I never dreamt of going to India, in fact it was so far off my radar that I had absolutely no prior conceptions or expectations. It did not even feature on my creased and coffee stained map of the world, which forever lies sprawled out on my bedroom floor. In my dreams I had journeyed to far off lands, conversing in tongues that have yet to be jotted down in pen. I had battled the rough seas and traipsed deep gorges. I was an explorer.
With the exception of watching the Life of Pi a couple of weeks ago, and spending hours glued in front of the television watching the South African cricketers ply their trade in the IPL, I must admit I knew nothing about this spicy land. Nothing of its people, its culture, its landscapes or it animals…okay I lie, I knew one thing; India was the home to magical Tiger!
I have set myself a wonderful goal in my lifetime – to see as many of the cats, in the wild, as possible. There are currently thought to be 36 of them and I have managed to see twelve thus far. Emphasis must go on the WILD part, as it is this that will mean I shall get to explore, adventure, travel, learn and head off to remote locations in their pursuit. An idea sprung about by a passion for cats and a realization that it is not only the destination or the goal, but also the journey, which enriches life.
I consider myself a bit of an Indiana Jones of the Cat World. A Big Cat fanatic who intends to carve out a living observing, filming, photographing, writing, promoting and conserving these animals; teaching others about them, where to view them and why I find them so fascinating. So, when I got an exceptionally kind invitation to go to India, and venture into the area renowned for the fact that it supports one of the largest, most stable, wild populations of tigers left today, I jumped at it like Richard Parker did for land!
The first destination was the Sher Bagh lodge, bordering on the Ranthambhore National Park, found in the cultural hotbed of Rajasthan. The brief was to work hand-and-hand with the locals and family that owns the lodge to document (via the use of images, film and text), an account of what happens on a day-to-day basis at this remarkable camp. To explore avenues to show the world that this luxury, family owned lodge is situated in probably the best wild Tiger viewing location in the world.
I boarded the plane and in a heartbeat found myself landing on the tarmac of Indira Gandhi International Airport. The plane door opened and I was immediately bathed in the aroma and sounds of New Delhi. It was chaos and I loved it! It is worth going if only to see how talented the drivers are. The kindest, warm hearted and most colourful people welcomed me, with open arms, into their vibrant country. Day one and the pessimistic side of me was already hooked… a true explosion of senses.
After a few nights in the outskirts of Delhi I boarded a train and headed south. I spent six hours glued to the window, soaking it all in, watching a foreign life flash before my eyes. Foreign, but yet uncannily like my homeland of South Africa. The city sprawl gradually turned into farmland and then eventually in the distance a mountain range stood proud.
Two sandstone hillocks guard one of the only safe passages up the cliff face. The remains of a famous fort, believed to be over 1000 years old, sit high up on the apex of the left most cliffs…together these cliffs make up Ranthambhore “Place of the pillars of war”. I grabbed my luggage and stepped out onto the noisy siding. I looked just like a movie set.
My heart was beating fast…I had just arrived in the land of the Tiger!
Follow my accounts over the next few weeks as I journey around Rajasthan: the Land of Kings
Written and photographed by Adam Bannister