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Tiger Surprise - Ranthambore Tour

As I set out to search for an elusive wild tiger in India, I was not prepared for the most thrilling ride of my life!

The morning was cool and quiet.

I am not an early morning person, but I was unusually awake today.

Excited, hopeful and ready to "hunt." Not the best word to use when looking for a tiger. The only other "hunt" I had been on before was an Easter Egg hunt (and that was exciting in its own way).

One of the 'luxuries' of living in India is that I'm so close to the world's largest population of the majestic tiger.

I have had the great privilege of seeing so many unique sights in India (see my 'Five Senses' series) however this was one of my most awaited experiences.

But it would be a challenging search. A search in the famed Ranthambhore National Park, home to the successful Project Tiger, which was responsible for increasing dwindling tiger numbers, ever since the start of the project in the 1980s.

“Just knowing we were in an open vehicle with wild tigers surrounding us was a feeling I cannot describe."

We hurtled through the early morning streets of Sawai Madhopur, the closest town to the tiger action.

The safari buggy was exciting on its own! Wind bristling through the hair; smells and sounds of the jungle awaited.

The driver was joined by a guide as we entered the park. Just knowing we were in an open vehicle with wild tigers surrounding us was a feeling I cannot describe.

The driver and guide discussed the plan. And then we were off...

The driver navigated the difficult terrain well. It had rained the night before. The trail was a muddy mess. We stopped occasionally, spotting the tigers' 'dinner' - sambhar and cheetal.

Project Tiger

Now and then we would stop and sit in silence. The expectation was so strong. My eyes strained as I looked through the jungle for yellow and black. I tried to listen with intensified focus too.

The driver appeared highly skilled and experienced. He seemed to know where the best chance of a sighting would be. I was enjoying the search so much - it felt like a treasure hunt, or a mystery to be solved.

After about half an hour we came across a muddy clearing on the path. And there it was - a huge paw print! I was so excited just to know a beautiful big cat had sauntered in this very area sometime earlier that morning.

Now we were all awake!! My eyes strained even further. The driver found many potential sighting locations. I never thought waiting and sitting in silence could be so thrilling! The anticipation...

Our driver had been concentrating on the search and driving for an hour. It was amazing to see his skill and determination to make the experience for the visitors as worthwhile as possible. I admired his dedication and concentration. It was hard work.

At one point, we arrived at a clearing in the national park where seven or eight vehicles were already there, waiting in silence, cameras at the ready. We joined them and watched and waited.

I felt as invested as the driver - I was exhausted from the concentration. I was looking, listening, smelling, waiting...

We began to head back after a few hours. We had not made a sighing, and I didn't care!

Ranthambore National Park itself is a highlight and worth visiting.

There are beautiful waterways and depending on the time of year, plenty of wildlife for true enthusiasts.

I saw many birds up close, their magnificent colours on show. I enjoyed trying to spot them as we went around the park.

The safari was easily my most fun and exciting wild animal experience. The search was mesmerising and unlike anything else I had experienced in a national park before (I grew up on the border of a National Park in Australia).

I had been to an open range zoo before too, but there is something about the unpredictable nature of knowing the animals are not fenced in!

As we drove out of the park, I felt like the tigers were watching me, hidden.

Original artwork - Gajanand Singh, Sawai Madhopur

There are a few factors that determine if you are one of the lucky people on the planet to catch a rare tiger sighting.

It depends on the sector in the park you are allocated at the time of booking, the season you go and mainly luck!

As I returned to the hotel, smiling from ear to ear, I caught a glimpse of myself in a window. My hair looked frightful! That's what an open-air vehicle will do to the fine-haired!

Now I know why the tigers didn't show - I think I scared them away...

Original artwork - Gajanand Singh, Sawai Madhopur

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