The rugged forest of Ranthambore - A Trip that proved to be an eye opener || #SaveOurTigers

Last week Aircel team contacted us to join them for #SaveOurTigers drive from Delhi to Ranthambore with couple of more bloggers. To be precise, there were 4 other bloggers who were part of this drive. Initially I was not sure if I would be able to make it, because of other commitments in office. Finally I managed to take off from office to join the gang and saved Sunday to complete pending work, before joining office on Monday. This Photo Journey shares about the road trip from Noida to Ranthambore, interactions with various folks from wildlife conservation & blogging world, Tiger sighting and 3 safaris in different zones of Ranthambore National Park.

After half day in office we left from Noida after lunch and met Aircel team in Gurgaon to resume next journey to Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore). Govind, Arushi & Mridula joined us on the way and journey started towards Ranthambore. 

After some time, we realized that our driver was lost somewhere and trying to figure out the route towards Ranthambore. All of us were busy in different discussions and suddenly we heard that we have reached Rewari & now can't figure out the way towards Ranthambore. I made a call to my Ghumakkar friend, who has driven to Ranthmore many times. Thankfully we were at Dharuheda and now we had to head towards Alwar via Sikandara & Dausa. Nadan shared the exact route and now it was easy for us to predict if we are on right path or not. But at the same time I needed to be aware if our driver is following the directions correctly.

After a drive of 7 hours, we hit out resort in Ranthambore - Tiger Den. It was very late but resort staff had arranged dinner for us, although we had been eating throughout the journey. Thanks to Arushi for arranging appropriate snacks, drinks & all. Initially plan was to have evening safari next day and morning safari on Saturday. But then things changed and we also decided to take 3rd safari next morning, which was planned at 6:30am. So just after the dinner we headed towards our rooms to take rest.

As per the plan, we started at 6:30am from Tiger Den in canter. At the main gate, zone is assigned to each vehicle going inside the National Park. These zones are assigned to ensure reasonable traffic in all regions of the national park and to avoid unreasonable number of vehicles in specific parts of the forest. We got zone-4 to explore. Guide with our canter was quite enthusiastic and positive about sighting tiger. Throughout the drive, he kept us telling about different species found in Ranthambore Forest and he showed us various colorful resident birds as well.

Rufous Treepie is one of the mostly friendly bird in Ranthambore National Park, which doesn't hesitate to come closer to the tourists. As per our guide, if mouth of tiger is open this bird can go & clean the teeth. He quoted the bird as toothpick of Tiger. 

There is a beautiful lake in zone4 of Ranthambore National Park. From a distance, I noticed this cormorant sitting on the rock in middle of the lake. The black Cormorant was shining among all the other birds in the lake.

We didn't have tiger sighting during first safari in the morning, although we saw lot of peacocks, spotted deers, sambhars, blue bulls, colorful birds, Mongoose, langoors etc.

We had quick breakfast at Tiger Den and then moved towards headquarters of Wildlife conservation department to meet Mr. Yogesh Kumar Sahu, who is currently appointed as Field Officer of  Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. It was a great opportunity for all the bloggers to interact with decision makers and know about the way things work in these offices. One of the first few questions was about tourism in National Parks of India and Mr Sahu feel that tourism is very important for conservation. He mentioned that Taj Mahal would have converted into ruins without continuous visits of  tourists. People would have removed various portions of the Taj.

Mr Sahu was very clear about most of the strategies followed by conservation department. Bloggers tried asking some of the tricky questions, but he responded very well. This discussion with Mr Sahu deserves a separate post and we would share that soon. He discussed various aspects associated with wildlife conservation and how local communities are involved in this mission. 

During the conversation, Mr Sahu also shared about Wildlife Conservation Trust, which helped various national parks in India for conserving wildlife which also includes Tigers. Wildlife Conservation Trust has provided 43 Rapid Response Units (vans & tempos) to 30 wildlife sanctuaries across India.These vans are used to rescue wildlife from different situations. There are many such initiatives through which wildlife conservation is happeing in our country and it was great to see things happening on ground. Wildlife Conservation Trust is also supported by Aircel for saving Tigers in India.

Mr Anish Andheria also joined us at Ranthambore. He had come from Mumbai. Anish Andheria is the President of the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) which is a non-profit organization for preserving, protecting and conservation of wildlife & climate change. He gave us many insights about conservation efforts in India. A Very knowledgeable person and probably one of the best folks in the world to know about Tigers & their behavior. I was amazed to learn that he knew almost every tiger in India by name. Usually these tigers are named in different National Parks and apart rom names Anish had very good understanding of territories of these tigers & the way things changed over time. During the brief chit chat, he shared that WCT works closely with 83 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries spread across 17 states of India. A conversation with Anish deserves a separate posts with some of the amazing facts about Wildlife in Inidia & the ecosystem around it.

After a brief discussion with Mr Sahu and Anish, we headed with Khilchipur Village wherein lot of ladies from surrounding villages come together at Dastkar center to make handicraft stuff which is sold in different cities across India. Idea was to meet these villagers and their kids to know about 'Kids for Tiger' program, which is again supported by Aircel. The photograph on left is portrait of Mr Govardhan, who has been taking care of 'Kids for Tiger' program. 

Above van is driven through various villages around Ranthambore National Park and kids are exposed to different videos & books on tigers & their ecosystem. Idea is to make kids aware about Tigers & their importance. Govardhan is very well know in forest department & local communities for his efforts. It was great to meet him.

Ladies of surrounding villages working at Dastkar, Ranthambore.

Aircel in partnership with Sanctuary Asia runs the Kids for Tigers (KFT) Express which traverses the villages around Ranthambhore National Park spreading awareness and importance on the need to ‘Save Our Tigers’. The KFT Express is a fully equipped edutainment van with a projector, sound system, generator to self-power, library, conservation movies and a panel of wildlife photographs. 

Hand printing is being done on plain cloth to make bedsheets and table-covers.

Brinda Malhotra, Head- Corporate Social Responsibility, Aircel, was also accopnyuing us and shared that “Aircel has been working diligently towards tiger conservation since 2008. Tigers today, are among the ten most endangered species in the world and need active protection. Aircel initiated the ‘Save our Tigers’ campaign, which has been very successful in spreading awareness on tiger conservation. Taking this commitment forward, we are happy to be partnering with Sanctuary Asia and WCT to work in and around Ranthambore National Park. The primary objective is to bring forth a positive mindset change whereby the people become the champions of the cause.”

Now we were back at Tiger Den resort to have lunch and take some rest. Everyone was tired by now, as it was very hot in Ranthambore. After having lunch and quick bath, some of us planned to have a nap and then geared up for Safari at 3:00pm. This time Aneesh was also accompanying us. And he was pretty confident about Tiger Sighting. Before this, I had 7 safari in different Wildlife parks in India and had never seen a Tiger in Wild.

This time, we had government vehicles for safari with forest guard having walky-talky. As we started the drive towards forest, Anish started telling us various tiger trails from Ranthambore. One day back he had some good sightings. He was very hopeful that day as well. He asked us to enjoy the forest and wildlife without worrying about Tiger sighting. 

We visited Zone1 first and there was no action there. It seem that in summers movement is least till 5 pm. Usually tigers are in resting mode till the sun starts settings. Anish had some sense that zone 1 has least probability of tiger sighting and he asked our driver to take us to Zone-5. Usually jeeps can't change the zone during a safari, but it we had permissions. 

 As we entered into Zone-5, Anish asked to stop the jeep near a water pond and we waited there for 30 minutes. Anish knew about the territory of the tiger who is supposed to come down to have water. Usually tigers have huge territories but all the drivers & guides have a sense that tiger is in a particular part of the forest these days. 

After a while, Anish asked the driver to drive ahead and let's see if there is any action. After 2 kilometers from that points, Anish heard a monkey call which was not noticeable to any of us. He asked the driver to stop the jeep and then he started looking around. suddenly things got silent in the forest and now it was more about figuring out the place where Tiger was. During summers, everything around us was pale, which made the task more difficult for us. 

Finally our driver noticed the tiger, which was going upwards. We would have missed it if driver wouldn't have noticed him for 30 seconds. It was a quick glimpse and then this 20 month tiger disappeared in the forest.

At this moment, our driver simulated the call for other drivers. Within few seconds there were 6 jeeps around us but none of them could see the tiger. Suddenly we felt that lot of action is happening in the forest now. Our Forest guard also got a signal that another tiger has been spotted at the distance of 5 kilometers. Our driver flew like anything and took us to a hill. There we had another tiger sighting, but couldn't click as it was far away from us and hidden behind the bushes.

Everyone of us were super excited. Finally we had seen a tiger in the wild and it was definitely an awesome feeling. And as a bonus we had seen two. We were in two Safari jeeps, so the folks in other jeep could see only one. But overall, everyone in the gang was happy. These moments made our trip successful.

Now it was time to head back towards the Resort - Tiger Den.

Having a quick bath, everyone met for dinner and after dinner, we had long discussion with Anish. He shared some of his experinces about Wildlife Conservation in India. He not only touched upon Tiger & Wildlife but conservation of natural resources as well. This discussion was one of the very special moments  for me. I wish we had more time to spend with Anish. I would try to share a separate post about Anish, his work and discussions we had with him during Ranthambore Trip. 

Next morning, it was time for third Safari inside Ranthabore National Park. Now, none of us was stressed about seeing tiger and hence enjoyed the most. We noticed almost every bird on the way and there was no stress of spotting tigers only. 

We saw plenty of peacocks and peahens on our way. A lake came on the way, where we saw various cormorants, kingfishers, treepie, Green bee-eaters, woodpecker etc. There were lot many and I don't remember names of each. It was difficult to capture them without a powerful zoom lens.

Aircel had partnered with WCT to implement high impact on ground projects which consisted of developing and deploying Rapid Response Unit vehicles, revamping anti-poaching camps and training of foresters & other stakeholders. So far, Aircel has been able to effectively place 41 Rapid Response Units in 35 tiger reserves, train frontline forest guards in various aspects of conservation and revamp over 1167 anti-poaching camps across most tiger reserves. 

After morning safari & breakfast, we started our back journey to Delhi. It was a great experience to know about Wildlife Conservation efforts in India and how various corporates & NGOs are associated in this whole effort. Apart from that it was a great opportunity to meet other bloggers from different backgrounds, CSR professionals from Aircel and PR folks who arranged this with support of Aircel #SaveOurTiger campaign. Hope that all this knowledge can lead us to different journey for something better !

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