The anticipation was tangible as we approached the main gates to Ranthambhore National Park. The park had only recently opened after its annual summer closure and tigers had been sighted on a daily basis.
The park area has been divided into several zones and the safari vehicles are split between those zones. Everyone was wondering if they would be in a lucky zone today and catch a sighting of one of these majestic predators. Safaris are carried out two times a day at 06:30 and 15:00, each lasts for approximately 3 hours.
We entered the park slightly after sunrise and not long afterwards we reached the impressive fort wall. The fort towers over the entire park area and can be seen from many of the safari routes. Driving through the fort wall, the temperature dropped as we entered the vast forest.
Immediately our naturalist guide pointed out herds of sambar deer, wild boar and troops of monkey. We continued steadily over rough tracks before being signalled to slow and proceed with caution by another vehicle in front of us. Suddenly, we saw the reason for their wariness – a beautiful leopard had been sighted in a tree just yards from the track. It was panting heavily and strangely was not looking towards us but into the forest behind, as if another creature had driven it there – a tiger perhaps.
The leopard continued its panicked glares into the undergrowth and we were lucky enough to have over an hour observing this fantastic animal until it decided it was safe to move. Thrilled from our sighting of the park's most elusive resident, we made our way back to the entrance.
Later that day we took a route through a different zone and were lucky enough to sight two tiger as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, the fading light meant that we only caught fleeting glimpses of them through the undergrowth. However, the proximity of these majestic cats was still an awe-inspiring experience.
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