If you want a chance to see a tiger, you have to wake up early. We got up around 6am the morning of our safari to Ranthambore national park, and met our driver and a guide who picked us up in their open-air Jeep. Two other couples were already waiting in the car, armed with binoculars and cameras.
In order to get to the park as early as possible, we sped along the road leading to the park, the 6 of us passengers bracing ourselves as we swerved past early-morning vendors and dodged cows.
The small city of Ranthambore was our first stop in Rajasthan, and is entirely centered around the “tiger park” tourist attraction.
We entered the park, with the sun still low in the sky, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere that resulted from being in such a vast stretch of nature.
I was already thrilled with our visit – no matter what we saw in the park, riding around open to the elements like this, with the landscape hazily coming to life in front of us, was magical.
At first, we progressed at a steady speed through the zone we were assigned, pausing occasionally to see a deer or a peacock.
Our ranger paused just past a crossroads, backed up slowly, and picked a muddier path then the one we were on. We slowed down – our tracker became more alert. It paid off, because soon he spotted a fresh paw print in the mud.
After sitting still in the Jeep in a couple different areas for around 30 minutes in each spot, our guides were looking discouraged. They were staking out the areas where they had last spotted a tigress, but we didn’t seem to be having any luck. Time was no longer in our favor.
Finally, we turned back, stopping along the way to take pictures of the many herds of deer that populate the park.
As we got close to the exit, we saw another ranger. He spoke rapidly to our driver, and pointed up the hill. We turned abruptly, and the jeep raced up the rough, dirt road. In minutes, we had found a line of other jeeps all paused atop the hill, passengers standing with binoculars trained on the nearby tree line.
And there she was! Just visible, walking along a small stream, behind some tall grasses.
As we waited, she kept getting steadily closer. Our Jeeps inched along to her anticipated intersection with our path.
When she reached us, we had the unbelievable luck of being the car she crossed directly in front of. Even our experienced ranger looked touched by this spectacular moment.
Just as calmly as she had appeared, she walked slowly deeper into the woods, and vanished.
It was another thrilling ride back through Ranthambore, watching as the city came to life that morning.