj my guides, Hemraj our driver for all your efforts, and help during the two weeks, without your skills, professionalism, passion and love for the wildlife we wouldn’t have been able to see what we have.
Truly the best team in Ranthambhore and I have had the privilege of working with many good guides and drivers here. Two safaris a day, each one three and a half hours so we spend around seven hours a day looking for Tigers in 40 plus degrees and it’s tough but worth it in the end. You need a good team and I have this.
Tigers aren’t safe, they face many dangers and I would ask you all to help all of those that try and keep these amazing creatures safe from going extinct. Many of you will know from talks I’ve done or articles I’ve written that I’ve loved Tigers from a small boy and it’s been a dream too see them in the wild over the years. We all must try and safeguard these creatures so future children grow up wanting too see them in the wild.
I’ve received a wonderful testimonial from one of my clients already :
“We have just returned from a wonderful first (but not last) trip to Ranthambhore in India. It’s a really amazing tiger reserve and we had an fantastic time. Our guide for the trip was Craig Jones, and I need to say how much we appreciated spending the week with him, getting to know both him and the wildlife around us. He is a kind and genuine photographer. You can tell from the moment you meet him that he has so much respect and appreciation for the natural world, something we don’t see shown so outwardly by everyone, let alone by all wildlife photographers. His enthusiasm is infectious too, even though this is his 9th year visiting India.
His relationship with the locals contributed greatly to the success of our trip – whether the forest guards who call to him as we drive past, or the other Indian park guides who pull us over to have a chat where Craig jokes around with them and forms the relationships that ensure a warm welcome and helpfulness from everyone we meet. The trip was excellently organised by him and we didn’t want for anything throughout!
Jeep drives were entertaining with constant banter and debates over the ethics of photography which pushed us to evaluate and better educate ourselves on the role we play as photographers and the relationship the locals need to have to make conservation stories like saving the last tigers from extinction possible. (And this from people who spend a lot of time on safari all over the world!) Too many good laughs and happy moments, and of course our first and subsequent many tiger sightings which we had without tearing around like madmen like some people do (these parks are rough going). All in all it was an excellent trip and I can’t wait to return. Craig – you know how much we enjoyed your company. See you soon I hope.” Laura Clarkson
My 2018 trip is now provisionally full. If you’d like to find out more about this trip and to be added to the waiting list then please click here for all the information. Or alternatively send me an email. I’m able to put together a bespoke trip to Ranthambhore if you wish from November until May each year if this is something you’d like. For more information on this please see the following link.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog and seeing the adventures and encounters from the last two weeks in India. Its been amazing and I hope I’ve conveyed this within this blog post, many thanks.