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Part III – Sher Bagh The Eye of the Tiger

Simona continues her journey across Rajasthan, leaving Jaipur’s palace life behind for a few days in the bush, at Sher Bagh, Ranthambhore, where new adventures await her.

 

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Rajbagh, the 16th century pleasure palace that sits in the middle of a lake reminds one of the Kiplingesque quality of Ranthambhore’s ever-changing and diverse landscape. From the SUJÁN Archives.

 

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The Sher Bagh tents induce a sense of soporific calm after a day out in the bush, there were days when I wondered if I should just relax in my suite… Photograph by Simona Quaglia.
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There are few things as exciting as chancing upon the fresh “pugmarks’ of a big cat on tyre tracks, first thing in the morning. Photograph by Simona Quaglia.

Ranthambhore National Park is more than twice the size of Milan, where I come from. It is particularly renowned as perhaps the best place in the world to see wild tigers. Part of the present National Park used to be the hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur and it was only in 1981 that it was declared a National Park and Tiger Reserve.

 

In the five days I have been at Sher Bagh I was able to see several different areas of the Park appreciated the incredible variety of ecosystems, landscapes and biodiversity that exists in Ranthambhore.

 

Only some sections of the park are open for visitors to explore and they are large and extremely varied: the ecosystems go from tall grass savannah-like environments to riverine lush vegetation, dry open forests to swamps and they host a plethora of different animals beside the well-known Royal Bengal Tiger.

 

My passion for wildlife and safaris goes back to my first safari in Botswana about fifteen years ago. From back then I have embraced the whole philosophy, aesthetic and ethic of wildlife photographic safaris and I am a BIG fan of tented camps – especially luxurious ones – jeeps, sundowners, but more than anything else a good morning or afternoon game drive searching for elusive animals.

 

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A tigress approaches us in the afternoon. Ranthambhore is probably the best place on earth to see tigers in the wild, although the biodiversity of the park is so very rich indeed. Photograph by Yusuf Ansari.

When I arrive at Sher Bagh, after a comfortable three hour drive from Jaipur, it is a hot afternoon and I rush to my tent in order to change and embark on my first game drive in the park. My tent – gorgeously outfitted in 1920’s campaign style – makes me consider if I should stay and enjoy the afternoon on my veranda or go on safari, but there is a vehicle waiting for me and I do not want to be a rude guest!

 

Following a drink of a jar of the delicious homemade lemonade, I jump on the vehicle. I am so lucky to have a private jeep for myself on the first drive and my guide and I decide a programme together. We are allocated Zone 3 of the park and we are going to do a drive around the lake areas to check what’s around. I ask specifically not to focus on just tigers.

 

Ranthambhore feels exactly as I have imagined the jungle where Kipling set his Jungle Book story: the highlights of the Zone 3 section are lakes with palms and lush vegetation, the ruins of a 16th century pleasure palace reflecting on the water, herds of Cheetal (spotted deer) grazing on the grasses and colourful peacock dotting the forest floor.

 

It is almost five in the afternoon and it is still warm, there are two tigers mating in the tall grasses next to the lake and some jeeps wait on the tracks away from the cover, in anticipation of them to finishing their business and come out. I ask the guide to move on and continue looking for other things to see. We find a monitor lizard hiding in a tree, a huge crocodile actually walking in the forest and an Indian Darter fishing and drying up in the sun. We decide to wait a bit and see what’s going on near the pleasure palace and it’s tea time! Some incredibly delicious short bread comes out of the picnic basket and I drink my tea while watching the soft light playing on the water. I feel so incredibly fortunate.

 

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A slice of Ranthambhore, deer and monkeys on the forest floor. Sometimes the best way to encounter a tiger is to look for everything else the park has to offer. Photograph by Simona Quaglia.

We decide to head toward the spot where the tigers were and see if they might come out. While we approach, the female chooses to leap out of the grass in the open area right ahead of us and the male follows her. What a sight and what perfect timing! We spend some time looking at them and then decide to give them some space. I leave the park just wanting to get back again, and again.

 

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Leaving Ranthambhore, the frescoes and wall-art at the railway station had a pull on me, wishing me to come back to Sher Bagh, and India. Photograph by Simona Quaglia.

For the following four days I get to do some of the most exciting safaris I have ever done in India. I see plenty of tigers – a mother with her cubs, two different tigers failing at a hunt, and a male marking his territory, but I also discover the complexity of the ecosystems of the park, its different wildlife and for the first time I see a group of wild boar scavenging on a Sambar deer carcass (I know many may think this gross, but it is an absolutely fascinating sight).

 

For the last two days I get another special treat – actually the most special of all – to go on safari with Anjali and Jaisal Singh, the owners of Sher Bagh and the other exquisite SUJÁN properties. They are both an inspiration and their passion about wildlife and photography is truly from the heart. Beside that they are also plenty of fun both on and off our drives and I don’t know anybody else who knows Ranthambhore as they do.

 

When it’s time to leave Sher Bagh, and India, I feel hearth broken and I look at the tigers painted on the wall of Sawai Madhopur train station, wistful and hoping that soon I’ll be back again…

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