Inside Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve, Evening Safary

I returned to lodge very distraught and disappointed. So near yet so far! True, I had seen a tiger. But, I have no picture as proof to share and brag. I would be laughing stock of people who discouraged me from visiting at this season. 

So I approached manager. “Please change my booking from canter to a gypsy“, I demanded. 

Manager looked at me and said “Sir, I would advice against it. First you will lose all your booking money for canter. Second, not only you have to pay full amount for a seat in gypsy, your booking would be subject to someone cancelling their seat. Finally, zones your canter will visit have been planned in advance. If you make a new booking, who knows what zone Gypsy will get? I say sir, you stick to your booking on canter” 

All very logical. At the same time, it was an issue of my prestige. So I insisted, “At least try for one safari in a gypsy. Preferably the morning one, tomorrow.” 

I shall know only by early morning tomorrow, provided some vacancy arises” manager told me, not brimming with confidence.

I went up to my room for a shower and change my clothing. After breakfast, I laze around in the reading room. Bought a few souvenirs. Ranthambhore and Ranthambhore Bagh moves at a slow pace. Rooms do not have television. There is no option but to spend time with onself. Post a good lunch and siesta, I got ready for second safary of the day at 3 PM.

Outside temperature was probably in mid forties, when canter came to pick me up. Hot air was burning my exposed face and arms. Locals use a long piece of cloth tied behind their head. Cloth covers head, forehead, face, ear and nose. Only eyes remain visible.  Some sprinkle water on the cloth for cooling effect. 

Temperature had brought animals also by the side of water bodies.

Animals Near Water
Assorted Animals Near Water Body

Jackal in Water

Jackal, Cooling Itself in Water

A variety of birds were also sighted. A few pictures I am sharing. For many bird species, I do not know the name.

Tree Pie

Paradise Bird (look at its long tail)


Crested Bulbul
Tailor Bird

Tailor Bird
A Magpie among other birds

At the end of the day, I was dropped at the lodge. No tiger photo even after second safary of the day. To add insult to injury, a family, that came much later than me, had a great picture of tiger to flaunt. Who says life is fair!


Inside Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve

My safary started with a cup of coffee at the lodge. A canter came to pick me up. Most of the choice seats were taken. I  got a seat at middle of last row with travellers on each side.  It came to my mind, may be I should have booked a seat in a Gypsy.

My last visit to Ranthambhor was in the month of Dec. There was chill in the air and mist on the horizon. There was a feeling of anticipation, a feeling of romance of the unknown. This time, it was bright and sunny. I was eager to revisit past experience, compare notes and  go beyond it.  

We stopped the gate of Tiger Reserve. Number of vehicles that can enter the forest is restricted. Travelling party is allocated a particular zone of the forest. Time by which the party has to be out of the forest is also fixed. Identity paper of visitors is checked at the gate. Visitors have to declare their movie camera, if any, and pay requisite fee.

Forest Office

Map of Ranthambhor Park

Road to Fort

Tarred road that lies past the forest gate, goes all the way to the base of Ranthambhor fort. Fort is the central figure in Ranthambhor. A fort with a history of at least 1000 years, some say nearly 1200 years.  

First Gate of Fort

Fort Gate from Inside

 We moved past first gate of the fort. Gate was built between two mountains, on either side, that acted as natural barriers. We reached base of the fort as we moved on. Fort gets regular visitors in the form of pilgrims. Pilgrims come to visit and pray at Hindu and Jain temples in the fort. Though actual forest starts beyond fort, tigers stray into road leading to fort. No one has been killed by tigers so far and pilgrim movement has not stopped.

Fort Base
Fort Base

Entry Gate to Forest
Langoor Family

We moved past fort and fort gate. We were entering area of forest where visitors on foot are not allowed. There was an undue pressure on the guide and driver of canter to take us to tiger. Despite this, I saw the park teeming with a variety of wild life.  There was ubiquitous deers, langoor monkey, mongoose, monitor lizard, crocodiles, jackals, wild boars and others. My shot of crocodile and monitor lizard did not come out well.  

Spotted Dear
Sambhar Deer

Wild Boar

Most visitors to the park had, however, come to see a tiger. On the very first visit this time, we saw a tiger coming out of water in one zone and walking into the zone where our vehicle was. Tiger was walking near our canter. There was so much excitement, rush, pushing and shoving that I did not get a spot from where to shoot.  That is the second time I regretted not booking a seat in a Gypsy. 

Ranthambhor and Ranthambhor Bagh

Ranthambhor is located near Swai Madhopur town of Swai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. Swai Madhopur can be reached from Delhi by road or  by rail. Nizamuddin – Kota Jan Shatabdi express takes 5 hours to reach Swai Madhopur. 

I had visited Ranthambhor tiger reserve a few years earlier. It was in the month of December. I saw a large variety of wildlife upclose. Tiger sighting, however, remained elusive. Discounting a few near miss opportunities. As I returned back to hotel dejected, I was adviced to visit the park in summer. In summer months, tigers come near water bodies. As a result chance of sighting improves greatly. 

This summer, I decided to take my chance at seeing a tiger upclose. I boarded A/C chair car of Jan Shatabdi express on a summer afternoon at 1.15 pm. I got off Swai Madhopur at around 6 pm in the evening. After travelling in an A/C coach, the outside appeared like a hot oven. I found Swai Madhopur station to be  reasonably clean. A view of Swai Madhopur station from the direction of platform 4. 

I did not ask for a pickup by hotel. I hailed an autorickshaw to reach Ranthambhor Bagh from platform number 1. 

Ranthambhor Bagh is located on the road to Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve. Ranthambhor Bagh is owned and managed by Aditya Singh and his wife, Poonam Singh. Aditya Singh is a wildlife enthusiast and tiger lover and Poonam Singh is an entrepreneur. 

Ranthambhor Bagh is a two story structure. It was an old haveli that has been converted to a hotel.  I had stayed here before during my earlier visit. Rent of a room is reasonable at Rs. 3560 per night. I stayed in a double occupancy room, that was air conditioned, with attached bath. Bathroom had access to running water. Hot water is made available in winter. Room rent included three meals – breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner. I found staff very friendly and go out of the way to help guests. They even packed me breakfast for my onward journey to Delhi. 

Safary must be booked in advance. A valid identification document, passport / voter identification card / adhaar card, must be used at the time of booking safari. Original document must be carried by each visitor. Booking is done by hotel. Cost of each safary is around Rs. 900 in a canter and Rs. 1500 in a gypsy. Once booked, the money is non refundable. One can change booking from canter to gypsy, or vice versa, only if a vacancy arises. Travel by a gypsy is more comfortable and gives visitor more freedom. A visitor has to pay Rs. 450 (Indian) and Rs. 900 (foreign visitors) for carrying a movie camera in the park. An archaic rule at a time when mobile phones and cameras can record video. I availed four safaries this visit. One in the morning and the other in the evening of each day that I spent at Ranthambhor Bagh.

This visit I had spent three nights and two days at Ranthambhor.  On the morning of third day, I boarded Jan Shatabdi express, coming form Kota, from Sawai Madhopur station. I reached Delhi at around 1.30 pm in the afternoon. Train was late by 40 minutes. 

Efficiency of Northern Railway was praiseworthy. On the day of my departure to Sawai Madhopur, train arrived late by 15 minutes. Yet the same train departed at scheduled time. Compartment was cleaned while train was on the move. Hazrat Nizamuddin station needs to improve its security, cleanliness and crowd management.

Sushil Kumar Should Be Accommodated in Olympic Team

India is in a strange situation. Two wrestlers each with potential to win a medal for India. Sushil Kumar is two time Olympic medallist. Narasingh is in great form. He has won several medals in international arena in 74 kg category, most recent being winning medal in world championship. Problem is only one of them can go to Rio Olympics.
Current predicament is due to altered rules for competing in Olympic wrestling. According to new rules, each country can have one quota place in each weight category.  India has won eight out of a maximum 18 quota places. Sixty eight kg category in which Sushil used to compete no longer exist. Sushil has to compete now in 74 kg category. In 74 kg category, we now have Narsingh Yadav. If a nation has one quota place and more than one athlete for the slot, then athletes need to compete among themselves to secure the quota place. 
Sushil Kumar is asking for a trial to select wrestler in 74 kg category. Narsingh Yadav is not ready for such a trial. According to Narsingh Yadav, he is the best wrestler in the category at this time. He has won medal in several championships. Last being a bronze medal in world championship in Las Vegas in 2015. Sushil Kumar has moved court for a trial.
This is an unfortunate situation for Indian medal hope in Rio games. Sushil has won medal in Olympics before. He knows how to compete under high pressure situation. Narsingh Yadav may not have not won Olympic medal, he has won medals in all other competitions he had participated. Sushil Kumar has gone to court. Even court agrees Sushil’s contention but at the same time court recognizes Narshingh’s achievements. 

I think Wrestling Federation of India or sports ministry or for that matter any authority must find a middle ground and accommodate both Sushil and Narshingh in the wrestling team? It would be a shame if either one the wrestlers have to miss out Rio games. According to rules, an eliminated athlete can go to the Olympics only at the invitation of the world body of the respective sport or through open qualifying events.

In Killing Fields of Bihar, Revisit Intolerance Debate

Two murders in one week. One by son of a JDU MLC. Second one allegedly by hench men of a RJD goon. Don is resting in jail. His men are  killing people outside. Lawlessness is not new to Bihar. But present government has come with the promise of good governance. Mr. Nitish Kumar is called “susashan babu“, meaning an able administrator. Home ministry is with Chief Minister, Mr. Nitish Kumar. Yet, his own MLC hoards alcohol at home, her son guns down innocent teenagers. 
Last summer, a lot of awards were returned in the pretext of India becoming intolerant. Is muzzling voice of truth using henchmen not intolerance? Is gunning down young people for overtaking MLCs care not intolerance? Why no one is returning awards? Why do not hear even a muted condemnation? 

We do not see Mr Gandhi or Mr Kejriwal or Mr.  Derek O’Brien or Mr. Yechury demanding justice for the departed. Mr. Gandhi’s party shares power in Bihar. So he must speak up. Mr Kejriwal is busy collating crimes in BJP ruled states. After all, Laluji had hugged Mr. Kejriwal for nothing. It is for times like these for Mr. Kejriwal to keep quiet. 

Most conspicuous by his absence was chief minister of Bihar. Why did honourable chief minister apply balm to bereaved family? Instead, honourable chief minister was in Varanasi. Was he atoning for his alliance with RJD and praying for event free next 4.5 years. After all, Nitish ji has to become prime minister of India. 
By the way did Mr Kejriwal say a word about horrific rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Kerala? Actually, Kejriwal Ji was busy advertising his administrative success of Delhi government in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He was using Delhi tax payers money. After all, Mr Kejriwal’s honesty has led to savings. So why not splurge a little? 
Mr. Govind Pansare and Mr. Narendra Dabholkar were gunned down, in congress ruled Maharashtra. UPAII was ruling at the centre. Yet there was no sense of intolerance. Mr. Kalburgi was gunned down in congress ruled Karnataka. Definitely, Modi has made India intolerant. How is it that when two people are gunned down in broad day light, no one talks of intolerance? Is it because journalist is not considered a rationalist? Or the journalist did not have the right caste and communal background? One has to see to appreciate double standard.

State Elections, A View From Neutral Perch

India is in election mode. Four states are in the grip of election fever. Parliamentarians who cannot arrive at a consensus on most issues, unanimously agreed to end parliament session two days early. Members would like to participate in election campaign. 

Among four states going to poll, BJP may have a shot at forming government in Assam. Looks like BJP learnt its lesson from debacles in Delhi and Bihar. Faces of local leaders were projected. Exposure to prime minister Modi was kept to essential. Despite anti-incumbency against congress rule, a large minority population may give BJP strategists sleepless nights. Recent talk of forming J&K style coalition government with AIDUF may hint at such unease.

Other state where BJP can hope to open an account is  Kerala. Prime Minister has raised poll bugle using Augusta Westland, Gandhi family and corruption. Visibly riled congress party has demanded an apology form prime minister. Obviously, congress forgot that in Gujarat battle against Modi was fought using innuendo, hearsay and rumours. What is sauce for the gander, must be good for the goose. 

In southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, two nonagenarians are contesting for chief minister’s post. Like king Yayati of Mahabharata, 91 year old, visually impaired, wheel chair bound M Karunanidhi wants to enjoy power. His 61 year old son M K Stalin has no choice but to wait. In Kerala,  another  92 year old is in the fray.  Senior CPM leader V S Achutanandan mocked swacch bharat program of Prime Minister, ” if you do not have enough to eat, you may not need a toilet”. Surprising, after a long stint in power why left leadership is debating hunger and cleanliness in a state that is high on human development index? Time will tell,    of senility and sensibility who will prevail?

In West Bengal, TMC juggernaut is likely to move on. Combined left and congress may give TMC run for money. BJP on the other hand has no mass leader to match TMC leadership. Right of centre ideology of BJP may not have many takers in innately left leaning Bengal.  Anti-minorityism and death of Netaji Bose can fetch you only so much dividend in a state where minoritiy community has a sizeable presence. BJP would need another decade of hard work to establish its presence in Bengal.

Roznama, A View from Neutral Perch

Delhi is burning under hot sun. From 9 am in the morning onwards sun picks up pace. Earlier there used to be trees to provide shade. Progress and development has removed tress. It is concrete everywhere. So is the heat.  Less privileged go to work. Fortunate ones stay indoors. Curtains drawn, sip aam-panna and watch TV. Delhi, at least some parts, does not face frequent power cuts these days. Unless there is a major fault, power supply is restored in 30 minutes or less. News channels provide uninterrupted entertainment. Given a choice to watch real life drama, who cares about saas-bahu serials?

With parliament in session, battle of Kurukshetra was enacted in Rajya sabha. Subramaniam Swamy and Manohar Parrikar had taken the battle to congress on behalf of the ruling party. Cornered grand old party did not have much to reply. They trashed allegations and blamed ruling party for lack of civility. Beyond the allegation, can ruling party prove its charge? Can a credible  investigation and evidence gathering nail the guilty? Or the ruling party simply wants to keep the pot boiling? These are all  million dollar questions. Only time will tell.

Smarting from blistering attack of Subramaniam Swamy in Rajya Sabha, congress is waiting for the moment when Dr. Swamy will attack his own party. Dr. Swamy has demanded sacking of RBI governor, Attorney General of India, and a timeline from government on building Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Dr. Swamy excites BJP grassroot workers.  He is a nightmare for BJP strategists and floor managers. Dr. Swamy is a like an agent that does not discriminate between friend and foe, and destroys everything on its path. Good luck BJP.

Opposition benches were excited when congress chief minister of Harish Rawat of Uttarakhand won trust vote in assembly. Many called it a victory of democracy. If a sitting chief minister has to buy his own MLAs, caught on camera, what price did he pay to bag non congress MLAs? Can this be a victory of democracy? BJP came out looking really bad. Party was blamed for death of Shaktimaan, the police horse. Horse trading continued nevertheless. BJP lost case in court and trust vote in assembly floor. Some advisor with great strategy!

Mr. Modi’s Degree, The Tussle Continues

Did prime minister Narendra Modi forge his educational qualification? With his past experience of filing nomination papers and fighting elections from Gujarat, it is unbelievable and unlikely that a politically savvy person like Mr. Modi would misrepresent his academic qualifications. More so, when law of the land does not mandate academic qualification for contesting election and becoming  prime minister of India. 

The issue is gradually gaining momentum. It is being argued that irrespective of degree of prime minister, or lack of it, should a prime minister misrepresent facts about his acadmeic qualification? Delhi Chief Minister, a known rabble rouser and a BJP baiter, had sent three emissaries, Mr. Ashutosh, Mr. Ashish Khetan and Mr. Raghav Chaddha, to Delhi University demanding access to past academic records of Mr. Modi. Shri K. C. Tyagi of JDU and Mr. Manish Tewari of congress party, have also latched on the  issue. 

In order to clear the air, BJP President, Mr. Amit Shah, and Finance Minister of India, Mr. Arun Jaitley had shared degrees awarded to Prime Minister. An old interview of Mr. Modi has surfaced. In the interview, Mr. Modi said he pursued his Bachelor and Master degrees as external candidate from Delhi and Gujarat universities, respectively. AAP party has rubbished every information and demanded to see all the records related to admission, graduation, convocation etc from the University.

In this game of mutual accusation and acrimony, the following points should be considered:

  • When Mr. Modi pursued his studies, he was an ordinary RSS pracharak. India was ruled by congress party, at the centre as well as in Gujarat. It would be unlikely that Mr. Modi would be allowed to enroll for graduation program in Gujarat without valid papers from Delhi University.
  • Most likely AAP is gunning for Mr. Modi’s degrees to retaliate arrest and humiliation of Mr. Jitendra Tomar, law minister of Delhi. It should be remembered that bar council of Delhi had forwarded request to Delhi Police to investigate Mr. Tomar’s degrees. BJP may have instigated its member in bar council to pursue the case, but unlike AAP no BJP minister approached universities from where Mr. Tomar obtained his education.
  • If AAP has a strong case, the party should approach Police to investigate. If necessary, AAP can also approach the court. The same was done earlier in Mrs. Smriti Irani fake degree case. I think Mrs Sonia Gandhi was taken to court by Mr. Subramaniam Swamy on the issue of fake degree.
  • Now that BJP has released degrees of Prime Minister Modi, why does the party not take AAP to court for defamation? Is prime minister giving AAP a long rope to hang from?
  • At the point in time, when Delhi has so many pressing problems, is prime minister’s degree such urgent governance issue that three senior party functionaries devoting time on the matter. Is this not a case of misplaced sense of priority?
  • It is important to understand can anyone under RTI demand to see  degree of another person? Can anyone demand university to release the same? Is there no privacy issue? Was taxpayers money spent on educating the person? If not, what right anyone, in this case Arvind Kejriwal, has to demand another person’s, in this case PM Modi’s, degree from university?
It is possible that AAP wants to keep the pot boiling by keeping the controversy alive. Could all this noise on fake degree is created to divert attention from Agusta Westland helicopter scam? It has been discussed in parliament that media persons were paid off by middle men of Agusta Westland. We know there are prominent members of AAP party who were journalists in earlier life. I hope such an insinuation is not correct. If it turns out to be true, then it will really be very unfortunate. 

Augusta Westland Helicopter Controversy, A Few Points

As I was listening to debate of Agusta Westland Chopper deal in Rajya Sabha, the following points emerged from the speech of Dr. Subrahmaniam Swamy and Mr. Manohar Parrikar, Defence Minister of India: 

  • The altitude at which helicopter would be flying was reduced from 6000 meters to 4500 meters. Height of 6000 meters, roughly 18000 feet was recommended to avoid being hit by shoulder held rockets.
  • Cabin height was agreed to 1.8 metre. It was suggested that this height was agreed upon keeping in view height of security personnel of Special Protection Group (SPG). According to Dr. Swamy, cabin height was altered to narrow down the choice of helicopter to Augusta – Westland.
  • The helicopter was tested abroad; The helicopter that was purchased was not tested in field trial. Because the chosen helicopter was still in development. A different but representative helicopter was tested.
  • When tested in Kashmir, the chosen helicopter did not meet many of the criteria set by the security forces. The competitor helicopter did meet most of the criteria. Yet, Agusta Westland was chosen as the supplier.
  • The price of the helicopter package was originally around 750 crores of rupees. The quote increased to 4600 crores rupees. The elevated price quote was accepted then the vendor brought the price down to 3600 crore. 
  • According to Mr. Manohar Parrikar, price of each helicopter was padded up by at least 60 – 70% over the original price.
  • The previous VVIP choppers was used 29% of full capacity.  Yet the government went on to buy 4 additional machines over and above the desired 8 helicopters.
  • During trial in Italy of Agusta Westland officials, Indian government did not supply necessary documents to Italian court.
Probably standalone, all these points may not appear to be unusal. Taken together, however, it may indicate that a condition was being created to arrive at one chosen vendor. Can an army chief alone undertake such a task? Was he being pressurised or forced or induced to take decision in a certain way? All this should be revealed only by an impartial enquiry.  

Italian judge has given interview to Indian TV channels that a hand written note that emerged during proceedings of trial in Italy, has been authenticated. The note described distribution of money to bureaucrats, politicians and family of air chief.  It is for certain that bribe has been paid. Question is who all received the money. Only an enquiry should make things clear. 

Agusta Westland Helicopter Deal and Political Complicity

Agusta Westland helicopter deal has exploded on the nation. Several top managers of the Italian company Finmechanica have been convicted and sent to jail by an Italian court. In Indian term, the  the Italian court is equivalent to an Indian high court. As part of court record annexure one document is included that lists different categories of people to be paid. The list includes politicians, bureaucrats and military people. One family mentioned in the list, many believe family of the then air chief marshall. Also recorded as part of the judgement is a letter that describes Mrs Sonia Gandhi to be the prime mover behind the helicopter acquisition deal.  This statement made by whosoever, and how so ever dicey, is part of Italian court judgement. Now the question comes to my mind Mrs Gandhi was not part of UPA government. She was, and still is, party president. Apart from being a VVIP, she had no expertise on aircrafts and technology behind it. How can Mrs Gandhi be prime mover in chopper deal being negotiated by government of India? Why was she allowed to play the role by government?

So far congress has defended finding of Italian court with utter disdain. They have mocked government saying  “NDA is in government. Government has all the power and resource of CBI, ED etc. What stopped government from investigating?” They forget that Italian court judge had lamented that government of India, then UPA II government, did not cooperate with the court. Government did not furnish documents to court despite several requests. 

Apart from that, moment an enquiry is launched against party bosses, congress party goes to town claiming vendetta politics. They adopted the same tactics when court summoned Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi along with others on National Herald case. When ED raided house of chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Bir Bhadra Singh, on charge of cooking his tax return, congress cried vengeance and stalled parliament function. I guess things never change. Irrespective of the side they occupy in parliament, ruling or opposition, some parties try to shield the corrupt  sidelining national interest.