The night came, iced our butts right, and then left, and we found ourselves setting off (long before the crack of dawn mind you), back down the same stretch of mountain where we had seen nothing but millions and billions of deer, antelope, kingfishers and owls the evening before. At that hour, even the deer had pissed off and moved elsewhere. We drove around for hours and hours, I came dangerously close to killing someone, and then our guide stopped to show us a tiger paw print on the dirt road. "Woo bloody hoo" was my response, as the day before, we'd seen print after print that led nowhere but to more deer and more owls. Zozo and I had even become convinced that the Ranthambore staff had a huge tiger-paw stamp that they went about with when no one was looking, so as to keep gullible visitors like the lady sitting behind us in our jeep (who prided herself on being the owner of 15 cats) excited. So anyway, we saw the print, the guide and driver put on their excited faces and we begun the wild chase for the umpteenth time. An hour later, things began to slow down again, and I fell asleep with my eyes wide open. Next thing I knew we sped up a clear stretch of the mountain, and they stopped the car. And then the guide pointed down at a haze of orange and black that was so far away I had to go from optical into digital zoom to get a shot. The strange thing is, that even that tiny glimpse of tiger-behind was exhilarating. But then it was so far away! We were at the top of a mountain on one side, and it was at the foot of the mountain opposite, which was separated from ours by a river! The tiger too was camera shy and kept stopping behind huge trees! It was exhilarating, but it was frustrating.
As I soon found out though, the guides at Ranthambore were not in fact phoneys, they really did know what they were doing. Our guide jumped back in the car when it looked like the tiger had had enough of us, and told the driver to speed off in the same direction that the tiger was headed. I didn't think this was going to go anywhere. The tiger was so far away. We sped back down the mountain, came to a clearing which was level with where the tiger was, and stopped. Across the massive river, the guide had a much better view of the tiger, but then I couldn't see it because Zozo's big head kept getting in the way, and we weren't allowed to get out of the car in case any of the other tigers were close by and/or were hungry.
So I sat in the car, we all sat. The guide told us to be dead quiet, and we obeyed. The next thing I heard was "he's coming this way", and before I had time to react, the most incredible animal I have ever seen in my life was walking out of the river and was standing right in front of me. Okay, not right in front of me, but he was barely 2 metres from our jeep! And he was so beautiful, so incredibly beautiful that none of us said a word. No one moved, no one blinked, all we did was take picture after picture after picture of this gynormous tiger that we had at first thought was camera shy, but which then swam across the river to get his moment in the spotlight. It was phenomenal. I was speechless. (And I'm not even an animal-enthusiast. The bulky British guy sitting behind us cried!) The tiger walked past the front of our car, and then carried on into the forest. The whole thing must have lasted about 3 minutes, but the feeling of awe didn't leave us for days, not even when a dog lunged at my foot and almost bit me in Jaipur, and not even when a bigger, scarier dog chased Zozo in Udaipur several days later. (That's a lie, we completely forgot about the tiger at both those moments - I even phoned the hotel staff and threatened them with a law suit. Okay that's a lie too, I phoned them and told them to lock the dog up which they kinda forgot to do, and then I got our travel agent who was a 'big boss man' to tell them off.)
We are now in Kochi (in Kerala) and have left Rajasthan behind - thank goodness! After Ranthambore it was palace after fort after fort after palace in Jaipur, Deogarh and Udaipur. And it was HOT too! Hotter than Lagos. Possibly even hotter than Dubai (during the 5 minutes that I walked from the plane to the airport in June en route to Beijing). We saw several temples too - the most beautiful being in Ranathkpur between Deogarh and Udaipur. Unfortunately I have no pictures of that amazing temple as by the time we were seeing it, we were so sick of taking our shoes off and getting our feet dirty just to see holy walls covered in pigeon shit, that we declined to pay the 200 rupees for a camera ticket, expecting to be out of the temple within 5 minutes. What a mistake that was, we were there for an hour! But I do have a picture of the tiger, and this I believe, is going to be the first ever photo of my own that I have displayed on my blog in the year and however many months that I have had it, so please cherish the moment.