Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tiger Team

Friday marks departure for Rajasthan and Ranthambore National Park from Delhi. Departing from Bikaner House bus station near Khan Market, my Hindi comes in handy when I spout the phrase, “yaha bus jaipur se jana hai (this bus is going to jaipur?).”

After an iPod night aboard the bus to Jaipur, we arrive and check into our small hotel for a few hours of needed sleep. The car from Jaipur to Ranthambore is nearly five hours, though the distance is minimal. Roads are littered with oxen, doddling rickshaws and lumbering trucks for which our horn is a futile tool. Half way through the drive our grinning driver surprises us by pulling a DVD screen from the ceiling and putting on a faux-violent and typically disultory Hindi film.

Staying at the Raj Palace in Ranthambore, our facilities are nice, and are markedly improved by the warm sunshine, Kingfisher, and Ben Harper I play from my portable SonicImpact speakers. But not all is lost, as we have tiger-printed sheets and curtains.

Our first safari is unsuccessful, but we manage to spot crocodiles and paw prints, ostensibly fresh, but impossible to validate. Reminded of my September safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania where zebra and wildebeast became banal sightings, our initial enthusiasm for deer dwindled as scores ambled in the dry forest.

Five AM on day two tiger team has better luck. Traveling with two other Stanford kids and my Egyptian/Californian friend Heba, we cut through the frigid morning air as a hooded possie on the top of an open-air jeep. The tigers don’t know what hits them.

Our first spotting includes a tigress 10m off the path sleeping under a tree. As our unfortunate driver, hit by a branch as we careen down the dirt path, bleeds from his eye, we attempt to evacuate the park prematurely. Perhaps our second tiger sighting is a karmac reward for our selflessness, as it walks down the path toward our speeding vehicle. Pausing, we let it draw close, within 3m of the car until it nonchalantly graces by the front bumper and into the brush. With a heavy step, it powerfully takes deliberate steps, impressing the elusive paw prints into the soft dust for future jeeps to discover.

Satisfied with our fortune, we play soccer with Indian tourist kids, peruse over-priced Kashmiri carpets, and begin the return journey to Jaipur and Delhi.

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