Machhli The glorious legend of Ranthambhore
Author – Ritu Bhardwaj
Legendary tigress Machli needs no introduction as she is synonymous with Ranthambhore in the heart of every admirer of this quintessential wild scape. We have always been fascinated by the celebrities from civilized human societies that hold excellence in their respective field and have a magnetic aura to attract beholders, but Machhli from the rugged grandeur of the wild has carved a niche for her stardom which in no way is unparallel to the status of her human counterparts. She has her fan club and I am a proud follower.
My first encounter with Machhli or ‘Lady of the Lakes’ happened way back in the year 1998 when my husband Dr Gobind Sagar Bhardwaj was Dy. Conservator of Forests in Tonk a neighboring district to Sawaimadhopur. It was Christmas week of December 1998 when we had some guests at our place and we decided to take them for a jungle safari to Ranthambhore. I was equally excited as it was my first trip to this famous tiger land.
It was only a two-hour drive from Tonk but we preferred spending a night in Sawai Madhopur rather than risking the pleasure of our morning safari in the hustle of the early morning drive. At sharp 7:00 AM, we were at the Jogi Mahal gate entry point. The forest guard in our jeep told us that an official jeep driver has spotted the mother tigress with her four cubs in the Rajbagh area near dhoodh baori.
Sighting Tigress with cubs, this very thought ignited my excitement and I started dreaming of some sequences shown in a wild discovery movie. As the Rajbagh area is not far away from the entry gate, my fantasies of watching tiny cubs playing with their mother could not hold me longer. The tigress with her three cubs was resting on the roadside just adjacent to a small pond of the Rajbagh lake system. Two cubs were near her, one on the other side of the pond and the last one was quite far away near the Rajbagh ruins.
The cubs were sub-adults, around a year old and almost equal to their mother’s size, a reason enough to dampen my soaring imagination that the cubs were not more than the size of a domestic cat. Everybody was enjoying watching the lazing family which for sure had feasted upon a kill stealthily kept in some safe and secluded area. Some nature guides on the tourist vehicle told us that this mother tigress was Machli, the resident female of the Rajbagh area.
We watched the four cubs at leisure, in their serene domain growing under the vigilant eyes of their mother, learning every skill before they attain adulthood and live on their own. At that time, I didn’t have the faintest idea that one of these cubs would turn out to be a milestone in the history of Ranthambhore and my relationship with this area and the ‘would be queen’ would carry on this long.
After that; we went to Ranthambhore for a visit or two but could not sight a tiger. Gobind was not having enough time to frequent this area as he had commitments for his division, but destiny had some other plans and after four years in Tonk in 2002 he was posted to Ranthambhore as Dy. Director Ranthambhore National Park.
During his tenure of three and a half years, we got ample opportunities to track this ‘queen of Rajbagh and be fortunate spectators to her prime years in Ranthambhore as she reared her cubs from different litters to maturity. During that interaction of three and a half years and even after that, we came across many interesting incidents, a few of which I would like to share with you all in my consecutive write-ups.
About Author-Ritu Bhardwaj is an avid wildlife lover herself & has spent numerous days & hours tracking these striped beauties at Ranthambhore along with her husband Dr. Gobind Sagar Bhardwaj, who was posted as DCF there. Dr Bhardwaj’s book Tracking Tigers at Ranthambhore is one of the best books written on Ranthambhore.