Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ranthambhore - A Trip To Remember.. Forever. - Image Slideshow

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Trip Summary

Travel Destination – Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan

Travel Dates – 27th Oct 2011 to 29th Oct 2011

Animals sightings9 species: Tiger, Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, Nilgai (Bluebull), Chinkara (Antelope), Langur, Ruddy Mongoose, Wild Boar, Indian squirrel, Crocodile.

Bird sightings – 17 species: Peacock, Red-wattled lapwing, Slender-billed Vulture, Red-headed Vulture, Little Cormorant, Black Stork,  Rufous treepie, Black Drongo,  White-throated Kingfisher, Intermediate Egret, Common Kingfisher, Common Babbler, Wooly-necked Stork, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Pond Heron, Changeable Hawk Eagle

Number of safari trips – 5 trips

Mode of safari trips – Canter - 4 trips and Jeep - 1 trip

No. of Big cat sightings – Jeep1 sighting: 1 tigress
Canter – 2 sightings: 2 tigresses and 3 cubs

Photography Equipment

Camera – Nikon D90

Lenses – Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR

Ranthambhore - A Trip to Remember.. Forever. Day 3

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Day 3 – 29 Oct 2011

I was up and ready on the last day of my trip. The events from the previous day had led me to believe that I was gifted with a lot of luck, when it came to tiger sightings. But that belief did not last long as I waited for the canter. The park gates open at 7 am, but there was no sign of the canter even by 8 am!

The canters are released by the forest department only after all the seats are filled. Therefore, if all the 21 seats in a canter were not sold, the remaining passengers had to wait patiently at their hotels. Further, the canters pick up passengers from their respective hotels. This can further delay one’s safari, especially if you have fellow passengers who do not know the meaning of punctuality.

Morning Safari

By the time the canter entered the park gates, it was close to 8.30 am. We had lost about 1.5 hours of safari time. My last safari was not looking good.

In the next half an hour, we spotted Langur monkeys, Sambar deer, Spotted deer and a Ruddy mongoose. 

Ground Inspection - Grey Langur

Ruddy Mongoose

Amongst the birds we saw a Black Kite, Black Drongo and a Rufous Treepie.

Face-to-Face - Black Kite and Black Drongo
The mood in the canter was subdued. The body language of the naturalist was not positive. He appeared to be going through the motions. The long delay in the morning must have frustrated him. The best time to sight tigers in the wild are early morning and late evening. Tigers avoid exerting themselves during mid-day because of the heat. And we appeared to have missed that early morning window due to the late entry.

Ranthambhore Landscape
But, all of a sudden the mood in the canter changed dramatically. A passing canter informed us that a tiger had been sighted about 10 minutes away. We did not need any further persuasion. The canter rushed to the spot where the tiger had been spotted. There were a couple of canters waiting at the scene.

And sure enough, sitting in the grass was a radio-collared Tigress. The Tigress glanced curiously at each canter and it’s occupants. The Tigress lay down on it’s belly still surveying the canters. It was a classic Tiger pose. And the cameras started clicking away to glory. 

The Queen grants an audience to her drooling admirers 
I've got my eyes set on you - Tiger T-17
Each canter spent some time at the best viewpoint and then made way for the other vehicles. Therefore all the vehicles got a good view of the Tigress. We spent a good 20 minutes with the Tigress and then it was time to head back to the park gates.

The Different Moods of the Queen T-17 - Clockwise from Top-left: Cold Stare, Bored Yawn, Curious Gaze & Grimace
As we learnt later, this was T-17 (a.k.a. Sundari), daughter of the legendary Machli T-16 (a.k.a. Lady of the lake). T-17 now ruled the Lake area after dethroning her mother T-16. The queen tigress had a royal look about her. She appeared to be bold and oozing confidence.

The Tigress had saved what was otherwise turning out to be a very frustrating day. It brought back the excitement, thrill and smiles in the canter. Happy faces and excited chatter filled the canter upto the park gates.

At the park gates the Langur monkeys were also happy and chattering away. It was fun photographing the Langur monkeys especially a sad looking loner.

Hmmphh! The Tourists only care about Tigers - Grey Langur

Thanks for noticing me. But make it quick please. I need to get back to my sulking ways - Grey Langur
I returned to the hotel, quickly finished my breakfast & bragging and set off for Jaipur to catch my flight.

It had been a trip that had exceeded all my expectations. The number of sightings and the quality of those sightings had left me awestruck. Either, tigers were easily sighted in the wild or I was blessed with extreme good luck. [I would realize a couple of years later that both were not true. But that’s a different story and will be covered in a later post].

Not only the tigers, the healthy population of other animals as well as the beauty of the forests and it’s lakes had left me breathless. I knew that I would have to return to this magical place again (and again).

Goodbye Till we meet again - Ranthambhore
With fond memories it was time to bid adieu. Hasta La Vista Ranthambhore!

Ranthambhore - A Trip To Remember.. Forever. Day 2

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Day 2 – 28 Oct 2011

I woke up early on Day 2. My eagerness and enthusiasm had not been dampened after Day one. And to my absolute delight, my morning safari was booked on a jeep/gypsy. This miracle was due to the fact, that, a couple of guests had to back out due to health reasons. With due respect to those guests, it was a good omen for me. 

Safaris on Gypsies offer better wildlife sightings than Canters due to multiple reasons   
1. Gypsies/Jeeps enter the park on time as there are only 6 seats to fill. On the other hand Canters have 21 seats and filling up these seats can take time
2. Gypsies/Jeeps make far lesser noise than canters and therefore do not scare away the wildlife
3. Gypsies/Jeeps can access narrower paths and are more manoeuverable.

Morning Safari

We entered the park gates at 7 am sharp. We had been allotted Zone 1 for the safari. As soon as we entered the zone, the naturalist was on red alert. He could sense that there was an element of tension in the air. And then the alarm call of a Langur monkey shattered the silence. We were now more or less sure that a predator, either a Tiger or Leopard, was in the area. We strained our eyes to spot any movement.

The next 15 minutes of the safari will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life!!!

A Tiger came out of the foliage and crossed the path in front of the gypsy. “Tiger! Tiger!” whispered the naturalist. The blood rushed to my head, I was breathless and my mind went numb.. Excitement was at it’s peak!

The Tiger was absolutely beautiful and majestic. The Tiger sat on one corner of the path. We twisted and stretched to get the best view. The cameras started clicking fast and furious. By now, we had been joined by a couple of more gypsies. The Tiger observed the tourists on each gypsy carefully. My heart was pounding but my Index finger did not stop pressing the camera shutter.

Momentous Occasion - My first tiger sighting in the wild - Tiger T-39

'Ah! Breakfast on Wheels, I wish these tourists would climb down from the vehicle' - Tiger T-39
The Tiger then got up and walked down the path away from the gypsies. The beautiful animal was so powerful yet so graceful. We followed the animal at a safe distance. It sniffed at a tree and then sprayed the tree in order to mark it’s territory. A few more moments later it strode into the forest. It was a mesmerizing encounter and we yearned for more.

Powerful yet so Graceful - Tiger T-39

Territory Marking - Tiger T-39

The Vanishing Act - Tiger T-39

Then we understood how an experienced naturalist can make a huge difference in one’s chances of sighting a tiger.

The other gypsies went on their way. As we recovered our breath, our naturalist deliberated for a few brief moments and then instructed the driver to drive to a certain spot in the forest. The ride was a rough one. After a few minutes we reached the spot. And at the very same spot, the tiger emerged from the bushes!!!

It was sheer magic as far as I was concerned. The naturalist had successfully anticipated the exact spot from where the tiger would emerge. Sheer genius! 

As I learnt later, the tigers in Ranthambhore follow a specific route in the forest. Therefore, for an experienced naturalist, with proper knowledge of the forest, it was possible to make a calculated guess about the tiger’s route.

The tiger put on a brilliant display. First it sniffed at a tree. And then it contorted it’s face into a grimace. This was a display of flehmen response, an action by which Tigers and other  big cats investigate odours and scents. Then the animal raised itself and rested it’s front paws onto the tree trunk. Then it went full stretch and started rubbing its body against the trunk. Standing on it’s hind legs, with it’s front legs stretched, it appeared to be at least 10-11 feet in length, if not more. Inspite of having a zoom lens I could not fit the entire tiger into my frame!!!

Big-cat Investigation Techniques in the Wild - Tiger T-39

Body Scent-marking - Tiger T-39

Final check-up - Tiger T-39
The tiger then marked the tree trunk by scratching it’s claws on the bark. It’s front legs were so muscular and powerful! I understood why one swipe with those legs can be fatal to most animals. Finally it lowered itself onto the ground and started striding down the path. We had to reverse the jeep in order to avoid getting too close to the tiger. The tiger was nonchalant and glanced occasionally towards the gypsy. It made me realize how weak and vulnerable humans are when compared to these majestic animals.

Make Way - The King Cometh - Tiger T-39
The tiger then marked a second tree, strolled some more and then spray-marked a third tree. It finally sniffed at the tree and strode into the forest. All the cameras were clicking continuously throughout the past 10 minutes. As the tiger started striding into the forest, the rest of the gypsies arrived. They had unfortunately missed the main show but got to see the final moments.

More Investigation - Tiger T-39
Final Marking and Goodbye - Tiger T-39
I was trembling with feverish excitement. My mind was numb with awe from the scenes that I had witnessed. This was my first sighting of a tiger in the wild and what a sighting it had been!!!

All of us in the jeep could not wipe off the broad smiles from our faces. There was excited chattering in the jeep. We were just 20 minutes into the safari but it had seemed like an eternity. After the adrenaline rush from the tiger sighting wore off I was drained completely.

We continued with the safari. I went through the motions of photographing the animals that we saw. I simply could not focus again after the high that we experienced in the morning. For the record we sighted Sambar deer, Spotted deer, Wild boars, Langurs followed by Peahens, Rufous treepies and Jungle babblers.

Sambar Deer Mother and Fawn
Adorable - Deer fawn

Wild Boar and Family

During the safari, I took some photographs of the forest itself. It was lush green and very serene. A very calming and eye-pleasing scene as compared to the city sights.

Serene and Pleasant - Ranthambhore

Lush Green and Beautiful forest - Ranthambhore
The safari came to an end and I spent the rest of the morning bragging about the tiger sighting. I was over-eager to show the tiger photographs to anybody and everybody. It did not bother me in the least that they were least interested in my photos!!

I finally got a grip on my emotions and proceeded to the breakfast hall.

There were two more safaris to come and who knows what experiences they may hold.

Afternoon Safari

A short afternoon nap had calmed me enough. I was relaxed and looked forward to the next safari. The safari was on a canter. We entered the park gates a bit late around 3.45 pm. 

Always Welcoming - Ranthambhore National Park
We were greeted by some Rufous treepies and Jungle babblers. The birds were foraging for food and weren’t shy of approaching the canter. I wasn’t complaining. It gave me a good opportunity to photograph them from up-close.
Colourful - Rufous Treepie

After a short drive into the zone, we came to the Rajbagh Talao (Lake). It was a very serene and picturesque spot. In the middle of the lake were the ruins of an era bygone. The scene deserved a good wide-angled lens to capture it’s beauty. But I had to be content with whatever my medium telephoto zoom lens could capture. Something is better than nothing.

Beautiful Ruins - Ranthambhore

Picturesque and Serene - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore

Calm and Soothing - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore

Scenic Ruins - Rajbagh Talao, Ranthambhore
We spotted some Woolly-necked Storks, Peacocks, Egrets and Grey Herons on the banks of the lake. We moved on further and came across Sambar deer, Spotted deer and Langur monkeys. There was a crocodile, basking in the sun, on the banks. It had the beautiful spot all to itself. One of the advantages of being a top predator is that you get to keep the prime spots in the forest to yourself. 

Birds Galore - Clockwise from Top-left: Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Heron and Egret, Peacocks and Egret

Hide-n-Seek - Grey Langur

Portrait - Sambar Deer

Proud Antlers - Spotted Deer Stag

Spot the Predator - Crocodile
We continued with the safari and came across a Nilgai (Bluebull) in the company of Spotted Deer and Langurs. Nilgai belong to the Antelope family. They are the largest antelopes in Asia. The Nilgais appear strange, built like small horses. The male is bluish-black in colour (hence the name bluebull) whereas the female is brownish in colour. I took some photos of an Egret perched atop a tree. A short while later the real excitement started!

Not a horse, Not a Cow but a Nilgai (Bluebull)
Munching Away - Nilgai (Bluebull)
We came upon two gypsies waiting at a particular spot. On enquiring we learnt that there was a tiger in the vicinity. And the tiger was not alone. It was a tigress with cubs!!

Needless to say, my excitement reached fever pitch. Our canter joined the two gypsies in the waiting game. I strained my eyes to catch the slightest movement and my ears to hear the faintest of sounds. Within no time, we were joined by two more canters. Now, an entire crowd was playing the waiting game. All the vehicles changed their positions on a couple of occasions. Manoeuvering the canters on the narrow path was a challenge.

And then it happened! A Tigress emerged from the foliage onto the forest path. The tigress looked back at the foliage and appeared to be coaxing the cubs to come out. Initially the cubs were hesitant to come out in the open. They were wary of the vehicles and it’s excited occupants. But with gentle persuasion from it’s mother, they came out. There were three cute and adorable cubs! The Tigress was T-19, daughter of the legendary Machli (T-16) and sister of T-17.

Mother leads the way - Tiger T-19

To come out or Not to come out, Tis the Question - A cub hesitates to come into the open to join it's mother T-19
What followed was a most irresponsible piece of driving from one of the canter drivers. In order to provide a better view to his passengers the driver raced towards the tigers and came to a screeching halt a short distance away from the tigers. The cubs were startled by the sudden appearance of the vehicle and the screeching brakes. But thankfully they did not panic or rush back into the forest. In addition to scaring the cubs, the driver managed to raise so much dust that any decent photography was impossible. 

As it is, the light was poor because it was close to sunset. On top of it, the air was filled with red dust.

The cubs crossed the path and followed it’s mother in the tall dry grass. The cubs peered at the vehicles occasionally with a lot of curiosity. Their curiosity-filled faces were a cute sight indeed. It was hard to imagine that within 2 years they would grow to become the rulers of the jungle. 

What's the fuss all about? - Curiosity in the air before Mother's calming influence - T-19 and cubs
After some encouragement from it’s mother, the trio came back onto the path. They walked a short distance alongside it’s mother which was in the tall grass. Finally the tigress led it’s cubs across the tall grass and into the forest beyond. Without doubt, it had been an exhilarating experience. 

An Evening Stroll - T-19 and cubs

The Last Glance - One last curious glance from a cub before the exit
The cubs were adorable and it was a treat to have sighted them at such close quarters.

It was close to sunset. We made our way back to the park gates. There was excitement and contentment on the faces of the occupants in the canter. We stopped to take some photos of a Chinkara (Indian antelope). The Chinkara is the smallest antelope in Asia. We also took some sunset photographs before returning to the park gates.

The Lone Ranger - Chinkara (Indian Antelope)

Sunset - Ranthambhore
Back at the hotel, it was a happy lot that gathered for dinner. Lively and excited conversations accompanied dinner, thanks to the wonderful tiger sightings.

As I retired for the night, I felt a sense of satisfaction. It had been a very successful trip so far with one more safari still to go.

Ranthambhore - A Trip To Remember.. Forever. Day 1

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Day 1 – 27 Oct 2011

I had reached Ranthambhore the previous night and checked in around midnight. The late check-in and lack of sleep did not prevent me from getting up early in the morning for the morning safari. As I sipped my morning tea waiting for the safari vehicle, I grew restless and impatient. The anticipation and high expectations were perhaps getting to me. 

About the Safaris
The safaris are conducted by the Rajasthan Forest Department. The park remains open from October to June and remains closed for the monsoon season (June/July to September).

Safari Timings in Ranthambore
Safaris in Ranthambore are scheduled in the early mornings and late afternoons. Each safari lasts for about 3.5 hours.
Period                                 Morning Trip                      Evening Trip
October                            7:00 am to 10:30 am        2:30 pm to 6:00 pm
November to January     7:00 am to 10:30 am        2:00 pm to 5:30 pm
February to March           6:30 am to 10:00 am        2:30 pm to 6:00 pm
April to mid-May              6:00 am to 9:30 am          3:00 pm to 6:30 pm
Mid-May to June              6:00 am to 9:30 am          3:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Safari Vehicles in Ranthambore
The safaris are conducted either in gypsies (8-seater open jeeps) or canters (21-seater open trucks). The gypsies are the preferred mode for most tourists as they are much quieter and enter the park on time, as there are only 6 seats to fill. These factors greatly improve the chances of sighting tigers. The bookings are on first-come-first-serve basis.

Advance Safari bookings can be made online (ideally, book well in advance) at

Alternatively, you can get the advance booking done through a travel agent or your hotel, by paying a premium over and above the online rates. The premium depends on the travel agency or hotel, which you approach. 

You can also book your safari under current booking at the park gates. However, there are chances that you may not be successful as all the seats may be booked well in advance. Therefore your chance of getting a safari seat will depend on cancellations, which may be a big risk.

Zones in Ranthambore NP
There are a total of nine zones in Ranthambore. Zones 1 to 5 are within the Ranthambore National Park while Zones 6 to 9, are newer zones outside the National Park. When booking your safari you can either book a safari within the National Park or in any of the specific zones outside the park.

Each safari trip is conducted in any one of the zones and you cannot travel across zones in a single safari. When you book a safari within the National park you do not have the choice of selecting your zone ( 1- 5). The zone is assigned automatically by a computer-based system about an hour before the safari begins. Zones (1 – 5) are generally preferred over the newer zones, because of the higher number of tiger-sightings in these zones.

Morning Safari

The canter eventually arrived at 6.30 am and we reached the park gates by 7 am..At the park gates, a Langur mother and it’s little one welcomed us. The little one amused us with it’s antics. It capped it’s performance with a very brave and daring leap to reach the top of the office building right behind it’s mother. 

Welcome to Ranthambhore - Langur

Leap of Faith - Langur

After the naturalist finished the paperwork, we entered the park and proceeded to our allotted zone.

We spotted a Sambar deer as soon as we entered the zone. The Sambar deer was pretty relaxed and went about it's way in a leisurely manner. An indication that there wasn't a predator nearby. 

Sambar Deer
This zone offered a stunning view of the Ranthambhore fort. The 10th century hill fort was an imposing sight to behold. A grand reminder of Ranthambhore's majestic past. 

Grand and Majestic - Ranthambhore Fort

Reminder of a Royal era bygone - Ranthambhore Fort

Imposing and Timeless - Ranthambhore Fort
As we rode further into the zone, the naturalist spotted some pugmarks on the forest path. The naturalist scrutinized the pugmarks in order to get an idea whether the pugmarks were fresh, the gender of the tiger, the direction it took etc. We waited at the spot in silence, hoping to hear an alarm call or two. And then I saw stripes!

Hope for the hopeful - Pugmark
However, it was not black stripes on orange. Rather, it was white stripes on brown. An Indian palm squirrel on a tree nearby! With nothing better to do, I set about photographing the squirrel as well as the pugmarks. The suppressed smiles of my co-passengers did not discourage me. They might possibly have realized that I was a rookie and therefore my excitement on spotting a squirrel.

Stripes of a Different Kind - Indian Palm Squirrel

Stripes of a White Kind - Indian Palm Squirrel
After some time, we started moving and spotted some spotted deer (Chital) followed by a Ruddy mongoose in tall grass. The deer were busy grazing and did not grant us too much attention.

Deer Oh Deer! - Spotted Deer
Later in the safari came the birds.  First we saw a peacock which was then followed by a Red-wattled lapwing. The lapwing stood on the ground and made for a good photography subject.  Next we saw a Slender-billed vulture and a Red-headed vulture, though, from some distance away. The vultures were perched on the branches of dead trees. Had they been any closer we could have got some decent pictures. But photography woes aside, it was a joy to sight these birds in person for the very first time.

Waiting for a Kill - Slender-billed Vulture and Red-headed Vulture
Red-wattled Lapwing
Next we came to a small pond with a couple of crocodiles in it. An egret and a little cormorant stood on the edge of the pond. After a while we came across a Black stork wading in some shallow water. The Stork was primping and preening itself. I wonder whether it lastly admired it's reflection in the water. A Rufous treepie and a Black drongo were perched on a tree nearby. Though there were no tigers in sight we saw a lot of Sambar and Spotted deer herds. 

Primp,  Preen and Admire - Black Stork

Clockwise from Top-left - Black Drongo, White-throated Kingfisher, Egret and Cormorant and Peacock

A dip in the water - Crocodile
The large numbers of these herbivores indicated that Ranthambhore had a healthy forest that could sustain these animals and thereby the prime predator in this forest, the Tiger.
Sambar Deer Herd
As we headed back towards the park gates we stopped to photograph the Common Kingfisher. Even though common it was a beauty to behold. At the park gates we saw a lot of Langur monkeys. They were exuberant and playful. True to their name, they were monkeying around. They made good subjects to practice one’s photography. Capturing their fast and sudden movements was a challenge.
Beautiful Blue - Common Kingfisher
No monkey business - Grey Langur 
The safari came to an end without the slightest sniff of a tiger sighting. But the first experience of a wildlife safari was very memorable. The birds, langurs and deer were in their plenty. The beautiful and serene forests were a soothing balm for the senses. There were 4 more safaris to come and I was positive.

It was time for breakfast, then lunch and some rest before the afternoon safari.

Afternoon Safari

The afternoon safari started at 3.30 pm. The safari was on a canter and it was in a different zone. The wildlife sighting started with a crocodile sighting on the edge of a water body. The crocodile was stone-still and did not react to our presence. People on land did not excite the crocodiles as much as people in the water would have!

Stone-still - Crocodile
We moved on and came across a Ruddy mongoose. The mongoose was well-camouflaged in that it’s colour was exactly the same as the colour of the ground. I had a tough time spotting it and by the time I did, it was out of reach for a decent photograph.

The Langurs came next and posed for a few photographs. The weather was cloudy & gloomy and did not assist in the photography. Then we saw some Sambar deer from relatively close quarters. The Sambar deer is the favourite food of the Tigers. Their salty meat appeals to the Tiger's taste. By now, the light was slightly better and I could get some decent photographs. 

Tourists, Tourists Everywhere! - Grey Langur

Sambar Deer

Sambar Deer
And soon the naturalist spotted tiger pugmarks in the dust. The news of the pugmarks sent a thrill down my spine. Was a tiger lurking nearby? Was I on the brink of spotting my first tiger in the wild?

Not a recent one - Tiger Pugmark
But alas, it was not to be. The pugmarks were not fresh and were many hours old if not more.

As we continued the safari, we came across the cutest sight on a wildlife safari. It was a deer fawn that had been rescued by the forest officials. The fawn had been abandoned by it’s mother. It would be taken in and looked after by the forest department. The fawn was the center of attention for the next several minutes. It was cute & adorable and it’s eyes were the prettiest possible. A Doe-eyed beauty!

As cute as can be - Deer fawn

Doe eyes to kill for - Deer fawn
After we had our fill of the adorable fawn, we moved on and came across some Nilgai (Blue bull) in the company of spotted Deer. The spotted Deer were fairly large in numbers. During winters, the deer grow thick fur, their winter coat. 

Nilgai (Bluebull) in the company of Spotted Deer

Nilgai (Bluebull) in the company of Spotted Deer

We've been spotted - Spotted Deer Herd
There was a deer stag in the herd with majestic and attractive antlers. As I learnt from the naturalist, the stags shed their antlers every year. The antlers being rich in calcium are then consumed as food. Natural recycling at it’s best!

Proud and Mighty Antlers - Spotted Deer Stag
The safari was coming to an end. We saw a White-throated kingfisher and a pair of Red-wattled lapwings. The lapwings had their back to each other. Possibly a couple after a lover's tiff. Finally came the Sambar deer and a lone Indian antelope (Chinkara) grazing in the grass.

White-throated Kingfisher

After the Lover's tiff? - Red-wattled Lapwings

Chinkara - Indian Antelope
Ranthambhore has some beautiful lakes within the National Park. These lakes are very picturesque and offer good photography opportunities. We spent some time at the lake watching the sun set for the day.

Reflections at Sunset
Thus ended the first day of my first Wildlife safari. Even though there were no tiger sightings, my optimism and expectations were high.

Tomorrow is Another Day!