So many things in lassitude you learn: observe, appreciate, and cherish.
It’s not until you gather your senses and hear the winds stir with a dreamlike intention, making the grass sway, that you brace yourself to confront the gaze of Krishna, the mother of three cubs.
Nestled in the woods of Zone 3 of Ranthambhore National Park, stands an old, palace-like edifice. And T19, a tigress also known as Krishna, was initially found relaxing at the palace’s rear walls, beside which was a poised lake.
Participants of the first evening safari of this Photo Tour watched in awe as the tigress started walking through the patch of grass at the edge of the forest, almost disappearing for a while, only to arrive out of it in all her grace.
Her skin like golden velvet in the evening light, she stood with an elegance that made capturing her stillness and motion a privilege.
After the group had taken plenty of pictures, she walked away deep into the woods as two of her three cubs came to the palace. They started walking close to the grasslands but the group had to leave for the day.
April being the best time to visit this western-most record of the wild tiger reserves, the Ranthambhore forests looked rather greener than usual. The group was told that the forests saw unexpected rains the previous week, which was testified by the mossy intervals.
All Hail the King!
The next morning, a safari to Zone 2 allowed the participants the stately sight of T24, also known as Ustad, sitting next to a puddle. His pensive-but-stern mood was reflected in the calm waters, which offered the group an opportunity to take magnificent pictures of the king.
But there was something devious about him getting up and walking in a particular direction, like it was not a lethargic meandering in the meadows. He walked for about 15 metres and then the participants saw him feasting on a kill he had made, perhaps a few minutes before he was resting in the puddle. What was he, after all, contemplating over at the puddle, was a question that haunted the participants.
Later, the cats were perhaps resting away, and Zone 2 had not much to offer to the wildlife photographers that evening and the following morning. But the group saw Ustad in the evening again, who had walked about eight to nine kilometres from where he was the previous day, offering some priceless photo opportunities in the soft evening light.
The following morning safari in Zone 3 proved to be hunting time for the cats. After much roaming around, Skipper Sachin Rai suggested that they climb up the hill to check for their presence. And they spotted one of Krishna’s cubs.
After a while, the trio appeared along with the tigress, and Her Majesty’s audience had a great time clicking some of the most beautiful frames as the cubs got playful. When the family sat drinking water at a nearby puddle, one could hear the frenzied shutter sound as the cameras got hungrier to capture more of the delightful sight.
That evening, as the participants reached another lake, the cubs were found playing around with one another but the mother was nowhere to be seen. One of the cubs, a female, was suddenly alert, and the group saw her stalking a sambar. Her steps were slow and cautious, and the sambar had no clue of the looming danger. As the hearts of the participants raced wild with anticipation, another cub, the female’s brother, spoiled the fun by losing the hunt to an alarm call. The ‘bro’ still seemed to have a lot to learn to become a ‘pro’ at hunting!
The evening was still young and one of the young tigers climbed a dead tree, an act that the group was grateful for, as it offered backlit photo opportunities in abundance. One could not dispute the fact that the cub acquired a heavenly aura with the evening light silhouetting her frame.
The cubs then walked parallel to the safari vehicle and disappeared into the woods and the participants were a contented bunch.
There was not much action the next day, expect for an adorable Indian hare enjoying his solitary freedom, and the group made some portraits of the happy little fellow.
A Leopard “Spotted”.
The following evening brought a blend of mammalian and avian beauty for the group to cherish. Way off the main road that leads to a town from the forest, a leopard was found lolling on an old and abandoned manmade structure. It was a frame that the participants had fun capturing.
And how can a photographer ever have enough of capturing the vibrantly-coloured peacocks and their evening skin like silk, glistening? The participants could not have asked for more after a few close-up shots of the national bird.
And so, the evening could strike a colourful, harmonious balance between the beholders and the beheld.
The next morning started on a playful note as the feline cubs could not get enough of their jokey mood. No predators were found later in the noon, but another batch of participants heard an alarm call which led to the spotting of another leopard just before leaving the forest for the day. His spots, interspersed with the quivering green leaves of the dhonk trees behind which he rested, following which he descended into a crag, making for an irresistibly beautiful frame.
The participants found one tiger cub strutting across the forest paths, and a shy mongoose the next morning. Another cub of Krishna was found strolling around in the evening. But the highlight of the evening for the group was capturing two sloth bears playing with each other into several fun-filled frames.
When you are in a vast tiger reserve like Ranthambhore, you are always in for surprises. The next morning, as a new batch of participants went on a safari, Krishna, along with her playful cubs, was found in the grassland. As the mother tried resting somewhere in the swaying grass, the cubs got more mischievous with her. Krishna growled and yelled and nudged them away until they let her sleep in peace. With very good light in the morning, the group had a celebration taking numerous photos of the tigers in action.
The next batch of participants gearing up for their safari had another reason to be happy about. That evening of the Photo Tour, there was no other vehicle for company. As they drove away, the Skipper caught a glimpse of a tiger’s tail and went up the hill where two of the three Krishna’s cubs were again found having a happy sibling-time on the grassland. They even climbed the tree and gave more photo opportunities for the participants in the golden evening light.
The same evening, the cubs seemed to have had enough of an action-filled day. They were missing and the group saw only the mother near another lake, savouring her solitude.
Just when the participants were having a fun time capturing the tigers in either meditative or jolly mood, the happy spell was broken on the next morning. With the mother nowhere to be seen, the cubs – hungry and restless – were wandering around in dejection. It seemed bizarre; although the light seemed perfect for some great photos, the cubs were sleeping in a gloomy mood. One of the cubs was walking dully across the river and the group found another leopard, and a peacock among other birds.
The following morning, the participants found the same cubs and in the same state of desolation. Hungry, and with only a little strength left, they slowly set out on their own with a determination to kill. And then, finally, a gorgeous spotted deer fawn had to become the victim of the feline hunger. The Skipper and the participants witnessed this imposing play scripted by nature in an exquisite eeriness.
The evening before the last day of the Photo Tour, another batch of participants saw a leopard on their way back from the safari. He turned around and offered some glorious photo opportunities as the safari vehicle climbed up a steep hill.
Noor Swathed in the Glory of Morning Light
All good things come to an end. And the last morning of Toehold’s Ranthambhore Photo Tour, the participants spotted a tigress called T39, also known as Noor, meaning ‘light’ in English, and her two cubs. Noor’s growl helped the group spot her as she was ambling down the forest paths, calling out for her young ones, and into the woods.
The group followed her until the cubs were found pouncing on their mother in joy. They then started walking and treaded a path for almost 3 kilometres to reach a lake. Instead of following the feline family, the Skipper chopped out a plan for the safari vehicle to surpass them and make photos from the front. As the tiger family reached the lake, the participants could capture them cuddling and playing in the water as Noor decided to plonk herself in the water.
While the participants were returning to their respective cities that can break your heart with their tall and large buildings growing until the sky is an allowance, they knew in their hearts that it was a respite worth all its time.