I have been a frequent visitor to Ranthambhore National Park (RNP) in the State of Rajasthan in India since 2002 when I first photographed the most famous tigress, Machali, icon of India. She is still surviving at the age of 19 years; exceeding the average life span of a wild tiger, which is 16 years.
My last visit to the RNP was on the 5th October 2014, which was my third safari tour to the park for the current year since the daughter of Machali’s 4th litter, named Krishna T19, the sister of T17, gave birth to four tiger cubs in March this year. Unfortunately, only three are surviving at present .The Cubs are now 8 months old and my current visit to Ranthambhore was focused mainly on them. It was the second litter of T19. The names and numbers are given by the park authorities for easy identification of Tigers in the park.
I together with Suvi from my office left Colombo on the 4th afternoon to Delhi by Sri Lankan airlines. Thereafter, we took an express train to Swai Madhupur, the closest railway station to the RNP, in the early hours of 5th October. It timed well in advance for the morning Safari.The park opens to visitors from 7 – 10 in morning and 3- 6.30 in the afternoon during winter season. The time changes in the summer due to early sun rise and sun set.
Immediately, after the arrival at the Tiger Den, I got my camera gear ready for the morning safari. The jeep came to pick us up on time. The luck was with me when the T19 and her three Cubs came out from the woods adjoining the Raj Bagh lake, located in zone 3 of the park, a few minutes before the closing time of the park for the morning game drive. What an exciting moment! But the Cubs were scattered and to get a photograph of all the three together was impossible. However, I managed to capture a few clear images of all the three separately. They were almost of the size of an adult tiger.
On the 6th afternoon, once again the T19 was sighted resting near a water hole bordering the Raj bagh lake, but, unfortunately, not the cubs. Although the tigress was lying down, she was in a hunting mood, possibly waiting to ambush a prey. We were there for almost two hours expecting cubs to appear from the woods, but in vain. However, there was a tortoise that moved from the grass bushes to the water hole when the predator was watching its movement.
Generally, the sightings of tigers during winter months, especially from October to December, are not frequent since there are adequate supply of water at the RNP water holes, but unfortunately, for most of them, there are no road access. However, the best period to visit the park for tiger sightings are from March to June which are the dry months, when the cats spend most of their time near the water holes with water.
On the following morning, after driving through most of the accessible roads in zone 3 and later moving to zone 2, we managed to locate the Cubs inside the bush at Jhaira in the zone 2. Later, the Cubs followed by the mother got into water of a stream crossing the road. But, to my unluck, a few bushes of tall grass obstructed a clear view which hindered taking good photographs of the family in water. This reminded me of a sighting of Machali in 2007 with her three Cubs of her 4th litter in water at Raj bagh lake. Subsequently, the mother came out of the water, crossed the road, walked for a few minutes on the open field before she sat down on a rock surface. One of the Cubs followed her and while they greeted each other, I had the clear sight to capture a few good images of the scene.
The rest of the safaris were concentrated on the same area since the Cubs were hiding in the forest of Jhaira in zone 2. There were a few occasions when we sighted the Cubs playing with each other. But, since it was far from the road, I had the difficulty of capturing good images.
On the 9th we departed Ranthambhore by train to Delhi, stayed overnight there, before returning to Colombo on the 10th October.