Monday, December 06, 2004

27-28/11/04: ranthambore national park

spending an entire weekend in a national park hoping that we may get to see a tiger sounded pointless at first. martin and andre’s enthusiasm somehow managed to move us as well, and we were at sindhi camp, central bus station of jaipur, at 5pm on saturday. after finding out that the bus was cancelled (apparently because the driver had something more important to do that day), we headed to the railway station and got our tickets for the train to “sawai madhopur” - an extraordinarily ugly town a few kilometres far from the park.

filling ourselves up with
delicious rajasthani dishes before the trip.

it wasn’t until we wanted to get on the train that we noticed our tickets were missing seat numbers – which we then figured out meant that we had tickets for the “general class” – placed in the last and first two carriages of the train. travelling in the general class required a lot of effort standing up in a carriage crammed with a few hundred people (and maybe chickens – or, maybe not - it’s mainly a veg country, so they don’t need a lot of them) for almost 3 hours - so we decided to go for the second class sleeper instead and pay the difference.



first encounter with the indian railway is a real experience by itself. on european trains, when you get a sleeper, then you are in a sleeper carriage with all the others who are there hoping that they’ll get some sleep. here the sleeper class also has seats inside – so some people are sitting while the others are sleeping or just chilling out on their beds with their families and joyfully eating their dinners. dimmed light, some beggars, two eunuchs strolling up and down and asking for “baksheesh”… quite a strange atmosphere. after no more than three hours, we were in sawai madhopur. the place looked like an abandoned town in the wild west. a few people, some common street animals (i.e. pigs, cows, camels, dogs), bad smell, ruined buildings. after a short walk, we managed to find hotel vichay – “where all backpackers stay” as described by the guide. for 60 rupees (~ usd 1) the rooms were quite acceptable (my conception of “acceptable” has changed quite a bit since arriving in india. not only for hotels but food, means of transportation, interactions with people...) having to get up at 5am the next day, we all went to bed around midnight. morning was full of bloody mosquito stories of those who didn’t think of bringing any repellents.

tiger: "meet me!"


we were up and ready at the reservation office by 5.30am only to find out that “gypsies” (i.e. safari jeeps) were not allowed in the park on sundays in the peak season. instead, we had to take “canters” – or safari buses, quite un-recommended by the travel guide as it might scare animals away with its engine noise. having no other choice, we decided to go for it anyway. our canter was for full of indian tourists, and needless to say, we were the main point of attraction as usual (though the tiger i guess was still a little more popular than us). it was fun to observe other canters packed with gray-haired british tourists (well, at least they looked british to me) all dressed in stereotypical safari costumes as if they were going to a week long trip in a wild jungle rather than a four-hour extremely artificial commercialised tour in this national park only modestly wilder than a zoo.




quest for the tiger

in the first couple of hours we saw almost nothing, as we were all extremely busy complaining about the cold. the landscape was really beautiful and even more so when combined with all kinds of animals scattered around. monkeys, deers, peacocks... maybe it was because we were on an open top tourist bus driving on fairly well maintained paths that it felt quite artificial – at one point i was thinking that animals could’ve been brought from the zoo for the pleasure of the tourists.



seeing a tiger was the main motive of the whole trip, so a lot of time was spent just stopping and waiting in silence, following the foottraces on the sand path, conversing with the tourists and drivers on other canters – some of whom were lucky enough to have spotted one before us. there are about 30 of them in the park, spread in an area of 330 sq. kms. it's not the park with the highest tiger population in india, but the population is very large compared to its relatively small area - so it's the place with the highest possibility of spotting one. and finally, not much later, here it was, walking in the bushes maybe a hundred meters further, huge, extremely attractive, calm, and totally unperturbed by us or anything else. a two minute video clip was recorded onto my mind, and it will play over and over again any time i hear the word tiger.


broadcasting election propaganda

rest of the trip was quite eventless. finding no rickshaws to take us back to the station, we had to hitchhike – and hitchhiking can be an interesting experience in this part of the world. travelling back on a camel cart was probably more interesting (and definitely much dirtier) than the open top tourist bus in the morning. at least as pleasant as that proved to be the train ride back to jaipur, sitting in a prehistoric carriage with tens of fans above our heads – a cheap but seemingly effective solution to the immense air conditioning problem during the summer. [arda]


barber shop in sawai-madhopur.

buying a train ticket is much easier for the women as they have a seperate queue.

train tickets.

i like this picture better upside down. scaaaaary.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

amazing chronicles! :) The camel cart mass transportation method doesn't seem comfortable though...

12/06/2004 9:33 pm  

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