About Cubs of Raj Bagh Palace
Raj Bagh Palace of Ranthambhore in Rajasthan was built in the 12th century by the rulers of Jaipur. In the 19th Century it became a hunting spot of tigers for the royal family of Jaipur. The tiger hunting was banned in India in 1970.Now the Raj Bagh Palace has become a safe heaven for the tigers of Ranthambhore National Park(RNP).
It was during the last April holidays in Sri Lanka that I visited RNP; when I had the chance of seeing the one month old,four cubs of the second litter of the majestic tigress T19 of Ranthambhore. However, on the last day before our departure to Sri Lanka we saw only three. Since then I wanted to visit the park again, but due to the launch of my book the “Odyssey into the Wild” in May, followed by the Photo Exhibition, I had to delay my visit .
Hence, I visited the RNP from 11th June for six nights together with Suvi from my office on this excited tour to see the cubs of Raj Bagh Palace.I have been taking pictures of T19 since 2006, the year she was born.The train we were traveling got delayed to reach Swai Madhopur from Delhi on the early hours of the 11th, but we managed to do the morning Safari. What a luck!! while we were on the way to Zone 3, suddenly we heard an alam call from a Samber deer in the direction of Zone 1. Quickly, we did a detour to Zone 1, luck came our way, a male tiger lying on the road! It was T24. Males are slightly bigger than the females while their territories are also much larger than those of the females.After a few minutes, the tiger moved along the road, but without following it, we moved to zone 3 where the new arrivals of the T19 were frequently sighted. When the Forest Department found that one cub was missing, probably a victim of a crocodile; they closed the Zone to the tourists till 6th June.
The mother had kept the cubs in the island of Raj Bagh lake where the ruins of Raj Bagh Palace were located. There was no access road for the tourists to this area.During our first visit to the zone 3, T19, the mother, was sighted when she came out of the island along her usual foot path to the mainland through a causeway. But there was no movement of the cubs. She moved towards the Padam lake, subsequently we lost sight of her. The afternoon safari was again focused on to zone 3, Weather hindered our movement, apparently, the rainy season had just begun although the temperature was over 45deg C. The rain lasted for an hour. once again the T19 was sighted when she was moving back to the Island.
It was on the 12th afternoon we had the glimpse of one of the cubs, but far away in the ruins of the Rag Bagh Palace. However, we had the luck of seeing the mother and the three cubs on the 13th afternoon safari where the family was resting under a tree on the island. Taking clear pictures of the family was difficult even with the Canon 800mm lens. But some were acceptable to enlarge. The cubs had not grown much when compared to my visit in mid April. On one occasion, all three cubs came to drink water, while the mother kept an eye on at them since the lake had a fair number of crocodiles. The sighting lasted only a few minutes before the family vanishes into the woods.
Late in the evening, while we were on our way back to the lodge, Machali, the icon of RNP, the grandmother of the Raj Bagh cubs, was sighted just inside gate of the zone 4. Although the tigress is almost 19 years of age she was in good shape,looking healthy. Generally, tigers in the wild, the life expectancy is around 16 years. My first sighting of her was in 2002 when she had her second litter at the age of seven years. Since then, I kept a record of her movement during my annual visits to the RNP. In 2004 and 2006 she had her 3rd and the 4th litter respectively. T19 was from her last litter.
Once again, on the 14th morning around 06:20 we had the sighting of the mother with the cubs in an open area of the island when she was feeding the cubs for a few minutes.But the distance hindered me from taking good photography. In the afternoon safari, the mother was lying on the banks of the Raj Bagh lake on the mainland by the road side; and surprisingly the father of the cubs, T28, was resting on the same spot where we sighted cubs on previous evening.Later, it got into water to cool its body. Even for us it was difficult withstand a temperature of 48deg C. The tigress, T19, always kept her eyes on T28; and when T28 moved to the mainland she followed the male halfway, possibly to make sure that the male was far from the cubs.
The following morning as usual we were on Zone 3, looking out for the T19 family. Unfortunately, there were no signs of movement of the mother, nor the cubs. But, while waiting on the side of the Raj Bagh lake, we witnessed a peacock that got caught to a Crocodile on the far side of the Island, subsequently, another crashed on to prey to grab it. Unusual sight!
During the afternoon safari we were able to locate the T19 family. Apparently the tigress had made a kill probably during the previous night that brought the cubs to the forest bordering the Padam lake from Raj Bagh where the kill was made to feed the cubs. This was noticed when we heard an alam call from a deer nearby, which confirmed with the noise of the mother and the cubs while they were feeding on the kill, but sightings were impossible due to surrounding thick bushes. We went around the lake thinking that the tiger with cubs would come to drink water after the feed. Our guess was correct..The mother came out of the forest followed by one of the cubs to drink water.Once again, it was too far to get a clear images since we were on the opposite side of the lake. The cub’s belly was full. Other two were not sighted, possibly enjoying the afternoon snack. Only a camera with a lens of 800mm could get a good image.
It was on my last safari, on the 16 th afternoon,that I had all the luck to get the pictures of the T19 family that I needed most. Once again we went to the same location on the bank of Padam lake. The mother, after the morning heavy meal was resting on the banks of the Padam lake. Later the cubs too joined the mother that had come from the bushes where the prey was lying. Their bellies were full. After a few minutes mother, got up and moved away while the three cubs followed. We were certain that the family will come to the road and we hurriedly moved around the lake in that direction. Mother came in our direction on the road followed by the cubs. But, with the disturbance of a tourist jeep, she changed her direction and appeared alone in an open area, surrounded with a small stream of water. She rested on water to cool herself. The outside temperature was touching over 45 deg C. But, I missed taking all four on the road in a single frame. The cubs were hiding inside bushes.
We waited almost for two hours thinking the cubs will come out and joined the mother. Instead, suddenly, T19, jumped into the woods to catch a deer moving inside. It was an unsuccessful attempt. Later, she came out of the woods to the open area; to my luck and surprise, the cubs joined the mother. What a beautiful sight to watch the mother feeding the cubs. All the cubs were fighting to grab a comfortable spot close to the mother’s belly. It was close proximity with a clear sight which helped me to capture excellent images. The Nikon D4 and the Canon 1Dx bodies with the functionalities to take pictures on high ISO without noise helped me to do the job during my last few minutes at the park before close ie 7 pm. Lenses used in the final hour were Nikon 300 f/2.8,Canon 800 f/5.6.
Due to the hot sun and high temperature especially in the months of May and June, the chances of taking pictures of the tigers in water are more frequent.