An amazing day in Ranthambore

T19 regal w cubs in small pond ©

Finally A peaceful family moment although under the glare of many photographers, who waited patiently for this moment for 2 days


30 years of coming to Ranthambhore, including 5 trips this year alone, 2 days of sitting under a scorching sun in 46 degrees heat, waiting… and waiting.  And then mother nature finally tells me, only as she can, that ‘I ain’t seen nothing yet’. The day began when we Followed T19, probably on a hunt, in the lake area in the late afternoon. She walked all the way across the open landscape to her 3 cubs who were hidden in a cluster of shrubs.  They hadn’t seen her for 2 days -we knew because we had been waiting and watching for the past few days.


T19 looking for cubs

She comes across the flatland between Rajbagh & Jhalra towards her cubs, momentarily disturbed by people near Padam talao


As we followed her up towards the Jhalra shrubbery, a couple of cubs darted out, hoping it was mom, but fearful and unsure. She scolded them for running out to greet her prematurely. She growled at them, sending them scurrying back because she didn’t want them exposed until she was with them.   cub straight stare ©

One of the cubs comes darting out 


T19 calling for cubs ©

As she comes closer, she calls out to them.. a chuffing moan.



cub running to mom calling ©



cub running towards mom ©

A cub responds and comes out prematurely..

cub stopping at moms sight ©

Her moan turns into a stern cough.. stopping the cub dead in his tracks



cub running from mom ©

He turns and runs back under cover… 

T19 mom kiss with canine ©

.. until she finally settles down in a little waterhole and is then joined by all 3 

Once she felt they were safe she nuzzled them only as a mother would. She then lounged with them lovingly in a pool of water, frolicking with them for half hr. The cubs were going crazy with excitement, hyperactive and playful after 2 days of being by themselves in the bushes. she then rounded them up firmly – a tough mommy once again- and then proceeded to trek many miles with her cubs ( with us following..) across rocks, granite escarpments, across the lake area, across open grasslands, through dry brush and into all kinds of terrain till we eventually lost them in some tall grass ( perhaps she was taking them to a kill ) This was a 2 hour sighting and a tiger photographer’s dream. AND just when we though we couldn’t handle any more excitement for the day-  as we drive out of the park – a leopard on the ramparts!!! … A lone sentinel. We  patiently wait for her to get up so that we could get a nice shot as the light is fading. 20 minutes later she finally does get up- and so do, lo & behold, 2 leopard cubs! They climb up on the wall and join her in a stunning silhouette of 3 leopards on the rampart!! A surreal ending to a surreal day!!! : )) ( will add more pictures as I go through, 3 full memory cards of insanity : )


T19, On Broadway

T19 kill 1 © Scouring the east bank of Rajbagh lake in Ranthambhore, we hear the nicest sound one can possible imagine under the circumstances – a sambar alarm call. It was sunrise on a chilly January morning and even the Painted storks in the lake stood like icicles, too frozen to move. The lake looked golden with a soft mist of condensation rising towards the sky – like a giant cup of freshly brewed coffee.

We were beginning to hear sounds of a struggle in the sun-dappled cluster of Dhonk trees to our right. We rushed towards the sounds, and so did a bevy of other jeeps, each jockeying to outmaneuver the other. As we closed in, we were greeted by the the magnificent sight of T19 ( Krishna ) dragging a freshly killed Chital doe . This scene reminded me of a Broadway play. A beautifully designed stage covered in purple lichen undergrowth, almost like a rich velvet curtain with sunlight arching through and piercing the trees, spotlighting the performer(s), all set to the music of the bird life on the water.  What a spectacle!T19 kill 2 ©

It was obvious to me that T19 was going to drag her kill across the jungle track and into the clumps of dry grass alongside the lake. Luckily for me, the jeep-herd thought so too and raced ahead trying to anticipate where she would cross, leaving me alone to capture this scene with a 500mm lens, in its entirety. Though I did follow the jeeps eventually and got some close ups ( above ), the first image is the one I was the happiest with.

Ranthambhore’s Other Mother

Marilyn reference©

While the legendary Machali ( T16 ) is celebrated the world over as the quintessential queen mother of Ranthambhore and global concern over her advancing age and failing health has reached obsessive and hysterical proportions, there is another Grande Dame that is quietly writing her own chapter in the history book of Ranthambhore tigers.

Twelve year old Gayatri ( T 22 ) is the mother and grandmother of star attractions, Ustaad ( T24 ) and Sultan ( T72 ) respectively. Fairly large for a female, she is a shy and elusive tiger, and now not seen very often. Gayatri currently traverses the Lahpur and Chinndali areas of the park.

T 22 gayatri in the pool ©

If you are fortunate enough to sight her, you will see that she exudes an elegance and powerful femininity reminiscent of her namesake, the Maharani of Jaipur. Gayatri is now in her ‘golden years’ but I would like to believe that old age is not a weakness- it is the strength of survivorship and triumph over life’s many trials and challenges.
Given the dominant nature of her progeny, it seems her legacy will be more than a footnote in the shadow of the superstar, Machali.


T22 towards camera low ©

T22 growling ©

Sultan, the heir apparent of Ranthambhore

Sultan portrait ©

Heir to the throne of Ranthambhore, is the huge & handsome 2 ½ yr. old T-72, aka Sultan, who shares a benign and unusually close relationship with his father, the notoriously dominant T-24. This is most likely to change, and perhaps violently, after this year’s monsoons, which will wash away the carefully marked tiger territories creating new vacuums of habitat. Stomping grounds then will be fought over yet again as they have been since time immemorial.. A wonderful sighting with my son, my close friend, and the ultimate tiger Yadvendra Singh, who tracked Sultan brilliantly.

A Leopard mom in Jawai

leopard yawning in den ©leopard in a cave © leopard female marking on hill ©

A Leopard LOL ? A private joke, in her private den?   Perhaps, but this is a leopard mom of two young cubs waking up after a hearty meal and a late afternoon siesta – its time to go hunting. It was obvious that she had a full belly but she it appeared that she needed to feed her cubs. We followed her the whole evening, stalking for prey, till the time she came very close and got into position to make the final kill, but darkness made sighting & photography impossible –    and wedidn’t want to interfere with the hunt. We were rewarded at the crack of dawn, the next morning. She had successfully made a kill and was resting on a rockface in the morning light with her 2 well fed cubs frolicking around her.   leopard jawai with shadow ©   What is remarkable is the fact that the leopard has no natural prey here. Their diet consists of small mammals and rodents and the occasional village dog or a herdsman’s goat. Oddly, these herdsmen are accepting of this. Losing a goat or a village dog to the leopard is a small price to pay. They do get compensation even though this isn’t govt. land or even  under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department. Nevertheless the Rabari feel a kinship and protectiveness towards this predator. The leopard preserves their way of life, simply by being there.  This ‘tolerance’ is rather unusual, given the fact in most other zones of man/animal conflict around the world, the animal is seen as a threat to livestock or urbanization and is inevitably killed, beaten or burned to death by the locals or in a rare case, sent to a zoo. This is indeed a real life Noah’s arc.leopard mom cubs with cactus ©

A young leopard in Jawai

leopard subadult on ledge ©A shy leopard sub adult in Jawai, Rajasthan, India.

Yes, you with that loud camera.. CUT IT OUT!
.. or I’ll melt into that lovely background you see in the photo
.. and btw, tell those Canon people of yours to make quieter cameras if you want decent wildlife pictures. God knows you pay through your nose for them!’



T24 face thru straw ©

The alpha male of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India

T24, aka Ustaad. the sadr-e-riyaasat, the capo dei capi, the big daddy-O, not just of Sultan, the handsome young heir apparent picture above, but of large tracts of Ranthambhore. There are more stories about him than of Charles Sobhraj, Salman Khan, and Putin combined and his direct gaze will make you involuntarily take a backward step.

Many tiger experts feel that he is still too strong, too big and too powerful for his son, Sultan to challenge him this year. Let us see where this story goes next season, when the monsoon rains will erase all territorial markings and a new chapter will begin in lives of these magnificent cats.

The Tiger Obsession

sultan extreme cu ©

Sometimes we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it’.

I grew up in Delhi, around great musicians, intellectuals, and around uncles who were fond of hunting and fishing and took us youngsters on camping trips and holidays to remote places frequently.

Ever since I can remember, I would be driving out of Delhi with luggage strapped to the roof of an old Ambassador car, egg sandwiches and a tea thermos tucked in the rear window shelf, fishing rods and guns stacked in the trunk, headed to some strange and unknown corner of India. Within a couple of hours outside of Delhi, the transformation would begin. From the urban bustle to the languid undulating rural landscapes. Gradually, I would notice a sharp freshening of the air, the smell of trees, rivers, flowers, mountains and a magically a desolate forest would emerge and keep me enchanted by its many wonders, through my holidays and to this very day.

Over the years, along with music, this passion for the wilderness has remained a constant in my life. I recently wrote an article, in partnership with my son Ishan Dhar, who shares my passion for ‘all things jungly’  for Condenast Traveller magazine on the obsession of seeing a tiger in the wild. I thought as my first blogpost, I’d share the expanded version of the printed article. ( The link to the printed article follows )


As we leave the bustling town of Sawai Madhopur and enter ‘Singhdwar’, the appropriately named entrance to the Ranthambore tiger sanctuary, there is a palpable change in the air. You can almost feel it on your skin. For someone from an urban lifestyle, it is a disorienting ride into a kind of DisneyWorld, except that this one isn’t make-believe.

Shafts of filtered sunlight pierce through prehistoric trees, and disappear into the deep dark thickets, quietly changing the color spectrum around us. Eerie gigantic banyan trees drift by, with their overhanging limbs swallowing up the relics of ancient monuments.

We motor on. Through over-amplified sounds of crickets and owls. Through the rutting bellows of a male Sambhar deer echoing across the escarpments. And the flutter of startled peacocks scampering away from our jeep. But the most dramatic sound one hears in the jungle, is its overwhelming silence.

This is the home of the Ranthambore tiger and we are following the hunch of an old forest guard on the whereabouts of a dominant male, rather impressively called ‘Ustaad’.

Tigers have captivated human imagination from the beginning of civilisation. According to leading tiger authority, Valmik Thapar, “ it has been feared, worshipped, admired, hunted, studied, photographed, written about, immortalised in art and poetry, and has enthralled king and commoner alike.” The seals of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa feature several animals as symbols – the tiger being the foremost among them. Some of the earliest Mughal miniatures depict Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, pursuing tigers on horseback.

In the colonial era, Jim Corbett, the famous hunter (of man-eating tigers and leopards) and author, calls the tiger a ‘gentleman’, in a class of its own above other fauna. Once he renounced the gun, Corbett took to the camera and is credited for being one of the first people to capture tigers on film. Roughly around the same time a lesser-known forester, FW Champion, laid the groundwork for future camera-toting wildlife enthusiasts with his sensational book, ‘With a Camera in Tiger-land’.

Tiger mania’s modern resurgence began in the 80’s when the tigers of Ranthambore National Park were made famous by the books of Fateh Singh Rathore and Valmik Thapar, who picked up from where Corbett and Champion had left off, by revealing the most secret and inner facets of the lives of tigers. But regardless of what time period or circumstances we find ourselves in, the tiger has remained a steadfast symbol and a ‘brand ambassador’ of India’s wilderness.

The most common scene in tiger reserves such as Ranthambore, are the dozens of 4×4 vehicles scouring every nook and cranny of the bush for a glimpse of the tiger.

Our nature guide, the unflappable Yadvendra Sing is a human GPS tracking device, who reads the forest like a Google map. As we pause to “listen to the forest”, he decodes the alarm calls of deer, monkeys and peacocks, which have a sophisticated language and grammar of their own. We try and gauge the proximity of the tiger by the frequency, distance and direction of the alarm calls. On seeing a fresh pugmark etched on the track, our senses are immediately heightened beyond belief. The ears listening for the slightest rustle in the deafening silence, the eyes strained and scanning the undergrowth for any unusual movement, a flick of a tail, the twitch of an ear.

The anticipation is suffocating us to the point of bursting, when Yadvendra leans over calmly and whispers, “Tiger. On your left.” Through a curtain of greenery, we spot a velvet golden patch gliding silently alongside our jeep. As we round the corner there it is, right in front of us! Ridiculously magnificent, he is much bigger than I imagined. His detached, piercing gaze is hypnotic and riveting. Being in an open jeep, there’s nothing standing between us, and we are in an electrifying trance.

We follow him until, like an apparition, he melts back into the forest. Overwhelmed, we eventually return to our hotel.

My city bred younger son has often asked me, “Once you’ve seen a tiger in the wild, why do you go again and again?” It is indeed a curious obsession.Something I’ve often pondered and discussed endlessly with other like-minded ‘wildlifers’. I tell him, “ Look at the face of any person just after he has seen a tiger in the wild. It will have a telltale glow that you cant miss!”.

“Seeing a tiger is like seeing a beautiful woman. How can you ever tire of seeing or photographing a beautiful woman,” says Shantanu Sharma, my jungle-buddy and photographer friend. Dhritiman Mukherjee, India’s leading wildlife photographer, delves deeper: “While our civilised and rational side looks for natural beauty, our instinct reacts to predation. Everybody wants to see predators. A tiger stalking, a lion killing is more thrilling than, say, watching an elegant gazelle or a peacock”. Even with birds, it is always the predators—the eagles and the hawks—that are most attractive, he points out. “The tiger sits at the top of this pyramid. He is the apex predator. His body language is the boldest. His gaze penetrates our eyes and reaches into our soul.” Balendu Singh is the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Ranthambore. To him, it’s the tiger’s persona that draws people. “The tiger is a magnificent and a pristine cat. Not scruffy, like lions or hyenas, ripping and shredding its prey. He is well-groomed [like] a thorough gentleman. He isn’t destructive and he will always rather give way than demand it.”

It was over 30 years ago that the thrill of seeing a tiger first drew me into the jungle. A glorious predator that exudes explosive power and dignified grace in equal measure, the experience left me breathless and wanting more, every time. To be in its presence for those few moments, when time stood still, was worth every bump and grind of the countless backbreaking jeep rides.

I find that it’s never the same experience twice and yet it’s the same primeval tingle, every time – a sensory, visceral and spiritual high, all at once. For some, being face to face with a tiger on his terms, in his natural environment is like deep meditation – an awakening of sorts. That moment opens up some wonderful home truths about our world and our place in it. Sensibilities, which urban conditioning has dulled out of our system, re-surface and remind us that there is a world order that works beautifully, if only man would leave it alone.

However, many such encounters later, a slow realization has now dawned on me. That the tiger is merely a key that unlocks a much larger treasure chest – of sights, sounds, and experiences – that is the Indian jungle. He is just the tip of this iceberg.

Bittu Sahgal, the editor of Sanctuary Asia puts it a bit more bluntly. “The tiger is undoubtedly a magnificent animal, but those who visit tiger reserves with the single-minded purpose of “seeing a tiger” do themselves and the tiger, a great disservice. It is like visiting a library and searching for the same book over and over again.

Look, See and Feel, and India’s jungles will take your head and heart to places that they might never have visited. Strange, and yet, oddly familiar places. Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, inventor, and explorer described it best when he said, “In the wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it, our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.”

All of us, in one way or another, seek answers from the universe and from powers unknown, but for some, like me, who are drawn to the few wild spaces still left on the planet, those answers are likely to come from a temple such as this.

Sometimes we don’t know what we are looking for until we find it. )