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Seeing a tiger up close in the open jungle is an experience like nothing else. A medley of feelings –  respect, fear, awe and pity. More about the Raja with the striped robe a little later. Now let’s rewind a bit and come back to the so-called civilisation in a concrete jungle called Pune.
Rohinton Mehta (aka Uncle Ronnie) of Smart Photography, Sanjay Raikar (our official photographer) and yours truly teamed up to drive the robust Toyota Fortuner from Pune all the way to Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan in our continuing humble attempt to create awareness about the importance of saving the tiger. We travelled through Maharashtra, Gujarat and, finally, over the royal sands of Rajasthan where the Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary is located. The journey began from Pune at an unearthly hour of 3.45 am and, after tearing through the murk and fog, we reached Thane before the city woke up. We remained glued to NH 8 and the Fortuner with its high ground clearance, large wheels and rugged built had to bear a lot of off-roading, which helped us overtake the never-ending queue of battered lorries and trailers at the numerous toll booths. The road was more or less okay, so we kept driving without stopping for lunch to make up for the time lost earlier. Thankfully, the Toyota did not complain and neither did Sanjay or Uncle Ronnie, who got busy munching some sandwiches.

Crossing Vadodara we opted for the Ahmedabad Expressway. It was a welcome change to drive on clear, well maintained roads without jay walkers or cows on them. The flat surface combined with the SUV’s cool air-conditioner and cushy seats made a perfect setting for a nice siesta during the sunny afternoon. As my companions enjoyed their nap, I took the opportunity to make the Toyota’s pedal kiss the metal. Soon we reached the outskirts of Ahmedabad with me still relishing the experience. After some light refreshments we were back on NH 8 and followed the Golden Quadrilateral. It was late afternoon when we crossed Himatnagar and soon bid goodbye to Modi-land to entered ‘Tiger-land’ (read: Rajasthan). We were bang on target and reached Udaipur by early evening, where we checked in at RTDC’s resort for the night’s stay. After a refreshing shower we were having spicy local cuisine at a cosy restaurant called Aam Sarai, overlooking the beautiful Lake Palace. A day well spent.Since we had already covered a large part of the distance, day two was relatively less taxing. Parked in the resort’s portico, shimmering under the rising sun was the Fortuner eager to take us to our destination. We chose to go via Kota as the roads were wide, flat and free of traffic. By afternoon we entered Sawai Madhopur and checked in at the glorious Taj Vivanta. We received a warm welcome from its GM, Mr Nagendra Singh Hada, a cheerful gentleman sporting a typical handlebar moustache and breeches, apt for the royal setting.
We rushed for the afternoon safari so that Sanjay and uncle Ronnie could shoot the tiger… with their Canon cameras, of course. The sanctuary is named after Fort Ranthambore, which is situated in the heart of the forest, and there are about 38 tigers in and around the reserve. Spread over 1,394 sq km of land, the reserve has sparse undergrowth and its dry deciduous thorn forest makes sighting of the otherwise elusive lord of the jungle comparatively easier. No wonder President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh were lured by Ranthambore and returned satiated. The ancient structures surrounded by the forest make it a breathtaking spectacle. The Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary was at one time a hunting reserve, but now, having been transformed into a tiger reserve, the hunters have become the saviours of this majestic beast.


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