The tiger is now an integral part of Indian lore, but with their numbers at a frighteningly low level, spotting them isn't always easy - even when you know where to look. As part of guest blogger Tony Herbert's series of blogs on his bespoke tour of Rajasthan, he shares his do's and dont's for a successful tiger safari in Ranthambore.
Don't: get your hopes up
Rule number one of tiger spotting? Don't set your hopes too high, as we were warned upon our arrival at Ranthambore National Park. Even if you don't spot tigers, there are plenty of monkeys, deer - both the small Spotted and the larger Sambar - crocodiles and a vast collection of bird species. Plus, it's a beautiful park, with lakes, high cliffs, rich vegetation and a multitude of other things to see.
The camp we stayed at, Sher Bagh (meaning Tiger Garden in Hindi, incidentally) is run by Yousef, who is very well informed about the wildlife, the park, and particularly the tigers, which he is closely involved in the monitoring of. In the past, the population had declined alarmingly into single figures - presumably because of poaching, which now seems to be more under control (encouragingly, numbers have leapt from 35 to 50 tigers over the last few years).
Do: be patient
On our fourth drive, our guide Balbir heard the warning sounds made by deer when they sense the presence of tiger. Balbir aimed the vehicle in the direction of the sounds and we waited patiently, listening for noises in the dense undergrowth. Then, a vehicle some 100 yards ahead flashed its headlights. That was the signal.
There, on open ground, was an enormous tigress dragging the carcus of a small Sambar deer she had killed some 15 minutes earlier. She stopped, seemingly completely oblivious of us and the rapidly increasing number of vehicles that had emerged from nowhere. We learnt that she was Tiger Number 17, otherwise known as Sundari (Hindi for beautiful), aged about six or seven years old and with two young cubs born earlier in the year.
Don’t: underestimate the tented camps
We were staying at the luxury Sher Bagh Tented Camp, on the edges of the park. Don't be deceived by the word 'tented', though - they're fully equipped with comfortable beds and excellent bathrooms. The camp also offers fantastic food, cooked a top class Sikh chef.
Do: accept the bureaucracy
The park is run as a tight ship, so it limits the number of vehicles entering every day - but the bureaucracy is pretty tiresome. The park doesn't open until 7am, which means that it's only well after drawn before you can properly be in the park - and dawn is when you can best see nocturnal creatures like tigers. The other ideal time? Dusk - but the park closes at 5pm.
Do: wrap up warm
Rajasthan can be unexpectedly chilly, particularly early in the morning. So when we went on the morning drive, we were heavily equipped with blankets and hot water bottles - all necessities!