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Blog of the week 20 August Blog of the Week: To see a Bengal tiger in the wild is almost a mystical experience! Yet, with only about 3, of these magnificent creatures left, the likelihood of seeing one outside a zoo diminishes with each passing day.
The only places where you can see Bengal tigers in their natural habitats are in the protected preserves in India. This square mile park between Agra and Jaipur was once a royal hunting ground for the Maharajahs of Jaipur. Remains of ancient Mughul structures are scattered around the area, remnants of a bygone era.
We visit Ranthambore in the middle of summer April—June. Temperatures top degrees Fahrenheit every day, and the preserve is seared dry by the relentless sun. As water becomes scarce, tigers often can be found, in early morning and late afternoon, somewhere near one of the few remaining waterholes.
However, with such small numbers left, your chances of seeing a tiger, even in a preserve, are largely a factor of luck and the skill of your tracker guide.
We spend four days exploring the park.
There are eight trails across the portion of the preserve that is open to visitors. To minimise the impact on the environment, strict controls limit the number of vehicles and visitors allowed at any given time.
Routes are allocated on a lottery system with only eight vehicles permitted on each route during the early morning and late afternoon time slots. Bouncing in an open-topped jeep over dirt tracks and dried out, boulder-strewn, riverbeds, our guide stops periodically to look for pugmarks in the soft sand or to listen for the alarm calls of the sambar deer and langur monkeys that signal a tiger on the move.
Sometimes we sit for almost an hour in the torrid heat, scanning the dried grass for movement. Searching for tigers is certainly an exercise in patience, endurance and fortitude! One afternoon a tiger is sighted in a cave! We sit waiting for the great beast, known as T-6, to wake up from its slumbers.
Before long it stands, stretches and begins a slow pad out of the cave, down a rocky incline. It is no more than 15 feet from where our jeep is parked. Apparently nonplussed by its appreciative audience, the tiger slowly strolls up a hill, through a meadow and into a grove of trees. Periodically, it stops in the shade for a few minutes, surveying the land, before setting off again.
Its destination is a small water hole at the base of a rocky outcrop. Sniffing the air around him, the almost lb animal walks into the pool where he lies down up to his neck! It is a lovely way to cool down in the blistering heat! For about 40 minutes the tiger lolls around, periodically lapping the water to quench his thirst.
He appears oblivious to the people watching his every move, cameras clicking away in rapid-fire to catch the twitch of a whisker or the sight of a canine!
However, make no mistake! These are wild animals.When mailing an envelope or postcard, leave at least the bottom 16 millimeters (5/8 inch) blank on both front and back.
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