There are no tigers in Kenya.
Ranthambore tigers, will we see one at last? So, in 1994, we went on our Honeymoon to Kenya. It was Iain’s idea, not that I minded, it was fantastic. I just never imagined at that time that I would ever end up in such a place. Anyway, a few days in, having seen lions, elephants, rhino – Iain said he was disappointed he hadn’t seen any tigers yet! This remained a longstanding joke ever since. As a child, having watched Jungle Book that he had thought was set in Africa, he expected there to be tigers in Kenya!
Well, as fate transpired, since our attempt to return to Africa for our anniversary went pear-shaped, to say the least, (you can read about that here ), we found ourselves in India instead, embarking on a 7-hour hectic drive to go tiger trekking. Furthermore, through another twist of fate, irony, sod’s law, whatever you want to call it, it was on the same day we should have gone gorilla trekking in Uganda which had long been my dream. Gorillas, tigers, meh, what’s a species between friends, that sad safari ship has sailed; thanks Mr Otiano for running off with all our money.
Ranthambore tigers it’s finally time to meet you
So, we set off early in the morning from Pushkar hoping to get to Ranthambore in time for the evening safari. Initially, we had only one morning safari booked but wanted to optimise our chances of seeing a Ranthambore tiger we’d heard so much about, so I booked in an extra one for the night before. This change meant moving our tour of Pushkar to the night before. Another beautiful twist of fate.
Pushkar by night
Pushkar was a wonder at night, burning incense, shamans, spiritual leaders calling across the holy lake. Shoes have to be removed to walk through the mesmerising sights, listening to the prayers. The scene of old white hippies on motorbikes scooting by who you feel arrived once in their youth and have never left. Drumbeats, dancing, mantras. The life of the night emerging from the vibrant red sunset across the lake. A nightly ritual watched by many before they begin their barefooted walk around the holy lake. No shoes. No photography. This is both a shame not to share but also something beautiful, because to see the people you must come for yourself. Feeling the calm in the air may be spiritual; it may be the cannabis and opium drifting by. I suspect it is both but either way it draws you into its mystical practices.
Before I came to India and thought of India, this is what I imagined; this is what I hoped existed. The India, The Beatles, told us existed across the universe. Pushkar. Put it on your list pilgrims.
It’s a jungle out there.
But back to the other India. The Jungle Book India. Seven gloriously gruelling hours away. There had indeed been tigers everywhere around Rajasthan; we just hadn’t seen one. Driving up to the Monsoon Palace high on the Udaipur hilltop our driver casually announced, “there are many tigers in the trees here”. Say what? “Tigers lots, and some leopards”. Mmhmm alrighty then let’s watch out for tree-dwelling tigers, windows up! I thought about Savanna-The-Vanna and my lion ladder-climbing nightmare. At that point, I had never considered tree climbing tigers. Huh.
Anyway, the only animals we did see on our long upward drive, besides the obligatory road cows, were monkeys. Now, your first two days in India are filled with ooooo monkeys get the camera. This excitement gives way to meh, bloody pesky monkeys everywhere, hold on to your hats. Camels. Same. Wow, a CAMEL. Becomes, an mm camel on the road, swerve.
However, I remained eternally bemused by the cows.
Never underestimate the cow.
I am beginning to suspect cows are the rulers of the world. I think they are smarter than your average bear. And, I suspect they know it. Magic Roundabout gave cows a lousy press that Ermentrude was the cow family’s black sheep, the archetypal Daisy the Cow, not much going on between the ears. And you know, I guess there is always one in every family, isn’t there? But, these worldly cows understand what is going on. I am sure of it. The cow rules the road in India.
But yes, yes, back to the tigers. Were we lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal Tiger?
Nice restaurant, very clean
Well, we were almost at Ranthambore when our driver stopped at a ‘restaurant’ stop. “Clean, nice,” he said. So, I have noticed when we do this; he scoots off somewhere around the back while we make our way to the tourist trap. I thought, play it safe and order a cheese toastie. Insert bleugh emoji here. How can a cheese toastie go so wrong?
Some form of crispy thin toast thing appeared with a smattering of what looked like grated cheese. It did not taste of grated cheese. It tasted of, grated garlic. Sour, grated garlic. Meanwhile, a table of unsuspecting Australian tourists was busy ordering a feast of an Indian meal. Oh, how they would later regret that I am sure.
So, anyway, ‘lunch’ eaten we carried on for the last 90 minutes through the rural farmland. Tractors now had the bling treatment. Tinsel, lights, shiny things, ornaments. It seemed to be harvest time, so I wondered if it was somehow related. Or maybe they just like shiny things. And, curiously, they all had massive ghetto blaster speakers propped up in the back blaring out music! Eventually, we reached our hotel with just 20 minutes to spare before being picked up for the big tiger trek. Phew.
Is there anybody out there? Tigger?
We checked in to our hotel, well, palace I supposed you call it, to find we had been upgraded not one but two categories to the best room in the castle. Wow.Things were going well. We dropped our bags and took off on our safari. Now. Big pause. The first inkling I had that luck may not be on our side was when we picked up the Indian-Californian, that’s what he called himself. As he squeezed himself in beside me, he announced this was his fourth safari that week, and he had already seen two tigers—one that morning and one the evening before. Well, I thought to myself, there is not a cats chance in hell you will be lucky three times in a row. Was he?
We drove off bumping along for 3 hours, watching, hoping, praying, just a glimpse, only one tiger that’s all we wanted. Nothing. Nada. Zero. “Ohh” cries our Californian friend, “just imagine one in your mind’s eye, don’t be too sad.” Yeah right, he who has seen two. Pah. And so off back to our palace suite, we trundled. Do not despair, I said, tomorrow will be our day.
If anyone else helps me, I am out of here!
That was until the fiasco with dinner that evening. When suddenly I decided I kinda did despair after all. I’d had enough of the whole 5-star royalty treatment. I am a Savanna-the-Vanna Girl; we should have stayed in Pushkar all free and happy, not trying to chase down Ranthambore tigers before retiring to our officer’s mess type bar with accompanying spears on the wall.
So, next thing, when I was swamped by 5 or 6 waitery men people asking what I wanted to drink, where I wanted to sit, pulling chairs out, flapping napkins, ushering me around and about. I did snap. “Ok, stop, that’s it”, I said. “I am leaving”. There were gasps. And I did perform the longstanding tradition of my family of just upping and walking out a restaurant when one has quite had enough for whatever reason one deems suitable! It was a long day. I just wanted a beer and something to eat. Instead, I performed a dramatic exit and was left with nothing. Sigh.
Consequently, it was an early night ready for the 5 o’clock start the next morning for our pick up at 5.45. And then, we would see the tigers.
Do I look Chinese?
6 o’clock all the other safari-goers had gone. Surely it wasn’t going to happen again. We weren’t going to be left like we were in the Kenyan airport were we?
6.30 bingo a “Hello, welcome” “Here is your vehicle”. Phew.
“Are you picking up other guests?” I asked, keen to get going.
“No look it just you two”.
“Mmm no. Uh uh, we are not Mr and Mrs Chung”. “You see, look, here come, the CHINESE, people now.” Damn.
What followed was a series of frantic phone calls from the palace staff. Then, we were assured, someone would come.
Now, we had been told the tigers are all up gone by 8 o’clock, and it was a 30-minute drive to get there. It was already 6.45 we should have been in the park at 6.30, hopes were running low.
And so it began
Seven o’clock enter the Dim Twins.
“Where have you been” Iain shouted, with sweary words.
Now, the reply was a reply to end all replies.
“It’s Sunday he says!”
“Tigers don’t know it’s Sunday” Iain shouted.
I held on to him as it appeared he might spontaneously combust.
“Ah,” said the driver.
And so, in a state of despair rather than anticipation, we reached the park at 7.45 and drove aimlessly for an hour.
We did at one point spot tracks of the elusive Ranthambore tigers. “Ah yeah,” the guide said, then carried on, in the wrong direction.
We then parked a while, while they did, what Iain alleges, was an underhanded drug deal with another driver, and then we left the park. By the back gate. Not even using the remaining time we had to try at least and see a tiger.
So did we see one? Well, the only tiger I have come close to remains on the front of my Kellogs Frosties box.
Ranthambore Tigers…Let them be
However, the whole thing made me think. And travel, well it’s all about the learning, isn’t it?
The Ranthambore tigers, the gorillas, the money-making schemes that are surrounding all of this. What is really going on here? People, as did we, spend thousands of pounds to come to India to see a tiger. Now really when you stop to think about it, that is a ludicrous idea. As tweedle dope, and tweedle dopier went speeding through the jungle, literally, I did begin to think, I don’t want to see a tiger now.
Why should we get to exploit their home? Maybe we need to give these endangered animals the space to roam freely that they deserve. So they don’t have to hide away from the hoards of spying, coughing, shouting tourists.
And so, no tigers, but perhaps new respect for these beautiful beasts – keep on hiding!
We booked our whole North India trip through TourRadar, tigers not guaranteed, that we found so convenient we have used a lot since and have joined them as an affiliate. The tour we booked was the ‘Taj Mahal and Wildlife with Royal Stay at Castles’.