Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Philippines by Bike, Boat and Boot

Greetings All,
We flew from Delhi, India to Manila, Philippines by way of Bangkok on Nov. 13 and checked into our hotel in Intramuros, the old walled quarter of Manila.  The following morning we met our KE Adventure Travel tour group and our local guide Bryan.  We set out to explore the old city in a most unusual way, by bamboo bike!  Yes, that's correct - we hired bikes with frames constructed of bamboo.


Peggy's Bambike

Besides being a novelty, there is a human interest story behind the bikes.  Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise based in the Philippines that hand-makes bamboo bicycles with fair-trade labor and sustainable building practises. Their bamboo bike builders (aka Bambuilders) come from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine based community development organization for the poor, working to bring an end to poverty.  To learn more about Bambike go to:


Our first stop was San Agustin Church first constructed in 1571 by the Spainards.  Made of bamboo and palm it only lasted 3 years before being destroyed by fire.  The church was rebuilt with wood but burned in 1583 when a candle set drapes ablaze during the funeral of a Spanish Governor.  The present church and attached monastery (now a museum) was built with Adobe stones and completed in 1607.  On August 18, 1898, the church was the site where Spanish Governor-General Fermin Jaudenes prepared the terms for the surrender of Manila to the United States following the Spanish-American War.


San Agustin Church

From the church we cycled to an outside gallery of former Philippine presidents.  We parked our bikes and climbed to the top of the stone wall surrounding Intramuros.  The moat on the other side of the wall was filled in by the Americans and now there is a 18-hole golf course in its place.  I almost got beaned on the head by a rogue golf ball!


Cannon on the Intramuros Wall

We stopped at a memorial to mariners that sailed in galleons from Acapulco, Mexico to Manila.  For 250 years from 1565 to 1815, this route was traveled by 108 Spanish galleons and took 3 months.  The return trip was more dangerous and took 6 months.  Today there is still a tight connection between Mexico and the Philippines, however the "Galleon Route" is no longer used.


Route Map

Our last stop was the Manila Cathedral originally built in 1581.  The cathedral was damaged and destroyed several times with the present-day structure being completed in 1958.  


Manila Cathedral

We returned our bikes and took a break for lunch before resuming our tour.  Next stop was the Chinese cemetery.  The Chinese built elaborate mausoleums to house their deceased.  Some even have bathrooms  (called comfort rooms or CR here), kitchens and air conditioning!


Chinese Cemetery

We visited Fort Santiago built by a Spanish conquistador to protect the newly established city of Manila.  Not much remains except for the reconstructed main gate.


Fort Santiago Gate

Most people come here to visit the Rizal Shrine Museum.  José Rizal, the Philippine national hero, was imprisoned here before his execution in 1896.  Rizal was a man of many talents: an ophthalmologist, a sculptor, painter and writer.   Some of his writings inspired an anti-colonial revolution.   Though Rizal did not take part in the revolution, he approved of its goals and was executed for rebellion by the Spanish colonial government.  The museum contains memorabilia of the hero but we weren't allowed to take photos inside. 

That evening we were able to see the "Super Moon" over Manila under somewhat clear skies from our hotel's rooftop restaurant.   The full moon was at its closest point to earth since 1948.   It won't be this close again until 2034.


"Super Moon" Over Manila

The following morning we drove south to Taal Volcano.  The weather didn't look promising but Bryan supplied thin rain jackets and we boarded a boat for the 45-minute trip to Taal Island.  


Wet Boat Trip on Lake Taal

The rain continued once we arrived and we decided to climb the volcano anyway.  It was a short but slick climb up a well-used track.  When we arrived on the crater rim we could see the lake below.  It was cool to be on a small volcano inside the caldera of a larger one.


Taal Crater View from Rim

On the way down we had to dodge the many Korean tourists coming up on horseback.  I'm not sure why they needed to ride up such a short climb.  Most looked like they were in better shape that the poor horses they were riding.  I guess it was the novelty of horseback riding.


Riding Horses Up to the Rim

We had lunch at a restaurant which under sunny conditions would have a great view over Taal Volcano and Lake.  We had to settle for a glimpse here and there when the sun broke through the clouds.


Taal Volcano and Lake

We left Manila at 3:30 the following morning and headed north toward Pinatubo Volcano, our next climbing objective.  I fell asleep in the van and when I awoke it was raining.  Bummer, it would be another wet hike.  When we arrived at Santa Juliana, the entrance to the area, we had to get our blood pressure checked.  Yes, you read correctly, since we were over 40 we had to get our blood pressure checked by an EMT.  We all passed and split into three 4x4's for the drive to the start of the hike.  We drove up a riverbed in Crow Valley, splashing through many crossings and passing through a military training zone.  There were a few soldiers and tanks about but they didn't appear to be firing weapons so we were able to pass.  Ahomar, our driver said that on the way back we could be held up as long as an hour if there were training exercises going on.


Jeep Crossing the River

We arrived at the start of the hike and piled out of the jeeps.  We put on our rain gear but keeping our feet dry was next to impossible.  We had to cross the river many times so we just waded with our boots.


Edgar helping Peggy Across the River

It took 2 hours to hike the 4 miles to the crater rim of Pinatubo.   It was a very gradual accent so we didn't feel we had climbed about 1100 feet.  The rain had stopped and we were able to enjoy views over the lake.  On June 15, 1991 the 2nd largest terrestrial eruption in the 20th century occurred here. The summit collapsed almost 1000 feet creating this caldera.  A typhoon hit on the same day causing massive lahars or mudslides.


Peggy at Mt Pinatubo Summit

A succession of earthquakes felt in March and smaller eruptions in April convinced tens of thousands of people to evacuate before the main eruption saving many lives.  On our hike back, the sun came out and we got better views of the ash cliffs lining the river.


Ash Cliffs Along the Trail

Today the indigenous Aetas people still live in the area.  Their forest home had been destroyed but they still raise livestock and sell drinks to tourists hiking to the volcano rim.


Aetas Children

After the hike we drove to Capas to clean up and have lunch before continuing to Baguio for the night.  The next morning we took in the city market before resuming our journey north.  


Baguio Public Market

Our destination was the charming hill station of Sagada.  This town is most famous for its extraordinary hanging coffins and burial caves.  We first visited Lumiang Cave where wooden coffins around 300 years old were piled near the entrance.


Lumiang Cave Coffins

We were surprised at how short the coffins were.  We asked our local guide, Mel, if only children were buried here and she explained that adults are buried in the fetal position in the belief that one should leave this world in the same position as they entered it.  One of the coffins had gecko carvings on top.  I've read that the person buried inside died at a very old age and that the gecko is a sign of long life.

Gecko Coffin

Our last stop for the day were the hanging coffins in Echo Valley.  It was ironic that we had to walk past a Catholic Church and cemetery to reach the edge of the valley.  We could see the coffins far below but wanted a closer look.  We carefully wound our way to the valley floor where about 20 coffins were hanging on the limestone wall of the valley.


Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley

Why go to the trouble of hoisting a coffin and hanging it high on a limestone wall?  Some believe that it gets the soul of the departed that much closer to heaven.  Others believe that it more for practical reasons like keeping the dead body away from wild animals or protecting them from natural disasters.  

One more thing Sagada is known for is Philippine Civet Coffee, also called coffee alamid.  It is touted as "the world's most expensive coffee due to exotic if not gross origins."  Making coffee alamid starts with a nocturnal animal called a Common Palm Civet.  These free-ranging wild animals feast on the red fleshy coffee cherries and once partially digested the coffee beans leave the civets as pooh.  The beans are gathered from the forest floor, picked from the pooh, washed and processed into the "caviar of coffee".  You got it, from gross to gourmet!  We purchased a half a pound so friends can try it when we get home.   



Excreted Civet Coffee Beans

Stay tuned to see what surprises are in store for us in the second half of our trip to the Philippines. 

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:





Saturday, November 26, 2016

"How Panna got its Stripes Back"

Greetings Everyone,

From Ranthambore we were to take the night train to Katni and drive to Panna National Park, the third and final destination on our inaugural Vana Safaris Tour.  However, our plans were to take an unexpected twist.  We had found that our dear friend Saeedeh from Iran was coming to India on Nov. 1st.  We had not seen her in 16 years!  It didn't look like our paths would cross but Saeedeh would be arriving in Jaipur tonight, a mere 3-hour drive away.  I told Avi that it was too bad that we wouldn't get to see Saeedeh.  He said "Why not"?  We discussed various options and came up with a plan to drive back to Jaipur to meet her, spend the night there, drive to Agra the following morning, take the direct flight to Khajuraho and drive to Panna.  It meant a lot of changes and Avi set about to make it happen.  I had already sent Saeedeh a message that we wouldn't be able to meet her.  We sent multiple messages that our plans had changed and we were heading to Jaipur.  Now all that was needed was for Saeedeh to get our message!

We arrived in Jaipur and still had not heard back from Saeedeh.  Would she get our message in time?  Finally, around 6:00 we got a response from Saeedeh.  She would take a taxi to our hotel and join us for dinner.  Yippee!  While waiting for Saeedeh to arrive we watched a puppet show, sadly a dying art form in India.  


Puppet Show in Jaipur

Then there she was...  Even after 16 years I recognized her immediately!  We embraced for a long time and cried tears of joy.  Even though we only spent a mere 10 days together back in 2000 it created a bond that has lasted all these years.  We chatted for a bit and I showed Saeedeh photos from our 2000 trip.  They brought back many happy memories.  We had a traditional Rajistani meal and all too quickly Saeedeh had to return to her hotel.  Oh what a magical evening it was!


Peggy, Saeedeh and Marc


The following morning we drove to Agra where we caught a direct flight to the new airport in Khajuraho.  It was a short drive to Panna National Park and we didn't waste any time before going on our first game drive.  The Park is much like Gir with teak forest and tall grass and undergrowth - it was difficult to see animals here.  We did see Spotted Deer, Sambar, Blue Blue, Wild Boar and Southern Plains Gray Langur but no new mammals.  We had to be out of the park by 5:45 and went to nearby sanctuary called Jhinna.  We were able to do a night safari in the sanctuary and saw Asiatic Jackals, Blue Bull, Indian Gazelle, Small Indian Civet, Common Palm Civet and Wild Boar.  


Asiatic Jackal


We were up early the next morning for our full-day safari inside the park.  We saw a lanky Jungle Cat in the road but it disappeared in the grass before Marc could get a photo.  We didn't see much except for the usual cast of characters: Blue Bull, Sambar, a large herd of Spotted Deer, Southern Plains Gray Langur and Peafowl, so we returned to the lodge around noon for a little break.  


Herd of Spotted Deer

We returned to the park around 2:30 and I spotted a Common Cobra crossing the road.  We learned that a jeep had seen a leopard kill a sambar in the morning and drag it up a steep bank but there was no sign of the leopard now.

The following morning we returned to the Park and got a call that a tigress designated as P142 or Rani had been sighted on top of the plateau.  We raced off to see her.  When we arrived there were about 8 jeeps already there.  She was lying in the road and the jeeps were far from her.  


Rani in the Road

We drove to the head of the line but I wanted to go closer.  The other jeeps seemed afraid that she would charge.  We did go closer and she got up and scent-marked a tree. We got to within 100 feet of her but she did not charge, instead she moved off into the tall grass.  


Rani Scent-marking a Tree

Just 7 years ago there were no tigers in Panna National Park.  They had all been poached out!   In March of 2009, a tigress designated T1 was brought from Kanha National Park.  Since then T1 has given birth to 5 litters of cubs!  Rani is one of T1's daughters from her 4th litter.  She is 26 months old and her designation P142 means:

P - born in Panna
1 - to T1
4 - in T1's 4th litter
2 - 2nd cub

Her father is T112, her half brother from T1's first litter.  There are now 35 tigers in Panna so in 7 years, Panna went from 0 to 35 tigers!  To read more about this incredible success story go to:


We left Rani and went off in search of more wildlife.  Our forest guard spotted a leopard crossing the road.  I completely missed it until he was in the tall grass on the side of the road.  Marc got some photos.  


Leopard in the Grass

We returned to the lodge for brunch and one of the staff showed us some Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bats roosting in a nearby clump of bamboo.  Very cute!


Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bats

The park was closed on Wednesday afternoon so we left at 4:00 for Jhinna Sanctuary to spend the night.  On the drive we saw 5-striped Palm Squirrels, Southern Plains Gray Langurs, Blue Bull, Indian Gazelle and a Sloth Bear sow with a cub!  They were in the forest so we didn't get a clear view.  We stopped at the camp for a nice dinner.


Camp Dinner

After dinner we went on a night drive and saw Common Palm Civet, Asiatic Jackal and Indian Fox.

Common Palm Civet

We were up early the following morning in order to leave at 4:30.  As we were getting into the jeep we heard Blue Bull alarm calls close by.  Not far from camp I spotted a leopard on the side of the road.  He crouched, startled by the spotlight, but slinked off into the forest before Marc could get a photo.  As we were looking for him we spotted another smaller leopard not far away.  This must be a female, the mate of the male we had surprised.  We were amazed at how close they were to camp, less than a quarter-mile away!

We left the Sanctuary and drove to Panna National Park for the morning safari.  We saw all the usual characters: Wild Boar, Sambar, Blue Bull, Spotted Deer, Southern Plains Gray Langur and a magnificent Crested Hawk Eagle.


Crested Hawk Eagle

At the junction of two roads we paused to check out a Sati Stone carved in the 10th Century.  Sati is when a widow throws herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband, a tradition that thankfully is no longer practiced.


Sati Stone

We returned to the lodge for brunch and a bit of rest before the afternoon safari.  We had great views of Plum-headed Parakeets on the drive back to the Park.


Plum-headed Parakeets

We spotted our 36th species of mammal on this safari, a Four-horned Antelope, and some of the usual: Southern Plains Gray Langur, Spotted Deer, Blue Bull plus one of our favorites, a Yellow-footed Green Pigeon. 


Yellow-footed Green Pigeon

We stopped in the vicinity of the tracker following Rani and the few jeeps that had gathered hoping for a view.  While we were waiting we heard what sounded like a pig squeal.  Had Rani just killed a spotted deer?  Frustratingly we could see nothing in the tall grass.

We did our final safari in Panna the following morning.  We didn't see any tigers or leopards just the regulars: Spotted Deer, Sambar and Southern Plains Gray Langur.   A beautiful Indian Roller posed nicely in a nearby tree.


Indian Roller

We were driven to the airport for the flight to Delhi where we spent our final night in India.  The next morning we said a teary-eyed goodbye to Avi.  We were so happy to be the first clients of Vana Safaris, the inaugural tour was a big success.  We saw 36 species of mammal including 16 species that were new to us!  We learned about some of the challenges of protecting wildlife and their habitat in a country with a burgeoning human population and met some conservation heroes.  We were able to meet up with our Iranian friend Saeedeh after not seeing her for 16 years.  Thank-you Avi and Monika for making all this happen.  We wish you much success with Vana Safaris in the future.  We look forward to our next adventure with you!


Peggy, Avi and Marc on Safari


We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc




Mammal List for Inaugural Vana Safaris Tour: Oct. 22 - Nov. 12, 2016 

 No.  Species Scientific Name Notes
 1Gray MongooseHerpestes edwardsiiGir, Rann of Kutch & Ranthambore
 2Southern Plains Gray LangurSemnopithecus dussumieriGir,  Ranthambore & Panna
 3Spotted Deer (Chital)Axis axisGir, Ranthambore & Panna
 4SambarRusa unicolorGir, Ranthambore & Panna
 5Blue Bull (Nilgai)Boselaphus tragocamelusGir, Rann of Kutch, LRK,  Ranthambore & Panna
 6Indian LeopardPanthera pardus fuscaGir, Ranthambore & Panna
 7Wild BoarSus scrofaGir, LRK, Blackbuck, Ranthambore & Panna
 8Five-striped Palm SquirrelFunambulus pennantiiAt Gir, Rann of Kutch, LRK, Ranthambore & Panna
 9Indian Hare (Black-naped)Lepus nigricollisAt Gir, Rann of Kutch, LRK, Ranthambore & Panna
 10Greater Indian Fruit BatPteropus giganteusAt Gir, Rann of Kutch, LRK & Ranthambore
 11Asiatic JackalCanis aureusGir, Rann of Kutch, Ranthambore & Panna
 12Indian Desert JirdMeriones 
hurrianae
Rann of Kutch
 13Jungle CatFelis chausRann of Kutch, Ranthambore & Panna
 14Little Indian Field MouseMus boodugaRann of Kutch
 15Grey (Asian) Musk ShrewSuncus murinusRann of Kutch
 16Bengal (Indian) FoxVulpes 
bengalensis
Rann of Kutch, LRK, Ranthambore & Panna
 17Indian Desert CatFelis silvestris ornataRann of Kutch & Ranthambore
 18Pale HedgehogHemiechinis micropusRann of Kutch
 19Greater Mouse-tailed BatRhinopoma microphyllumRann of Kutch and Little Rann of Kutch
 20House MouseMus musculusRann of Kutch
 21Rat ?Rann of Kutch
 22Indian Wild AssEquus hemionus khurLittle Rann of Kutch
 23Desert (White-footed) FoxVulpes vulpes pusillaLittle Rann of Kutch
 24 Small Indian MongooseHerpestes auropunctatusLittle Rann of Kutch
 25BlackbuckAntilope cervicapraBlackbuck/Velavadar
 26Indian Grey WolfCanis lupus pallipesBlackbuck/Velavadar
 27Ruddy MongooseHerpestes smithiiRanthambore 
 28 Bengal TigerPanthera tigris tigrisRanthambore & Panna
 29Chinkara (Indian Gazelle)Gazella 
bennettii
Ranthambore & Panna
 30Common Palm CivetParadoxurus hermaphroditusRanthambore & Panna
 31Striped HyenaHyaena hyaenaRanthambore
 32Rhesus MacaqueMacaca mulattaRanthambore
 33Small Indian CivetViverricula indicaRanthambore & Panna
 34Sloth BearMelursus ursinusRanthambore & Panna
 35Lesser Short-nosed Fruit BatCynopterus 
brachyotis
Ken River Lodge
 36Four-horned AntelopeTetracerus 
quadricornis
Panna


Key:

LRK - Little Rann of Kutch

Our route map:








Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tiger! Tiger!

Greetings All,
We're on the second third of our safari with Avijit Sarkhel of Vana Safaris.  Our travels have taken us from the state of Gujarat to the neighboring state of Rajasthan by way of Jaipur.  A 3-hour drive brought us to the city of  Sawai Madhopur on the edge of Ranthambore National Park.  We had visited this Park back in 2004 and I must admit I was a little wary about returning.  We did see tigers on our first visit but only after booking a jeep safari.  We didn't realize that the standard safari involved riding in a canter, an open-top bus that sits 20 typically noisy passengers!  At that time, a canter had to stick to a prescribed route and complete it in a certain amount of time.  This meant no stopping to photograph birds or other animals.  This time around Avi had booked two full-day safaris in a private jeep for us.  The full-day safari option was new starting this year so we were Avi's first clients to try it out.  We were allowed to go into the park at 6:30, a half-hour earlier than the canters and other jeeps on the morning safari.  Atule, our forest guard who accompanied us, got a radio call around 7:00 that a tiger had been spotted.  We rushed off to the location where several other jeeps were parked and saw our first tiger lying in the tall grass!


Pacman - Our 1st Tiger Sighting!

His name is Pacman and he's about 3 years old.   Pacman disappeared in the long grass so we went off in search of more wildlife.  There were plenty of Spotted Deer, Sambar, Blue Bull, Wild Boar, Peafowl and even a few Indian Gazelle or Chinkara and a Ruddy Mongoose.


Wild Boar

We got another call around 9:00 that a second tiger had been spotted at the edge of a small pond.  This time it was a female, T41, called Laila.  There were several jeeps vying for a view as she walked down a dry river bed, crossed the road calling to her cubs and went out of view about 30 minutes later.  


Laila Crossing the Road


Being on a full day safari meant we got to stay in the park when most other vehicles had to leave.  At 10:42 we found Laila sitting in a pool with her huge paws resting on a rock.  


Laila Resting in a Pool

This time we had her all to ourselves.  She got up and walked along the road and turned off onto a path through the forest scent-marking along the way.  


Laila Scent-Marking

We followed her until the path petered out.  We were hoping to find her two cubs, about a month and a half old, but did not not see them.  She left us an hour and 15 minutes later.  What a great sighting!
  
Around 1:00 we encountered Pacman on the road coming toward us.  We had to back up when he got too close.  He left the road about 10 minutes later.  Again, we had a private viewing!  It was only early afternoon and we already had 4 sightings, 2 of which were private with 2 different tigers!  


Pacman Coming Toward Us


Other vehicles started to return to the park around 2:30.  At 5:15 we had a call that Pacman had been spotted again.  When we arrived, jeeps were already jockeying for position.  He crossed the road and we all got good views but had to leave in order to be out of the park by 5:30.  What a great first day, 5 sightings of 2 different tigers!!

Pacman

Wildlife viewing didn't end once the sun went down.  After dinner we went off in search of nocturnal animals.  We drove down the main road and spotted a Common Palm Civet and her 2 cubs sitting on the border wall of the Park.


Common Palm Civet and Cubs

We visited the town dump where a Striped Hyena was known to hang out, maybe not the most pristine place but we did get a great view of this normally shy nocturnal creature.


Striped Hyena


We left the lodge at 6:00 the following morning for our second full day safari and we were first into the park at 6:30.  The morning started off with our first tiger sighting at 7:13.  It was T83 or Lightning, Pacman's sister.  We followed her for 20 minutes and amazingly had her all to ourselves.   


Lightning

We also saw all the regulars: Spotted Deer, Sambar, Langurs, Blue Bull, Chinkara and some Painted Spurfowl.  


Sambar Stag


Around 9:50 we heard a Spotted Deer alarm call and drove off toward the source of the sound.  I spotted the tiger first.  It was a new female called Krishna, the current queen tigress of Ranthambore.  She eventually came out to the road.  We were joined by 2 other jeeps who were also able to get good views.  The other jeeps had to leave because they were on a morning safari and we had her all to ourselves.  She came onto the road and we followed her to the same path that Laila had taken yesterday.  This caused some confusion on our part.  Could this be the same tiger, Laila, we saw yesterday?  Or was the tiger we saw yesterday really Krishna?  Avi insisted they were the same tiger since she was scent marking the same exact route. We followed her to the same point we had left Laila the day before.  Our encounter lasted 45 minutes! 


Krishna

At 1:45 we had our 8th tiger sighting.  It was Lightning again.  She was lying next to a stream just off the main road.  We parked and watched her for about an hour on our own. 



Lightning

We got a call late in the afternoon that Pacman had been sighted by the lake.  When we arrived there were already many vehicles so Marc took a few photos of Pacman from a distance and we left.  This was our 9th sighting.


Pacman in the Lake

When we returned to the lodge we were able to review side-by-side photos which revealed that the female tiger we saw today was indeed Krishna, the mother of Pacman and Lightning.



Laila                                         Krishna

This is highly unusual behavior for two unrelated female tigers to be scent marking the same exact territory especially when one is thought to have cubs.  A closer look at photos of Laila revealed that she has an injury on her right foreleg and some recent facial wounds.




Laila with Right Foreleg Injury


Could Laila and Krishna have already engaged in a few skirmishes?  Was Laila challenging Krishna's reign as queen tigersess of Ranthambore?  Who would be the victor and where would the loser end up?  Only time would tell.

The following morning we explored the buffer area to the northwest of the Park.  We met our local guide, Hanuman, who volunteers for Tiger Watch, an NGO whose mission is to "promote sustainable coexistence between people and tigers by combining community participation and science".  In 2013 Tiger Watch started the Village Wildlife Volunteers (VWV) program where villages supplied information such as cattle kills, human-wildlife conflict and the movement of straying big cats as well as illegal activities such as poaching, logging and mining.  The VWV's were also trained in the use of camera traps and smartphones to identify and track animals.  The data provided by the VWV's was extremely helpful in protecting wildlife and their habitat as well as combating poaching.  To learn more about Tiger Watch and the Village Wildlife Volunteers Program go to:




To reach the Kainaderi Sanctuary where Hanuman does most of his work, we had to pass through several villages where few westerners venture.


Cattle Herder

We arrived at the plateau overlooking the edge of the Sanctury late in the afternoon and could not venture further as we had a long drive back to our lodge.  After dark I glimpsed an animal crossing the road.  A closer look revealed a Jungle Cat in a villager's plowed field.

Jungle Cat


We also saw Small Palm Civet, Common Palm Civet, Asiatic Jackal, Indian Hare and possibly a Desert Cat.  The following morning we were able to add a third full-day safari in the Park.  We were first in and spotted a Sloth Bear lumbering away into the forest.  


Sloth Bear


We also saw Wild Boar, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Langur, 5-stripped Palm Squirrels, an Indian Scops Owl, Blue Bull, Wooly-necked Stork and a Black Stork eating fish.  


Black Stork Eating a Small Fish

Around noon I spotted a tiger lying next to the road.  It was Laila and our 10th sighting.  We watched her for awhile before she got up, drank and went to sit in the tall grass.  We left her 45 minutes later. 


Laila Drinking from a Pool

At 3:25 Avi and I spotted another tiger in a rocky wash.  We drove around to intercept the tiger and found it was Laila again.  She came out on the road and followed us before heading off into the forest 45 minutes later.  This was our 11th and final tiger sighting in Ranthambore National Park.


Laila Checking a Scent Mark 

The Park wasn't always a safe haven for tigers and other wildlife.  In 1973, very concerned about the dwindling number of tigers due to hunting, Project Tiger (PT) was started at the insistence of Indira Gandhi.  Nine reserves were created under PT with Ranthambore being one of them.  At that time the area looked very different.  There were 16 villages dotting the area and the Park's largest lake, Padam Talao, had been drained for agriculture.  All the vegetation had been eaten by domestic cattle and wild animals were rarely seen. 

In comes Fateh Singh Rathore, the assistant field director at that time.  With a high amount of tact and patience he convinced the villagers to move out of the park.  It wasnt always easy.  At one point he was beatened by angry villagers and left for dead.  He recovered and continued his important conservation work.  Largely because of Mr. Rathore, "Ranthambhore became the place which brought the tiger to the consciousness of people the world over."

On our last morning in Ranthambore we explored a different area, Zone 6.  There were quite a few other vehicles traveling the same route.  We waited for them to leave before proceeding.   Suddenly the line of jeeps and cantors was heading back in our direction.  They were pursuing something.  Marc and Avi spotted a leopard as it ran away.  I missed it.  

Our time in Ranthambore had come to an end.  What an amazing privledge to spend so much private time in the company of wild tigers!  Never in my wildest imagination did I expect such intimate and lengthy encounters or to witness such unusual behavior of these magnificent cats.  Thank you Avi for making this possible!

Little did we know that another unexpected surprise awaited us that evening.  Stay tuned to find out what it was and how we fare in our next destination, Panna National Park.

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:


Ranthambore Map:



Postscript:

We later learned that Lightning had ventured outside of the park after our departure and fell into a 45-foot well in Khandoj Village.   A team of forest guards rescued her without injury and released her back into the forest.  Tiger Watch provided all the equipment necessary for the rescue.   There is a video on the Facebook page of Tiger Watch.