Tigers , temples and trains – 24th October – 6th November
My 4th visit to India, third with RWH, but this day beat them all! Up with alarm call at 5.30 and was 1st down for coffee before leaving for our 3rd, and last trip, into the Ranthambhore National Park. We had almost given up hope of a tiger and went out expecting just more deer, monkeys, and birds – interesting as they are. We were due to go to another different zone today so passed through the entrance gate in our ‘safari bus’ and headed off.
Within seconds ‘tiger!’ and we and the other vehicles stopped to see a tiger within a few feet on our left, strolling parallel to the road through the grass and low growing plants. Lots of driver jostling ensued to get their vehicle to get the best view, not possible to focus the camera properly but, who cares! The tiger continued a little further before turning right to amble across the road just in front of us. He went into the long grass beside the road and we thought that was that, as he turned to cross the road again. These memories will stay of that first glimpse of this enigmatic, powerful animal, the primary aim of our visit.
But that was not all.
We went on through very different terrain to a large expanse of water for more surprises; turtles, frogs and so many birds including two different kingfishers who almost posed for us, various waders, egrets, two woolly-necked cranes and much more. Could we hope for anything else? As we passed back through the entrance arch we looked to our left and there a few feet away a crested serpent eagle sat as if posing on a low lying rock, flying, after a few minutes to give us time this time to focus, onto a branch a little above us. This visit had it all!
Newly arrived in Varanasi, all Hindus must visit this most holy place once during their life, we left our hotel by bus to somewhere in this city of 2 million, where we transferred to cycle rickshaws, two to each for an amazing ride through the rush hour with cars, motor cycles, phut phuts, other rickshaws, pedestrians, dogs, cows, noises, smells, lights and more!
The sun slowly set and it was dark as we left the rickshaws and went on foot – totally hair-raising! – down for our first glimpse of Ma Ganga – the sacred river, Mother Ganges.
We were seated in fine seats to view the evening ceremony of ‘Aarti’ – prayers offered to the holy river amidst the sounds of temple bells, chants and rituals before altars at the river edge using light, fire, flowers, incense; seven Brahmin priests , in perfect co-ordination performed this while thousands were out on the river casting lights onto the water. We went out at sunrise – now we could see the River properly – unbelievable, seen so often in pictures, we were truly here. As the sun rose clear over the far side of the river casting myriad colours on the water, we saw the devout bathing, washing their clothes, swimming, taking holy water – even we, could dip our hands into the water symbolically to wash them in the filthy water and to place our lights. We saw two areas where cremations were taking place but can only remember them, as photos would have been wrong. This evening and morning will be unforgettable.