My feline friends were shocked when I told them that I wanted to visit Wildlife SOS because it’s in India, a long way from home and a surprising turn of events for a cat who enjoys his home comforts and prefers not to overexert himself unduly. But the allure of the rescued pachyderms was proving hard to resist and I was curious about their natures and the lives they now lead. John took the most convincing as he was obviously worried (although at the time I didn’t understand why) but he eventually agreed and was delighted that I was about to embark on my first big adventure. The preparations were a gargantuan task – insurance, visa, tickets, travel arrangements, safety issues, health implications, access to food and water, car drivers, vaccinations, communication with home, etc. But after months of planning, I set off with my backpack ready to experience everything that my quest had to offer.
I asked a few people to take some snaps of me on the way and you can see me snoozing with my blanket on the plane and chatting with the air stewardesses in these photographs. My driver met me at the airport and as I started the 4 hour ride to my first stop, I understood John’s concerns. The roads were chaotic with cars driving in every direction, missing each other by a whisker and honking their horns incessantly while cows and stray dogs wove their dangerous way through the traffic and motorbikes zoomed past carrying 3 or 4 people at a time with no helmets and babies in tow. Piles of rubble and litter lined the streets while swarms of people went about their daily business in the stifling heat.
My first night in India was spent at a hotel in Rajasthan so that I could visit Ranthambore National Park the next day, an area designated as a protected habitat for a range of the country’s indigenous wildlife from palm squirrels to porcupines, pythons to hyenas. The jeep arrived the next morning for the tour and I hopped on to the front seat as the rear row was occupied. To my horror the seat belt didn’t work and I was not prepared to risk life and limb so a gentleman in the back agreed to swap places with me. This turned out to be a wise move as the jeep drove like the clappers all the way to the entrance of the park. At this point the jeep slowed down just enough for me to take in the bleak terrain, an eerie mix of barren sandy earth speckled with bunches of dry yellow grass and dead-looking saplings. Here and there, a water hole was hidden in the desolate landscape and even a lake shimmered quietly surrounded by lush green trees which were lucky enough to find a means of quenching their thirst. Animals gathered at the ponds including spotted dear, blue bull antelope, peacocks, monitor lizards and a myriad of smaller birds like bright green parakeets, little black and white wagtails, crows, sparrows and finches.
The highlight of the tour was the fantastic sighting of a beautiful tigress wandering through the dry grasslands marking her territory by spraying on nearby vegetation. Unfortunately the sighting caused a frenzy of activity when the jeeps in the area all converged towards this amazing animal but thankfully she took it in her stride, looking over her shoulder from time to time without showing any signs of obvious stress. I gazed in awe at this magnificent member of my species and the jeeps followed her at a reasonable distance until she sauntered off into the forest. She was truly stunning, lean, untamed and radiant, and I wished there were more of them but sadly they are dramatically decreasing in numbers thanks largely to poaching to meet the demands of humans who believe in the medieval principles that form the basis of Chinese medicine. So there I was, lost in the wonder of the moment, contemplating the splendour and complexity of the world’s ecosystem, when the jeeps suddenly revved up their engines and began hurtling away at breakneck speed. Bumping and skidding across the rubble on the paths, my bottom left the seat on several occasions and I gripped on to the side bar as though my life depended on it. Dust flew up from the tyres and the jeeps one behind another like a giant snake tore towards the exit. Apparently they were in a hurry because they were late and had to be out of the park by 7pm so that the tigers could enjoy some peace and quiet, the drivers are heavily fined if they fail to leave on time. It was a fur-raising ride but we made it to the borders of the park with seconds to spare and I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw how much dirt was on my coat and realised I’d have to spend the next 2 hours licking it all off.
Unfortunately Video very jumpy difficult to it still in these jeeps