Have you ever felt like you have cheated death? I’m not talking about watching some idiot blow through a red light while you wait in your car to turn left. You briefly shudder thinking about what could have happened had you turned at the proper time. Or thinking about all the near misses that you had while skiing double black diamond runs or through trees with deep wells.
I’m talking about a moment when you had absolutely no control over a situation and death was staring you in the eye?
Here is my story.
In March, I took my family of 6 to India for two weeks. My children were 12, 13, 15, and 19 years old. I’ve written three blogs about our trip. If you have ever wondered whether India is the right place to travel as a woman, or with children, I would encourage you to read them. They are called
- Fourteen Days in India With Kids: Cows, Culture and Chaos
- India With Kids: Eight Reasons Not To Go
- Best Places To Visit In India: Four Reasons Why You Should Go.
We toured around Amritsar, Hoshiapur, Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. It was an extraordinary trip. The historical and cultural sites were breathtaking. The food was absolutely delicious, and the service and hospitality were exceptional.
However, without question, the highlight of our trip was the Ranthambore safari. Here is where the adventure begun.
We arrived just after lunch to Sher Bagh, a luxury resort located just outside Ranthambore National Park, the location of the Ranthambore safari. The hotel was stunning. There were about a dozen large white tents scattered throughout the resort that served as hotel rooms. Inside them, I felt like I had stepped back into colonial times. The rooms were filled with delicate wooden furniture that would have easily been found in any British household in India in the early 20th century. The bathroom was huge and more luxurious than many five star hotels that I have stayed at before. Running hot and cold water, plumbing, air conditioning, and heat were all within arm’s reach in these seemingly magical tents.
We had two tents, side by side, for the six of us. We were a little more removed from the other tents, and were nestled right next to the outer wall that bordered Ranthambore National Park.
Nearby, there was an enormous white tent filled with multiple couches and card tables in a similar style, where you could relax, have a drink or play cards. Another tent offered breakfast and lunch, also with beautiful carved furniture. Every tent had framed photos and art hanging from the wall, and rugs and lamps were scattered about. I felt that I was a guest at someone’s beautiful home.
The rest of the resort was made up of outdoor spaces. There was an outdoor bar, and campfire area around 100 metres or 300 feet away from our tents. There was a stunning outdoor pool overlooking a pristine view of trees, plants and hills, sequestered from the rest of the resort. Everywhere you looked, you felt immersed in nature.
The resort was very dark at night. The pathways had a little bit of lighting from lights strewn along the edges of the path. However, each tent had flashlights and you were encouraged to take them with you when you went for dinner.
We went on our first safari after lunch on the day we arrived. All six of us climbed into an open jeep, and with a guide and driver we set off to look for tigers. We drove around 15 minutes along country roads before entering the park. Once in the park, we set off to the section that we were allowed to explore.
Each Ranthambore safari is regulated by the Indian government. Only a certain number of permits are issued each day and then, you are assigned a zone within the park. You are only allowed to tour that area at certain defined times. We had around 3 1/2 hours per Ranthambore safari.
The main goal of a Ranthambore safari is to find the elusive tiger. Tigers are solitary animals that are very territorial. Ranthambore National Park is around 400 square kilometres and currently, there are around 60 tigers living there. Each tiger has their own territory. They fiercely guard it and re-mark its boundaries every couple of months.
We did not see a tiger during our first Ranthambore safari. However, we saw many other animals and some spectacular scenery.
Nonetheless, I left feeling a little bit disappointed.
Dinner After The Ranthambore Safari At Sher Bagh
Once it was dark, we went to the campfire for cocktails and dinner. There, elegantly dressed men in uniform offered us hors d’oeuvres and drinks while all the guests sat around the fire and chatted about their own Ranthambore safari. Dinner was offered buffet style just steps away from the campfire. There were lights around the campfire, but everywhere else you looked was pitch dark.
Our kids ate their dinner, and each one left on their own to go back to our tents. About 30 minutes or so after the last one left, I was tired. I said goodnight to everyone, including my husband, and left the campfire. I walked alone back to the tent.
A Strange Encounter
From the campfire to my tent, it was around 100 metres or 300 feet along the path. I walked by the outdoor bar, the other guests’ tents, and the enormous tent with the living room furniture. I forgot a flashlight, so I pulled out my i-phone and turned it on. It was a beautiful evening with lots of stars in the sky. No one was around.
As I approached my tent, I saw a large grey animal. At first it was hard to see. I saw a lumpy figure but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I didn’t slow my step. Cows were everywhere in India. Even though I hadn’t seen one in the resort, it wouldn’t have surprised me to find one sauntering around the property in the darkness. I kept my flashlight on the path in front of me. Amazingly, I was almost upon it before it even realized that I was there. It startled and it bolted away. Where, I didn’t know as it was too dark to see.
When it dashed away, I realized that I had been looking at the back of a large animal. However, it wasn’t a cow. Instead, it looked like one of the large deer from the National Park. We saw a few types of deer on our Ranthambore safari. One looked like “Bambi” – small, cute with little white dots on it. The other looked more like an elk – big, stocky and brown. When I startled it, I thought I heard hooves trying to grip the ground. It was charming – a deer had found its a way out of the National Park and was grazing by my tent. Unperturbed, I didn’t even break my pace. I was tired and ready for bed.
I took about eight more steps towards the entrance to my tent and stopped. The zipper on the flap was completely shut, from top to bottom. I had asked my kids to zip the flap closed to stop mosquitos from finding their way in. As I reached down to the very bottom of the tent to pull up the zipper, I heard rustling behind me. I stopped and slowly turned around. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as my flashlight scanned the darkness in front of me. I caught some movement above the ground. There, on top of a 6 foot berm (a mud wall), was a creature. As my I-phone flashlight settled on its face, I realized, in horror, that it was a tiger.
I turned around and screamed at the tent, “Oh my God, there is a freaking tiger out here. Open up!”. And then…nothing.
I turned back again towards the tiger and brought up my flashlight. I zoomed in on the tiger’s face. It blinked a couple of times, but did not move. I turned and screamed again at the tent, “There is a freaking tiger out here. You need to open up the tent.” And again…nothing.
My I-Phone Flashlight
I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that I was, inexplicably, on my own. I kept turning and pointing the i-phone flashlight into the face of the tiger, and then turning away quickly to pull up the zipper a little bit more – back and forth, and back and forth. It seemed like minutes and minutes went by, but I know now that it was only seconds. Each time I pivoted back to the tiger, I shone the flashlight into its face. It blinked, but never moved.
Eventually, I managed to unzip the flap and jump into the tent. My two girls were oblivious to everything. The youngest was happily watching a movie on Netflix with her earphones on. My eldest was grumpily getting out of bed, informing me that she had been asleep. Everything was so normal inside the tent that I almost questioned whether I had just escaped a tiger.
Thankfully, my eldest did manage to take the few steps to the door flap, unzip it, poke her head out, and say in a borderline bored voice, “Wow, there is a tiger out there.” My youngest pulled out her headphones, and said, “What? There’s a tiger out there?”.
Were We Safe?
I didn’t know what to do next. I felt like I had to keep an eye on the tiger, so I stuck my head back out of the tent, flashlight in hand, and the tiger and I stared at each other some more. After a few seconds, the tiger looked away and sauntered along the berm, eventually disappearing behind my tent. I watched until it disappeared.
The irony of the situation didn’t escape me. Earlier, I felt a “little bit disappointed” that we had not seen a tiger on our Ranthambore safari. Now, I was playing hide and seek with one. It would be a very long time before I would allow myself to feel a “little bit disappointed” by anything!
Now what? My husband was still at the campfire, the direction in which the tiger was going. My two boys were alone in the tent next to me and I had no idea what they heard or what they were going to do. There was no phone in my tent to call the front desk and warn the hotel employees or the other guests. I couldn’t leave my tent – I had no idea where the tiger actually was.
What happened next was equally unbelievable. If you are interested in reading further, please click on my next blog Escaping Death Near Ranthambore National Park.
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