Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Ranthambhore Adventure (Part -1)


(I had been intending to pen this for quite some time now and have finally got the chance. My visit to the Ranthambhore National Park, about four years back, was one of the most exciting and enriching experiences of my life. Hence, it deserved to be shared in this blog. I would be chronicling the events of my stay there in two separate posts. Here is the first one. This is a kind of writing I have not attempted before, hope you all like it.)

The silence in the bogie of the train was palpable to the extent that it seemed almost eerie. It was past midnight and crouching on my side lower seat, I realized that I was perhaps the only one awake in the compartment. I looked out at the misty, November night sky from the window near me and got lost in my thoughts. I was nervous and anxious at the same time.  It was the first time that I was travelling alone to a completely unknown place; hence my nerves were a little jangly when I thought of what could go wrong there. But when I thought of the things that could go right, my spirits surged again. After all it wasn’t everyday that one gets to visit the Ranthambhore National Park. Not me at least; it was my first time to any national park. And I was to join a friend the next day for a two-day trip there. Over the years I had heard of many tales from the world famous place, and now I was barely hours away from experiencing the magic it held for myself.

As a cold breeze blew in, I came back to the present again and looked at my watch. It was nearly 2 am now. I had to get some sleep. As I shut my eyes, I had weird visions of my friend getting lost in the jungle and being attacked by a tiger. Sniggering to myself, I finally went to sleep.

A long and exciting day lay ahead.

Arrival  

“Welcome to Tiger city, Sawai Madhopur”; this sign greeted me as the train chugged into the Sawai Madhopur station at 9 in the morning. For those who don’t know, Sawai Madhopur is a small town in Rajasthan which is about 180 kms. from Jaipur. The town is basically famous for being home to the Ranthambhore National Park and it is indeed very proud of the fact.

As I got down from the train, I noticed that everything about the station reminded you of the fact that this was indeed a ‘Tiger city’. There were tiger posters sticking everywhere around and right outside the entry gates of the station there was a massive billboard with the face of a tiger in it and which invited everyone to the city. The best attraction though was the design of the entry gates; the upper structure of the gate was molded in a semi- oval shape and painted in deep yellow with black stripes. My heart thumped with excitement. I was finally here and would probably get to meet the King; the animal which had fascinated me for close to two decades.

First Look

I took an auto to reach the place of the acquaintance I was supposed to meet. He was a doctor and was kind enough to let me stay at his place for free. I looked about at the streets on my way there. The town, with a population of just about a lakh people, was small and simple, yet it bore the inimitable essence of Rajasthan. The auto maneuvered through the main market area of the city and I noticed that people with traditional Rajasthani moustaches roamed about while many were lolling around or busy selling their stuff. Having a half Rajasthani blood in me, I wanted to sit there and observe some more, but that was not the time. I had a lot of work piled up for the day.

I soon reached the residence of my acquaintance; he was someone whom I had never met and I had been introduced to him by a relative. The man was quite gentle and on meeting me, offered me some snacks, enquired about the purpose of my visit, gave me a brief history of the park and finally showed me around the place where I was supposed to stay for my trip. It was a nice and capacious room with an attached terrace; more than good enough for me and my friend.

I looked at my watch; it was 11 am already now. My friend was to arrive at 3 in the afternoon and before that I had to book tickets for the park which we were supposed to visit the next morning. I quickly took a shower and got ready.  

Exploring

I did not know the direction to the park and hence had to ask around. First I had to board an overcrowded bus full of the local villagers which would take me to the main city. Once there, fortunately enough, I caught hold of an auto driver who was more than willing to take me to the national park gates. He was a middle aged typical Rajasthani guy who spoke a lot. I quickly made friends with him and even arranged for him to come down to the place I was staying and take me to the national park early in the morning. As we rode, he kept talking about the city, the tiger sightings and himself. I listened to him interestedly only to realize later that he had missed one very vital point in all his conversation; the tickets for the park were only available in the wee hours of the morning, a couple of hours before the gates to the park were opened. I came to know about this when I had finally reached the ticket counter of the Ranthambhore National Park. Deflated, I cursed the auto driver and seeing no other option I decided to head back to my place.

Luckily enough, this also gave me the chance to explore the town. The November breeze was quite pleasant even at 1 pm and I decided to walk all the way to the main city. As I looked around I realized how different this place was from the big cities. No high-rises, no swanky cars, no overdose of people crowding you; just a lot of greenery and long, endless roads. For a small town, the roads were quite good. And since I was very close to the national park right then, everything in and around this area reminded me that I was in tiger land. Billboards and posters of the park with the face of the tiger decorated the small lanes that went out to the main city. Even the shops and hotels had names that would make you aware where you are; Tiger Inn, Tiger Palace, Tiger Villa, Tiger Den etc.

Just loved his moustache
As I went about looking at the shops around me, I came across a particular one selling T-shirts with tiger prints. I went inside excitedly and also noticed that the name of the shop was, well, Tiger Tracks. The shopkeeper was another typical Rajasthani guy with a very thick moustache. On snooping around I realized he had an amazing range of tiger-printed T-shirts which immediately made me overtly greedy. I brought about half a dozen of those T-shirts from him right then and I still wear them very fondly. The guy was apparently very happy at my purchases and offered me a cup of tea. As I sipped the tea, I got a call from my friend and was informed that his train was an hour late. A little relaxed now; I realized how hungry I was. As my tummy grumbled, I noticed the shopkeeper had a bike and I asked him if he could drop me to the main city. 
He readily agreed and off we went.

Once there I desperately looked around for a small eatery and soon found out a dhaba like restaurant. It was planted right on the main road of the city and was apparently quite famous going by the footfall it had at mid-day. I ordered my food and waited for it to arrive, while watching an India-England ODI match on TV. As Yuvraj soon went bonkers, I dug into my plate of kaali daal and tandoori roti. The food was indeed scrumptious and I ate to my heart’s content. Satiated to the core, I now decided that it was time to go to the station to receive my friend.

                                                                                                                   ****

My friend’s name was Haokip (his first name was too difficult to pronounce, hence I chose the safer option of calling him by his surname) and he was a Manipuri who used to study Journalism with me at my college. He was a very cool and laidback kind of a guy and was a fun company to have. He didn’t talk much, and liked travelling, but had left it to me to make all the heavy arrangements of the trip. "You are too good in all this man," he had exclaimed in his typical North-eastern accent.

As I was taking him back to my place, he recounted how bored he had become to travel all those 40 hours alone in the train. I listened to him half-heartedly, as I was too tired then to concentrate on anything. All that walking had taken its toll on my senses. 

After reaching home we decided to take a short nap as both of us were quite exhausted from our respective events of the day. Sleep was indeed essential.

Exploring 2

As we roamed about in the markets of the town in the evening, the place increasingly reminded me of another small Rajasthani city- Udaipur. It is a city that I am immensely and emotionally attached to and hence the memories of my childhood on the streets of the Udaipur came soaring back to me as I wandered around the lanes of Sawai Madhopur.

I also noticed that besides the local townsfolk, the majority of the people that came to the city were foreign tourists who come to visit the national park almost every day. You can say that these tourists form a majority chunk of the population of the town for a large part of the year.

Poor Haokip had to finally suffice with rice and mixed vegetables
Shortly after, our exploring came to a halt as hunger pangs soon came in. We looked for a decent place to eat and after much seeking we found a vegetarian eatery. Now, Haokip was a hardcore non-vegetarian and it took me some convincing to get him to eat there. The prices were cheap and I did not want to waste unnecessary money even before we had visited the park. He agreed dispassionately and grumbled a lot as he ate. “What kind of a roti is this man?” he enquired pointing at the roomali roti I had ordered, before continuing his moaning, “I need chicken man. I am tired and hungry. I don’t want to eat this stupid daal.”  I chose to ignore his rants and concentrated on my food, which by the way was very palatable.

Haokip was still upset as we ventured out to home. I finally lifted his spirits when I treated him to a cup of rabri from a local sweet shop. “This is bloody awesome man,” Haokip, who was tasting rabri for the first time in his life, said and slurped down his cup at one go. The rabri had the perfect blend of Rajasthani flavour in it and both of us greedily gulped down two helpings of it. It also recharged Haokip who now hummed along a Beatles song as we walked away from the shop, leaving me smiling and guilt-free of forcing him to eat vegetarian food.

We soon realized that it was already 9.30 pm and we had to head back to our place. We needed to rest and catch some sleep before the long day ahead.

Anxious night

Back home both of us sat at the open terrace to relax a bit before we hit our beds. It was the most beautiful night. The stars shone in the clear sky above and a light, soothing breeze flew by that ruffled my hair. It was so invigorating that I felt like staying there for the rest of the night. If not for the male company I had currently, the setting would have been perfect for a romantic night with someone of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the moment thoroughly and still recall it many a times.

Haokip kept speaking about his life in Manipur, his many girlfriends and his future plans. Though I kept looking at him, my thoughts soon wandered away. I was only and only concerned about the day ahead. The moment that I had been waiting for such a long time had finally arrived. Would I finally get to see the King in his lair? What would the forest be like? What other animals would I get to see? Would they all be just like the way they show in Discovery Channel? Would our trip to the forest be successful? These kinds of thoughts enveloped my mind as I finally lay down on my bed.

The perfectionist that I am, I had been preparing for this trip for close to three months. I had researched everything in minute detail over these months. The name of the hotels, the name of the forest officer of the park, the park timings and ticket rates, the different stations that came before Sawai Madhopur etc., were all marked down in my notebook. Everything was done for the sole purpose of visiting the park and getting to see the tiger. Just thinking of it made my heart pound like mad.

I could now hear Haokip’s snores in the darkness, but sleep was yet to come to me. I set my alarm at 3.30 a.m., as the auto driver I had a dealing with would come to our place at 4 am sharp to take us to the park by 4.30 am.  The trip to the park was to commence at 6 am and hence we had to get our tickets early. I forced my eyes shut to get some sleep, but all I could hear was the roar of the tiger. My heart went thumping again. The D-Day had finally arrived.

“Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright. In the forest of the night,” ; humming these famous lines from my childhood I finally lulled myself into sleep.

To be concluded

(To read the second part of the story click here .)

3 comments:

  1. u kno wat its so bad of u to conclude like dat....i was enjoying it so much...n u have described Rajasthan so well ki mujhe aisa laga ki mein bhi gayi hoon waha pey..hehehe.. it only shows how good writer u r...keep up the good wrk...n seriously waiting for part 2.. n hello i didnt kno u r half rajasthani..kyun nahin bataya bei....n poor Haokip...i can completely understand his prob coz m hard core non veg too hehehehehee...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ranthambore National Park in each sense is the ideal intention for exploring the real wilds. A journey to this amazing land is really a plentiful knowledge when you include some more attractive places to your Ranthambore Trip. There are some refurbishing destinations crossways the Ranthambore National Park that can guide you to the most investing examination. These destinations include Agra- home to the well-known Taj Mahal, Jaipur- the pink city and Bharatpur- the birds' heaven.
    Hotels In Ranthambore

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi..really nice blogpost. Thanks for writing about Ranthambore tourism. It's one of best national parks in India to witness amazing wildlife. Check out these popular hotels in Ranthambore for a memorable stay experience.

    ReplyDelete