Leaving Agra turned into our Great Indian Trauma. The fifteen minute taxi ride from our hotel to the airport took an hour. A political conference was taking place, and a small army of party devotees had descended on the city bringing the roads to gridlock. Not to worry, we’d left in ample time to allow for even a major delay. Athough that proved unnecessary, as upon arriving at Agra train station, we discovered that our train was running three hours late. Half an hour later, it was running fours hours later. A further thirty minutes elapsed, and our train was running five hours late.
It seemed to me, that the longer we waited, the further away the train became. We needed a Plan B if ever we were to get to Ranthambore National Park that day. On the platform was a desk manned by two uniformed people in charge of policing the station, and a third more casually dressed fellow chatting to them. He suggested we take a taxi. What’s more, he knew just the person. There was something just a little bit shifty about him though. We asked the uniformed later if it would really be a good idea taking a ride with his friend. She had already been talking to him a little sternly.
She was non-committal, rotating her head in that very Indian way that leaves you none the wiser as to whether she means yes or no. To cut a long story a little shorter – time passed, and we pressed her further. She suggested we were better off waiting for the train. That wasn’t a great option, but we weren’t keen on this particular taxi. Back to the hotel we went, where a fully legit taxi was found for us. It cost about £55 for the rather tiring six hour journey to Ranthambore, but we arrived in time for dinner and an early night.
Our hotel could be described as ‘budget luxury’. The Ranthambore Regency generally caters towards coach-loads of pensioners. It was a very nice hotel, but the colour scheme really did it for me. Dark green marble flooring with everyting else painted various shades of greens and browns reminiscent of a 1970s British home. Yes, even the obligatory avocado green. The only thing missing were ornamental ducks pinned to the wall, in groups of three. But it was spacious, in excellent condition, well staffed and with great facilities. It was all inclusive, so breakfast, lunch and dinner were sorted. It was full of greenery with a lots of seating around the lawn and a nice pool for a morning dip. And an afternoon dip. And an evening dip.
A little bit of info about safaris at Ranthambore. Until recently, you had to arrange your safaris in advance at an exorbitant cost through a safari agency or your hotel. Unless you had an Indian credit card, because that was all the online booking system accepted. You’d also end up assigned to a zone in the park chosen at random on the day. That system changed for the better a few weeks ago, just in time for me to book our two safaris, selecting our zones myself, using a British card. On arrival at our hotel, we gave our safari print outs to the guys at reception and they arranged the rest. The next morning at 6.30 sharp, our jeep pulled up front to collect us.
We loved our safaris. Really, really loved them. Away from any significant urban settlement, the skies shone brilliant blue and the clean, warm air refreshed our lungs. The early morning haze actually was a haze, not last night’s car fumes still smothering the landscape. The scenery leapt out in front of us like Kipling’s Jungle Book caome to life. Peaceful wooded areas, grassy plains, towering hills, wide valleys, glistening lakes and, most wonderful of all, an abundance of wildlife.
Herds of deer roam and graze, casting wary eyes about for danger. We saw owls perched discreetly on branches. A mongoose rummaged in the brush just feet from our jeep. Extravagantly coloured kingfishers flew from branch to branch by the lake. A crocodile sunbathed at the edge of the water. A multitude of other birds waddled, hopped and swooped for our entertainment.
But as lovely as these creatures are, they aren’t the main drawn. They are not the ones that draw animal lovers from all over the world. Flocks of migratory humans descend on Ranthambore for a very particular type of beast. But that, as they say, is another story for another time…