|Portrait of T-17 / Sundari Tigress|
It was a cloudy evening on our third day in the Ranthambhore National Park. As I looked heavenward, I said - well, bad light to add to our woes! Thank you! So far on our current trip, we had tasted limited success with tiger sightings - none worth photographing (see details at the end). Hence, for our fifth safari in the jungle, we were at the same time desperate for a decent photography opportunity as well as nonchalant about the prospects. We were getting closer to a tiger with every passing safari and we still had two more to go after this one!
For a slide show of complete set of pictures from Ranthambore National Park, please click Here.
Also read about my previous visit and a detailed note on Ranthambore National Park Here.
For the evening we were allotted the scenic Zone 3. In the morning, during our tour of Zone 2, we happened to learn that the tigress T-17 (affectionately called Sundari) had been spotted around the Rajbagh Lake. We were hoping to sight her again in that area, praying that she would have chosen a spot in the adjacent bushes to rest during the day. We were completely oblivious to the fact that Goddess Amba (one of the most worshipped Goddesses in Hinduism and who has the tiger as her vehicle) had already given her blessings for this safari and what awaited us today was something we would cherish for a lifetime! As we neared the Rajbagh Lake we saw a few jeeps stationed near the bushes with the tourists inside animatedly motioning towards something behind the rocks. When we neared the spot, the guide pointed towards a stepped rocky area and said in a voice full of excitement "Sir, woh dekho pathar ke peeche T-17 tigress hai" (Sir, the T-17 tigress is sitting behind the rocks over there). We were struggling to spot her as the rock was also surrounded by bushes. Intermittently she would bob her head and that is when we would catch a glimpse of the stripes. There was not much happening for a good 20 minutes. An army of jeeps and canters had come rushing to the spot in the meanwhile. Our driver Mahesh, quietly moved the jeep away from the din and parked it in such a position that if the tiger were to move he would be best positioned to manoeuvre the vehicle.
|T-17 walking beside the Rajbagh Lake|
Here I must take a small detour and tell you an interesting fact about T-17 / Sundari. T-17 is the 4 year old daughter of the legendary tigress Machali (Machli) and lords over the territory around the Padam Lake and Rajbagh Lake. She has a radio collar around her neck which is used to undertake scientific studies on aspects such as tiger movement, extent of area covered, etc. It is strictly NOT used for tracking the tiger for the benefit of tourists during tiger safaris. The presence of a radio collar poses a peculiar problem for photographers... in that, nobody would love to have a picture of a wild tiger with a collar around its neck! The solution is to either photograph her from the front or at an angle such that the collar is not visible... but then, the angle is not under one's control since the tiger is the King of the jungle and it does not move as per a tourist's whims and fancies!
|T-17 treads slowly on the vehicle track|
|T-17 Stalking the Deers - damn the light!|
For around 20-30 minutes, which seemed excruciatingly long, she was stealthily making her way towards the deers. At times even we couldn't spot her - she was so well camouflaged. The light was fading fast now, damn! It wasn't to be long though. She was now within striking distance. There was an eerie calm all around. The spectators were watching in mute silence, numbed by the proceedings and the heavenly sights on display. It was to be a rare moment for everyone.
T-17, however, appeared to have revealed her cards a bit too soon as one of the Sambar Deers sighted the tigress, perhaps in the nick of time, and gave out a loud alarm call. At this very moment the tigress leaped into the waters, creating a huge splash akin to a tidal wave. But the Sambar Deers proved a bit too agile given that they got a few crucial moments between the sighting and the leap to run for their lives. The tigress charged in the waters after the larger of the three deers and also chased it for a few yards outside the waters in the woods. But, finally, she had to give up on the hunt. It was a kill not to be, sigh! The whole episode was over in less than 15 seconds!
|Sambar Deers running for their lives!|
All this while we had concealed our excitement and focused on capturing the wonderful, action-packed moments in our cameras. Once the tigress disappeared into the woods, we all broke into animated conversation and like sports commentators were giving suggestions on how things could have been different for the tigress. But the tigress, just like sportsmen, cares a damn for the commentators. We looked at each other's pictures, revelled in the memories and thanked the lady luck, our driver Mahesh and the guide. Back in the hotel, I showed the pictures to Desh Bandhu Vaid (the Guru of Ranthambhore). He was happy at what transpired and remarked that the sight of a tiger charging inside the Rajbagh Lake is a rare one and a photographer's delight!
For me Ranthambhore had once again lived up to its reputation. Long live the Tigers of Ranthambhore!
General brief on our trip and sightings -
We sighted six different tigers during our trip -
Day 1, Evening - Zone 4 - Nil
Day 2, Morning - Zone 3 - missed T-17 by a whisker (she crossed over from Jogi Mahal to Zone 2)
Day 2, Evening - Zone 1 - T-24 Male and his female partner T-39 (they were mating) who we couldn't sight. T-24 was resting far away in the bushes near Kala Pani area.
Day 3, Morning - Zone 2 - Nil
Day 3, Evening - Zone 3 - T-17
Day 4, Morning - Zone 4 - Mating pair @ Berda: T-6 male and T-41 female - far away in the bushes! Also sighted Machali (T-16) near Adi Daggar but again far away in bushes!
Day 4, Evening - Zone 1 - Mating pair T-24 male and T-39 female. We had clear view for a while but from atleast 100 metres away!
Other mammals sighted - Nilgai (Bluebull), Sambar Deer, Chital / Spotted Deer, Wild Boar, Striped Hyena (in the night when out for a drive), Common Langurs, Pair of Mongoose.
|Mr. (right) & Mrs. (left) Painted Sandgrouse|
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