It was a sudden decision, and we found ourselves packing our bags before night came. Everyone in our family was thrown into a wilderness of emotions while choosing clothes to take. The next morning arrived quickly. A silver Ertiga was filled with our luggage and tensed buttocks, ready to head into Rajasthan.
As we left Delhi NCR and Haryana, hillocks of the Aravalli range greeted us. The sun’s bright glow burned into the window panes. As we looked into the distance, small shiny puddles appeared on the road. As our wheels rolled closer, they disappeared. The sun asserted its presence through mirages and scorching beams.
We reached Sawai Madhopur in the afternoon. The sun had begun to retreat as our luggage were towed into our rooms by the staff of RTDC. The sprawling lawn and spacious common area of our hotel were in line with the wide fields of the village. We relaxed and breathed in the aura of the place. While sipping on hot ginger tea and devouring freshly fried omelettes and spicy lentils on rice, we contemplated meeting the yellow striped predator of Ranthambhore, lurking in the shadows, waiting to meet us.
Next day, the cold shivers of dawn caught us unawares. Only a single shirt protected my upper body when I boarded the open-air safari cantor truck. As the guide doled out information about the forest, small branches of ‘dhok’ trees poked my shivering shoulders and head. Hordes of ‘Nilgai’ and ‘Sambar’ deer greeted us with inquisitive eyes, while our eyes feasted on their slender mauve skin and antlers that branched out like skilful embroidery. The screeching noise of the cantor engine startled and scared off many creatures of the jungle.
The dry landscape of rolling hills and deep, hidden jungles followed us wherever we went. A rocky canyon, small springs, and a winding dusty road led us into the interior of the Ranthambhore fort. The long-lost spirits of kings, queens, and ministers peered from sandstone windows, as we brushed by the fort to enter the wide-mouthed gateway to the Ranthambhore jungle.
Carnivores. Long, sharp incisors? No, just small, blunt ones. Black stripes on bright yellow fur? No, just colourful fabric wrapped around fur-less skin. No suck-the-life-out-of-you golden predator eyes, just brown-black beady eyes under coloured shades. As soon as the forest guide gave the cue, all these carnivores were leaping up to look at some so-called predators. Confined, controlled in a specially made reserve.
Anyway, the mighty predators of the (protected) jungle did not grant us (fellow predators) an audience that day. The cantor driver and the guide led us on different paths, backing up numerous times, and speeding into the shade of a tree, whenever the chances of an encounter felt keen. Our guide listened intently for the call of the Sambar deer that would indicate the close presence of our awaited hunter. The evening safari spelt the same fate, as the falling sun struggled to dazzle through trees and the cold wind slapped our cheeks and pierced our skin. The falling light reflected off of the smooth glassy surface of small lakes.
The dust swirled up in columns as the tyres of our cantor left deep tracks in the soil, heading back to our hotel in the dying daylight. The darkness crept through every crack among the trees, and offered solace to the yellow-striped feline predators. They stayed in the shadows of the night. I guess they preferred not to become the object of pleasure of the larger predators for that day.