I made three mistakes in Ranthambore. The first one was in booking just two nights there. I could have happily stayed there for the rest of the holiday, going on the morning and evening safaris and resting by the pool the rest of the time. I think I may even have come to that stage of my life where I prefer a rural setting to an urban setting when exploring the world. Maybe. But anyway. The other mistakes? I’ll come to those later.
Our first safari was in a jeep. Just Mrs P and I with three others in front of us and the driver and guide at the very front. The jeep set off into a zone that looked favourable as far as finding our prey was concerned – there had been recent sightings here. We spent three hours following recently laid paw prints, roaming over dirt tracks, through woods and up to the top of a hilltop. We saw plenty of wildlife. But not the owner of those big pawprints. I was not disappointed. It was a fabulous morning, tiger or no tiger.
In the evening we set out again, this time in a Canter. Which is an open top truck able to cram about twenty tiger hunters inside. It’s a slightly rougher ride, but nothing unbearable. This time we drove around a different part of the park, in search of our Shere Khan. The scenery was perhaps even grander than it had been in the morning. But three hours passed, and no luck. Tigers can be awkward customers sometimes.
We headed for the park’s exit, having thoroughly enjoyed the ride. But we didn’t make it there. Not yet, anyway. We passed a jeep who slowed down and gestured to our driver. We heard a shout. “Hang on tight everybody!”. We did, and just as well. The pedal hit the metal, we all disappeared in a huge cloud of dust as the truck did its best rally impression. The driver kept shouting out to hold on tight, but this seemed pointless. Anyone who hadn’t taken his advice first time round would have been ejected from the vehicle within seconds of lift off.
For a tortuous five minutes we clung on to anything solid in the truck for dear life. Finally, we slowed down. The cloud of dust started to dissipate. And then all of a sudden, there she was. Sunning herself by the lake, without a care in the world. Oblivious to the truck full of gawping tourists, she rolled over on to her back and had a stretch. Licked her chops. Gazed at the sun as it began to set across the lake and behind the hills.
This is where I made my second mistake. I raised my Fuji, with the big zoom lens attached. I had brought it with me especially for this moment. I focussed on the magnificent beast. And the camera battery died. Can you believe it? Schoolboy error. A fully charged battery would normally last at least two days, and I’d left it plugged in last night. But I’d obviously been very snap happy throughout the day and drained it. My face must have looked a picture of misery. Not that anyone noticed. Everyone else was far too busy taking pictures of the tiger’s face.
I suddenly had a bright idea. And made my third and final mistake. I turned to the lady on my left and asked her if it would be at all possible for me to borrow her camera, just for a moment. I explained the situation. And without hesitation, she whipped her memory card out of her camera and handed it over. I popped my card in, found a good spot in the truck to shoot from, and hey presto. You can see the result above. How was this a mistake? Why oh why oh why did I first ask the lady to my left to borrow her mid range compact bridge camera. When on my right was a very affable gentleman, who I had been chatting to the whole way there, with a top of the range DSLR with a mighty zoom lens stuck on the front of it. Perhaps then my photo would have been correctly focussed on the tiger, rather than the grass in front of the tiger.