Last week, I wrote about one of the most frightening experiences of my life. This week, I am going to write about what happened next. Before you read any further, I would recommend reading last week’s blog about what happened. It is called Ranthambore Safari In India: How my I-Phone Flashlight Saved My Life. In that blog, I explain in detail, where I was, what I was doing, and how I literally escaped a very unpleasant death. Unless you are the type of person who likes to read the last chapter first in a novel, or search online for the “spoiler alert” for the season finale of your favourite TV show, I would suggest you click on the blog above before you read any further.
Here is part 2 of my story.
Ranthambore National Park
When I was in India in March, my family of six went on a safari in Ranthambore National Park. My children were 12, 13, 15 and 20 years old. We were staying at Sher Bagh, a small luxury tent resort nestled against the walls of Ranthambore National Park. There are many animals to see on a Ranthambore safari. However, the number one reason that people go to Ranthambore National Park is to try and see a tiger.
Tigers are solitary animals that are extremely territorial. Ranthambore National Park is 392 square km, or almost 100,000 acres. There are approximately 60 tigers in the whole park. Each of them have their own territory in which they prowl and protect.
On our first night at our hotel, we were eating at the campfire around 300 metres or 300 yards away from our tents (our hotel room). It was pitched dark all around us, except for the campfire and a few lights lighting the paths to and from the campfire. After dinner, the kids went back to our tents, and a little while later, I felt tired and did so too. My husband stayed behind, chatting with other guests.
On my way back to my tent, I literally stumbled upon an animal standing outside it. It was so dark that initially I couldn’t see what it was, but thought it was likely a deer. As I got closer, I startled the animal and it ran away. However, after a few more steps to my tent, I heard rustling behind me. I turned around and my flashlight found it. In horror, I realized that it was a tiger.
The tent flap, the “door” to the tent, was zippered all the way from top to bottom. I screamed to my children to open the door, that there was a tiger, but nothing happened. With my flashlight blinding the tiger, I eventually managed to unzip the flap of the tent and jump in. Eventually, the tiger crept away behind my tent into the darkness.
My husband was still at the campfire, the direction in which the tiger was going. My two sons 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.
In each tent, instead of a phone, there was a “butler’s button”. It was connected to the front desk. We were told at check-in to push this button if we needed anything. Not knowing what else to do, I pushed the button. A few minutes later, a small elegantly dressed Indian man in uniform arrived at the door flap of my tent. He politely asked me what he could for me.
I told him immediately, “There was a tiger out there!”
He kind of smirked and calmly replied, “Madam, there was no tiger out there.”
I replied, “I think I know what a tiger looks like and there was a tiger out there!”
He paused politely, looked behind him, and nodded. Then, he turned and left. I felt like I had been immediately placed in the hysterical woman category by this man, and was infuriated.
Monkeys howling in Ranthambore National Park
I waited. I busied myself in my tent and listened for every twig snap or footstep outside. However, there were no sounds like that. What I did hear were monkeys howling all around me. Earlier that day, we went on our first safari in Ranthambore National Park. Ironically enough, we didn’t see a tiger. Nevertheless, our guide told us that the monkeys in Ranthambore National Park are one of the animals that warn others when a tiger is lurking. They holler when one is near and set up a network warning each other as the tiger moves. I realized then, that I had heard a cacophony of monkeys shrieking as I walked back to my tent, prior to seeing the tiger. I thought how foolish I had been to not have listened more carefully to my surroundings, although stumbling onto a tiger wasn’t something for which I was preparing!
Here We Go Again
Around 10 minutes later, there was another knock on our door flap. I unzipped the door and standing there were two Indian men. One was small and in uniform like the other one who was there earlier. The other one was in a suit. The one in the suit identified himself as the manager. I thought, finally!
He said to me, “We found your safety deposit key at the campfire.”
I said, “Thank you”, and he returned the key to me. Then, I waited and looked at him. He smiled and turned to walk away. Incredulously, I realized that the first employee had not reported anything that I had said to him.
I said, “You know that I saw a tiger out here?”.
The manager looked at me intently, I think trying to figure out whether I was drunk or crazy, or both, and said, “You saw a tiger?”
I said,”Yes” and pointed behind him where the tiger was. “He then walked behind my tent.”
I could tell the manager was grappling with what I said. On the one hand, I was a guest and seemed sane (I’m projecting here, but I’d like to think that I was confident and in control of what was going on at this point!). On the other hand, he was struggling with the unbelievable image of a tiger outside Ranthambore National Park in his luxury resort. Apparently, that had never happened before!
Throwing your employee under the bus
So, what was the manager’s solution? He said to his uniformed employee, “Go check behind the tent!” The employee looked terrified.
I replied, “You can’t send him to look behind the tent. There is a tiger on the loose!”
The employee reluctantly left and looked behind the tent, came back and reported that there was no tiger. Hmmm… I couldn’t believe that the manager had done that. Great! There was no tiger. But, what did that prove? It certainly didn’t prove that there wasn’t one earlier! What if the tiger was still there? What are the odds another human would have been escaping a tiger that night?
The manager asked if he could do anything else for me, smiled and left. I wondered if this was going to be the story that no one ever believed.
Another ten minutes passed, another knock on my door flap. This time, it was a very large caucasian fellow who was in charge of safaris in Ranthambore National Park. He had in tow yet another small Indian man in uniform.
In a very posh English accent he said, “We saw the tiger paw prints. We know that there was a tiger here. Are you alright? Can I bring you a cup of tea?”
Seriously, he asked after I had just bumped into a tiger whether I wanted a cup of tea!
I politely declined while wondering whether it would be appropriate to ask for a stiff gin and tonic instead. We said good night to each other and I tried unsuccessfully to sleep.
The Next Day
The next morning, I searched for the fellow in charge of the safaris. I wanted to know the details. Where did they find the tiger tracks? Where did they lead? What was the resort going to do to keep us safe?
I found him and he told me that I had misheard him the night before. It wasn’t that they had found tiger tracks, but had actually seen the tiger.
First of all, the tiger was a two year old female named “Lightning”. She was almost full grown physically, but still considered immature – her actions would not necessarily follow normal adult behaviour. Apparently, after she terrorized me, she walked behind my tent, then over a wall into another walking path where other guests’ tents were located. A couple, sitting on their little patio in front of their tent, watched unconcerned as the tiger walked by. The lighting was so bad they thought it was a cow.
The tiger then approached the campfire where a few lingering guests were still sitting, waiters were serving drinks, and a large outdoor buffet dinner was set out with a multitude of kitchen staff in attendance. The kitchen staff were first alerted to the tiger’s presence when they heard her growl behind them as they stood by the buffet. Everyone took off towards the campfire. The guests around the campfire, with the staff, were told to group together around it and face outwards. After a few minutes, the tiger simply turned around and left into the darkness.
What was the tiger doing outside Ranthambore National Park? As I said earlier, she was on the younger side and therefore, considered to be a little unpredictable. However, the only impediment for any of the animals in Ranthambore National Park to leave was an 8 ft or 2.5 meter brick wall around it.
When we first arrived to the town next to Ranthambore National Park and drove along the country road to our hotel, we could easily see this brick wall. We laughed at how low it was and remarked to the driver how it must not keep the tigers in. Our driver laughed too. The moment was disconcerting. I had heard of tiger attacks all over India. In fact, a couple of days earlier, I had read about a woman and her father-in-law who were killed by a tiger while collecting firewood in the forest next to their village. Not here in this village, but in another region of India. I rationalized that, with all the tourists, there had to be other barriers in place at Ranthambore National Park to keep the tigers in… Nope!
Finally, we were told that she was likely marking her territory. As I said earlier, tigers are very solitary and territorial creatures. They each have their own area, and other tigers stay away unless it is mating season. In order to safeguard that territory from other tigers, they need to mark its boundaries every couple of months. As a former guest of Sher Bagh, I think it is extremely unnerving that this tiger believes that the grounds of this hotel are part of her territory. This looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
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