Monday, October 18, 2004

Ranthambore!

Arrived at the Madhopur station at 4:00 in the morning. A jeep had been arranged to pick me up. I reached the resort and was immediately pampered by the army of "Singhs"! Ram Singh wouldn't let me carry my bags, Govind Singh made chai for me and Bhagat Singh told me about my day's itinerary. The first safari was at 6:00. I managed a quick bath and a shave. Before I could gloat over my efficiency, travelling in an open jeep on dirt tracks, I realised all the cleaning was a waste of time.

The jungle here is an enchanting place. It begins so abruptly that it catches you by surprise. The sheer rock faces rise out of the ground sharply and seem totally anomalous from the rest of the landscape. The forts on top of some of these rocks give the place a lot of character, and surprisingly do not reduce the wildness of the place. Instead the ruins tell you a story of the usurper dethroned and the old order reinstated. Justice done to the rightful owners. It made even a perennial cynic like me smile and say "That's the way it should be".

The first safari was a very fruitful one. Met a few Sambars, Nilgai, Chital, Langurs, Boars and Cinkaras. And Gaurav and Shefali. Gaurav, with his long tresses, luxurious beard , sharp pleasing eyes, and loads of wit. He told me he comes there every fortnight, and made me wish I could do that too! While he was filming on his huge video camera, I asked him if that is what he does for a living, he replied "I wish". I liked him instantly. I'll remember Shefali as the woman who negated my prejudice against women who smoke. Her parched lips and tanned face told me she probably hasn't spent a penny on cosmetics. Which explains why she appeared so good looking too. One interesting couple to go on a safari with. By the end of the safari I had stopped just short of worshipping them.

At the end of the second Safari I turned shallow. I stopped fooling myself with exalted theories that all wildlife is just as special as meeting the king. It wasn't true. I had to admit I would go home disappointed if I don't see a tiger. I had spent two of the three safaris allotted to me in this package and I hadn't seen a tiger. There was just one more left.

I met Aditya at dinner. He immediately made place for himself in my Personal heroes List. He threw away his job as an IAS officer. He relocated to Sawai Madhopur and turned into a hotelier-cum-naturalist. Former, for a living ,and the latter was,well , his religion. He downed drink after drink and the anecdotes got more interesting. Only when he started slurring did I notice the time. It was almost morning and we remembered that we had another safari in a few hours time. We retired.
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