- The Departure
- Sleepless in Delhi
- Crud, Cows and Cremations Or … Varanasi
- It’s Not Ooohgra, It’s Agra
And Now …
Ranthambore National Park
As part of our India experience I wanted to ride a train. How could I not? It’s a staple of Indian travel. Our agent did a good job of convincing us a train ride would be dirty and uncomfortable so we settled on a deal – an easy 2 hour train ride while, remember how I mentioned we lived in luxury, our driver would drive to our next hotel with our bags. It turns out the train ride is a much quicker means because our bags got to the hotel a few hours after we did.
And as for the train ride, it was fine! If the weather had been hot, it would’ve been uncomfortable, and for first class tickets it felt more like an average train experience to me … But really, I think this was a case of us being too spoiled. (Lauren and I agreed we were spoiled on this trip, next trip we take we’ll do it all ourselves like normal, and we’ll end up saying things like oh we’re taking this tour with … others? Like … common people? How gauche.)
The purpose of this part of the trip was nature, specifically, the tiger part of nature. And did we see any? Well, you’ll have to keep reading! (Or you could scroll down and see some cool PICTURES OF TIGERS THAT I TOOK! IN NATURE! LIKE REAL LIFE, MAN!)
We drove two or three hours from Fatehpur Sikri to the train station where, looking around, we saw a familiar sight – white people. Often we would drive along and see sights that were quite foreign to us (except for Indian men’s clothing, which is more often than not western) … and then we’d be close to our tourist destination and boom, a gaggle of white folk. And, frankly speaking, the older and more frail the white folk looked, the more safe I felt.
On the walk to the train platform (we went to three areas … I’m not sure if that was the confusion we had been warned about with Indian trains, or if our agent was lost) we walked with another American couple who was being helped by our same agent. They were a 60ish year old American couple and – good news, everyone! – we liked them! The only Americans (of three sets we encountered) that we liked. The guy said to me he felt like India is changing so rapidly, embracing so much of the west, that Lauren and I couldn’t wait for retirement like they did because the country would be so different. I completely agree that India felt like it was in the middle of changes, but from things I have read and heard about it seems India is good at encountering new cultures/fads and incorporating them into itself rather than letting these other cultures change them. (If that makes sense.)
The train ride itself was enjoyable. We sat across from two British fellas – one in his sixties and one in his thirties. The 60s fella was with his wife and they were travel pros having been to what seemed like every country and all on their own planning. I was shocked and impressed by some of the stories of his traveling in Asian countries. For me, the language barrier would lead me to wanting guided tours everywhere, but he talked about hopping on buses and just going. But you know what, I could see it happening. This tiny, extremely pale, silly, self-deprecating Brit could somehow survive in any situation. A stalking lion would be mid-leap and he’d coolly say, “ah, apparently I should’ve packed some extra knickers, what say, hey, lion?” and the lion would pause mid-mauling-leap and giggle and say, “aw shucks, you’re all right. I’ll go eat that goofy American.”
The other Brit told an amazing and heartbreaking story. Just talking about it brought a tear to his eye and Lauren’s, for my part my stone-and-ice heart melted .2%. The Brit, in his 30s, was with a group tour but there by himself. He was taking the trip to honor his wife, who had passed away less than a year earlier. He and his wife had talked about a trip to India and while on the trip he would celebrate both his and his wives’ birthdays – he said it had been ok but he was dreading somewhat those days. In general he thought he was holding up ok emotionally, but the tough part was at night, when they would’ve rehashed and talked about the day they’d just had. Lauren and I wanted to hug this teddy bear of a man and bring him around with us. Two days later we saw him in Jaipur and it made me surprisingly happy to say this guy who I knew basically none at all.
But enough talk about emotions, let’s get to the tigers!
We had two safari rides we would be doing, morning and afternoon. The middle of the day was reserved for lunch and a break between safaris. Good deal.
There were a lot of jeeps both big and small that we saw while riding from the train station to our hotel – the small ones had a driver, the shotgun seat, and two rows which each sat three. For these cars you would probably have a driver and a guide or ‘naturalist’ as our packet called it (how fancy). The drivers seemed to speak little to no English, the guide did … But both seemed to know the ins and outs of the different trails you drive on. The large jeeps could fit … I don’t know, 20ish?
Our jeep arrived with four people already in, plus the driver and guide, we were told to grab blankets and hop on (and thank goodness for those blankets! I was fine standing but in that open air jeep I was COLD when we were whipping around those trails). Lauren sat in the front row with one couple, I sat in the back row with a friendly English couple. The front couple said they saw a tiger the afternoon prior but didn’t expect to see anything in the mornings – the best chance for catching them was when they are walking back to sleep at the end of the day (toward the end of an afternoon safari). This was good to hear because I didn’t leave the morning safari feeling disappointed about the lack of tigers, instead I just enjoyed the ride through nature.
The highlight of the morning drive was the friendly English couple, particularly when the woman casually said to me, “there’s hardly room for sex in here.” I tried to keep a neutral face while responding, “pardon?” Turns out she was saying hardly room for SIX. As in six of us passengers. Ahhh. That certainly changed the meaning. But that’s a note for you travelers, read the fine print; you may have signed up for an orgy/safari jeep ride. The other highlight of the morning was the guide pointing to baby deer and saying, “tiger chocolates!”
After a refreshing nap we were ready to rock. Our jeep arrived and there were three people inside, plus the driver and guide. Lauren and I were in the front row with an Aussie, the back row had an American couple from Colorado. We left our hotel and headed … to another hotel. Picking up a solo traveler, I thought incorrectly, as two people approached the jeep … Hmm. When we got to the entrance to the park (where all the trails are) our guide hopped out. The two who joined the jeep last were an English couple, one of them was originally from India though and was able to speak to the driver and then translate for us. All is well.
We were merrily driving along when Lauren spotted something and said, “a skunk!” I said, “looks like an overgrown squirrel!” And then the truth, “mongoose!” Our driver was happy, he told us whenever you see a mongoose you ALWAYS see a tiger. We deemed this hogwash, but …
Not long after the Aussie sitting to Lauren and I’s right said, “tiger! Tiger!” Then I said, “two tigers!! Two!” And we all excitedly whisper talked while the driver, who I thought was NUTS, drove us closer. Maybe twenty feet from this tiger answering natures call. Turns out we had run into two 8 month old tigers – the spotting of the day. So we followed the tigers in our jeep for a bit because they happened to walk along a trail. They headed about 30 feet off the trail and one sat down in a field of tall grass.
Around this time a second jeep, one of the jumbo type, comes driving up. Our driver hops out and shushes them like mad. The cameras in that jeep come out post-haste and soon you here the click, click of cameras much fancier than my pocket-sized point and shoot.
A family of deer (sambar is the type) happened to be walking up. The female cub sunk down, half-heartedly deciding to hunt (our guide said, all in whispered talk to our British friend who translated, that the mother was out doing the real hunting and left these two jokers behind to not mess up the hunt). So our tiger pal started slowly stalking, moving toward the completely unaware deer. Meanwhile there is our jeep and a BIG jeep which holds about 20 all snapping photos like mad. Suddenly one of the deer catches wind of the tiger and begins sounding the alarm, this startlingly loud honking noise. The tiger jogged toward them but decided against it. There was a big male deer with big antlers protecting the baby which our tiger cub likely wanted.
So, it was a successful safari. If you watch the video at the end you’ll see both tigers and the deer, plus see how much I jump when the honking noise occurred.
We chatted with the Aussie on the way back, the whole jeep in high spirits. I told Lauren I had a man crush on him – he was dreamy.
Back at the hotel we chatted with our neighbors, a friendly English couple, who happened to be in the jumbo jeep. Due to their jeep being quite full the guy in the couple had sat on the trunk’s engine. A comfy ride.
High: TIGERS of course!
Low: Americans not representing well (in the afternoon safari, the Colorado woman tried to tell the driver how to do his job saying where we should look for the tigers, and then when we saw the tigers – real tigers mind you! – she said, “oh good, we get to see them poop.” Bah!
Up Next: Jaipur