The summer months of April to June are the best time to visit Ranthambhore. The undergrowth is sparse, water sources are limited, and the sighting is therefore much better.
We did 3 safaris and thoroughly enjoyed all three. We stayed at Khem Villas, and can't say enough good things about it. Their commitment to the forests and to the people of the land is incredible, and the work they do to protect the whole ecology of the place is admirable.
On our very first safari, into the tiny Zone 1, we spotted this beautiful tigress:
Side view of T-39, in Zone 1
She is a very young tigress about 5 years old, and she has just given birth to a cub. She is quite thin right now, what with looking after the cub as well as hunting. When we saw her, she had hunted two days ago, with a successful deer kill. Now she was on the prowl again (but you can see she is hungry and her stomach is absolutely shrunken). On a close up of the photo you can see teats, she has been nursing. She is very graceful.
Tiger on path - T-39 goes in search of water
We were lucky she was walking towards us! The photographers in the other jeeps were behind her and could get only butt-shots :) The forest has shed a lot of its leaves and the undergrowth has dried up.
She stood, alert and poised, when she saw some prey. It was amazing, the transformation from sleepy walk to alert awareness.
Tiger hidden! T-39 walks into shrubbery
After a while she walked away from the road, beautifully camouflaged in the forest. If this had been winter we could not have seen anything! Because it was summer, we could follow her, and later we saw her emerge from a ravine and climb up a small hillock.
If you are visiting Ranthambhore in winter, the chances of sighting drop substantially. Can you imagine the photo above, if it were full of dense green shrubbery? How would you even know that the tiger was there ! Fortunately, tigers love walking on the forest roads, because it is easier on their paws. So the paw-prints can give you clues about where they are. After that, it is just luck and perseverance!
Ranthambhore is more than just tigers, though. Just being there amidst the jungle is very soul-satisfying. Learning about the ecology of the place, the BALANCE of everything, the seasons, the way the food chain works, the birds of each season...all of it made me feel a sense of peace.
The dhok, the most widespread tree in Ranthambhore
The dhok is particularly well-adapted to the harsh climate of this region, shedding its leaves to survive the summer. It has a hair-trigger response to rains, and begins to sprout leaves with the first few drops. While we were there, it rained very briefly (unseasonal) and we saw the trees already with their opportunistic response :)
Not all parts of the jungle are dry - there are zones which are green and beautiful.
Green lush areas of Zone 5 - very refreshing
This photo was taken at the far end of Zone 5, near Bakola. Zone 5 has bone ratting rides up the hill before you get to this ravine with water :) The temperature here is at least 2-3 degrees lower than the rest of the forest, with a moist inviting forest smell. We saw paradise flycatcher, golden oriole, and black-tailed mongoose, I didn't want to leave!
Zones 2 and 3 are also very scenic, with large lakes. Here you can see not only a lot of waterbirds, but also a wide range of animals.
Female sambar in Rajbagh lake - Zone 3
Sambar are good swimmers and often feed on the grasses and water plants. They have good sense of smell and hearing but poor eyesight. The safari path skirts the lake (see jeep in photo), so you are treated to a beautiful vista, and you can really get a sense of peace here if you switch off the engines and sit quietly for a while.
While the female sambar remained unconcerned, nearby, the stags were in a confrontational mood:
Male Sambar fighting - Zone 3
Surprise information: they make tiny mewing sounds when they fight!
We were also treated to this almost comic confrontation scene between one macaque and a whole group of langurs.
Ruffian Macaque and Lady Langurs :)
This single male macaque (you can see him in the centre of the photo) managed to scatter a group of langurs, mostly females with young ones. I was surprised. There were at least 20 langurs, but they all moved away. Only one older female stood her ground, hissing and snarling at him. One young male tried to stand up to him, then got the fright of his life and bounded away into the trees!
I have lots more photos of this Ranthambhore trip, but this blog entry will become too long if I put up everything. Maybe another post, another time!