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Ranthambhore Times

I went on a short field trip to Ranthambhore, arriving at Sawai Madhopur Station at 3:20 am. My day started with a quick trip to the park gate on the way to my hotel, hoping to see a leopard sitting on the wall. However, all I found were a herd of blue bulls making their way back to the forest after a meal in nearby villages, which surprised me as they had adapted well to man-made boundaries.

At the new booking office, I found more guides and drivers than actual tourists. It seems like the news about Ranthambhore being sold out until April has taken a toll on the place, as almost all the gypsies in the current booking were available, although all cantors were occupied.

I wanted to try my luck in seeing the cubs of T19, whom I had missed on two previous occasions. As we made our way towards mandook and naya rasta, we saw fresh pug marks, which were encouraging signs that the tiger was around. However, we could not spot it.

At the Sherpur entry point, I met Phoolchand ji, who had joined his duty back at the entry office. He expressed his desire to visit the jungle with me, and I couldn't have asked for anything more. This was his first visit in the last two years since he became ill and wanted to see a tiger, to whom he had dedicated his life since the 1970s.

Back at the same spot at 2:30 pm with Phoolchand ji, we saw fresh pug marks of a tigress with cubs in the same area. These pug marks were not there in the morning, so the elusive big cat was surely around. As we waited patiently and searched the entire area, we were getting sure of their presence but no visible signs yet.

Finally, as we were about to leave the area, Rais bhai, another Ranthambhore stalwart, shouted, "Woh rahey bachhey." They were almost 150 meters away from us, resting under a tree near a talai (water hole). While we could see them, the light was not supportive enough to take pictures. Both the cubs were resting under the tree but were fully alert to any alien sound, a skill that they would require to stay alive. Phoolchand ji said, "Agar bacche khel nahin rahey to iska matlab hai ki maa saath mein nahin hain aur yahan inhe bitha ke gayi hai," which meant that if the cubs are not playing, it's because their mother is not around and has left them there. Phoolchand Ji's knowledge of tigers was surely coming in handy, and so was his eagerness to see his "grandchildren." In the meanwhile, another vehicle had spotted the mother sitting some 500 meters away from our location, and we rushed to that spot to catch a glimpse of her.

Overall, the trip was a success, and I haven't unpacked my bags yet. I am already looking forward to my next adventure.

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