Set amidst the hinterlands of erstwhile Rajputana, the wild kingdom of Ranthambore appears, as if by magic, like a golden mirage in a desolate terrain.
One of the most famous National Parks in India, Ranthambore National Park was once the hunting ground of Maharajas. It is now a dedicated and well-protected wildlife sanctuary, home to over 40 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and over 300 species of plants. Stretched over 100 miles, the park revolves around the magnificent and timeless 10th century Ranthambore Fort, surrounded by ancient temples and mosques, hunting pavilions, crocodile-filled lakes, and burial tombs succumbing to vines.
My day began at 5 am, as I got out of the bed and stood in the lush garden of my resort. The smell of freshly cut grass and droplets of dew swayed my senses. Even though it was early in the morning, it was a pleasant experience which brought me closer to nature. Living in the concrete jungles of the modern era, we often forget the magic nature beholds.
At sharp 6:30 am, our guide, Bahadur Singh came to pick us up in a 20-seater open-roof canter. As we stood outside the park entrance, we learnt that Zone 2 was allotted to us today, much to his pleasure Bahadur Singh spruced up his moustache with confidence saying that we will definitely get to see a tiger. Curious, we asked him, how are you so confident, to which Singh replied, a tiger made a kill in Zone 2 a couple of hours back and would not move away from the kill for a few days.
Patiently, we were waiting in the bushes, listening to a peacock’s ruffled shrieks, squinting to see where it was facing towards a tiger, maybe? There were hints all morning—fresh pug marks on tracks, grand clues of an animal having been dragged at the spot we drove past. So, after 20 minutes of waiting in the bushes, I wondered if this peacock was onto something, or was he just a jumpy little fella.
Bahadur Singh’s signature serious face peered through the jungle. He nudged the driver to hurry, pointing towards a pond near a rock. There were huge ripples in it. Someone is in there. And we were driving right into its face. As we slowly approached the pond, there she was, the Lady of the Lakes, Machli or T-16. As she sipped the water, her ears moved at the slightest sound we made. She stepped towards us, slowly and steadily, and brushed her back against the right tyre of the canter, as if being accustomed to attention.
She was named Machli (Fish), because of the fish-shaped mark on the left ear of her face. She passed away at the age of 19 in 2016, which made her the world’s oldest-surviving tigress in the wild. Labelled as the most photographed tigress in the world, Machli had a strong hold over her territory. From killing a 14-foot long crocodile to being the most powerful tigress in the world, today, tales of this fierce-eyed tigress resound the jungle.
When to go
The Ranthambore National Park is open for visitors from October to June. The best time to see tigers is from April to June, due to the hot season, the tigers can be seen near the water bodies.
How to go
By air, railways or make a road trip out of it.
• Allow yourself 2-3 days in the park to get the best chance of catching the sight of a tiger.
• Make sure to take the safaris in the morning and the afternoon.
• Ensure you use a reputable guide.