Halleluja, here she comes!

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We arrived at Agra Fort train station at about 7:30am for our 7:40 train pretty confident that this would be ample time as the train was sure to be running late – right? (We'd actually have been a little earlier had Derek not been arguing over the $1.50 he had wasted on an internet card shortly before the hotel had lost power for an hour rendering the internet card useless….it’s not until you’ve been travelling for a while that you start haggling over such small amounts!) Sure enough, we checked at the enquiry desk and our train was running three hours late….at least it was early morning and temperatures weren’t too high…yet!

Our three hour wait unfortunately turned into another six hour wait, by which time the mercury had risen significantly and things were getting pretty sticky in the waiting room. However, on the plus side, we did meet a lovely Indian family in the waiting room and passed some very pleasant time chatting with them. Alex got on very well with all three of their kids and was grateful for some help with his math homework from their daughter….perhaps if we’d been there a little longer he’d have a girlfriend by now, or maybe he was just taking advantage of the math teachers daughter?

This train ride was a little different from the last, still air-conditioned, but the carriage was not separated into cabins and somewhat free-for-all when it came to "assigned" seating. Two of the berths we had purchased were already occupied, but we managed to find some others that were vacant and decided that we’d make do as long as they weren’t claimed by anyone else….then we’d have to put up a fight for our assigned berths…..it seems that this is the way the train system works, but we made it to Sawai Madhopur without too much bother.

When your train arrives six hours late, it’s hardly surprising that your pre-arranged ride is no longer waiting for you! However, a quick phonecall ensured that they were on their way and we sat outside the train station watching the wild pigs as we waited for our ride. The temperature here is no better than it was in Agra or Varanasi, and it wasn’t long before Derek was declaring a burnt backside from sitting on the concrete! Our ride arrived in the form of an open jeep and we made our way out of town to “Tiger Machan”, where we would spend the next two days in a tent – but these aren’t any old tents, these are air-conditioned tents with full tiled ensuite bathrooms! After checking out our tent, we wandered around the grounds and even kicked a soccer ball around for a while, remarking on just how quiet it was – not surprising really once we figured out that we were the only guests! Tiger Machan turned out to be the perfect place to stay; beautiful tents, quiet, peaceful and all (delicious) meals included. The owner was gracious, the chef fantastic and all of our meals were cooked using vegetables grown on the premises.

An early night was in order since the tiger safari the following morning would start with a 6am pick-up! At 5:30 we were awoken by the owner to see if we’d like a cup of tea! Then, sure enough, the jeep arrived promptly at 6am to commence our first safari. By 6:10 we were entering Ranthambhore national park along with hordes of local people, mostly on foot? (Were they also there for the Tigers??). We were soon to learn that it was the birthday of Hindu God Ganeshs’s, and in honour of the occasion people circle Ranthambore castle, being the only day of the year that they are permitted to do so.

The roads inside of the park are, as you might imagine, simple dirt tracks, dusty and rather rough. It wasn’t far inside that we found our first tiger tracks (literally, paw prints on the dust) and the jeep made a hasty about turn and set off in the direction of the pawprints. The watering hole that the tracks led to seemed to be deserted and so we made off in another direction. Despite (or maybe because of) the lack of tigers, we found lots of other fauna, including many beautiful peacocks, deer galore, myriad birds and masses of monkeys. Luckily for Lauren, the monkeys were a little more timid than some that we have previously encountered and were happy to keep their distance from us. We came across several other vehicles in our (and their) quest to find a tiger and all had been as unsuccessful as we had by about 8:30am, so we were resigned to the fact that we would probably not see a Tiger. On our return towards the park entrance, the guide and driver decided at the last minute to recheck one of the watering holes again, but alas no big cats. The jeep turned around, and as we were about to head off, there she was. High up on the ridge overlooking the watering hole was the head of a beautiful young female tiger, not quite two years old. We sat for a while hoping that she would move and make her way down to the water. Our patience was rewarded, although she did not come down as far as the water, she moved down from the ridge into the shade and seemed content to stay there for a while. With time running out (all safari vehicles have to be out of the park by 9:30) we turned to leave, but our adventure was not yet over. The jeep had blown a tire and so in full view of the tiger, the adults had to leave the jeep in order for the tire to be changed… kids were not allowed to leave for obvious reasons (easier prey)! Fortunately the weather was hot and deer are very abundant in the park, so the tiger was probably well enough fed and remained where she had settled and so with tire changed, we were soon on our way again. On exiting the park, we discovered that of the 7 or 8 vehicles in our zone, we were the only ones lucky enough to have found a tiger…..and just in the nick of time too!

On return to the camp, we had a great breakfast, before settling into the tent to spend the rest of our day snoozing, reading, doing school work and generally avoiding the scorching heat of the sun, only to emerge for meals!

With a different kind of adventure on our plate, we left the camp the following morning … no transportation booked, but needing to make it to Jaipur by end of day for our onward flights the following day. At the train station ticket window Derek found out that there were no tickets left for anything leaving that day that day in air-conditioned carriages (remember its 45C+), so he purchased the minimum fare tickets for the next train heading in the right direction, which happened to be the “express” train to Jaipur…..just what does “express” mean when referring to Indian trains? We’re not sure, but surely it can’t be any worse than the 6 hour waits we’ve already endured for each train we’ve taken so far?
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