. The main difference is the carriage is effectively open. There are bars on the windows and closable shutters (which never seem to shut properly) but really you are subject to whatever weather conditions there are outside. I can imagine traveling in sleeper in high summer but at this time of year it was OK. Just as the daily routine states we had some dinner at 7pm. Mina Ji had put together some parantha, curried veg and pickles for us. It was yummy, miles better than the disgusting train food I had in a previous journey. We played some card games to pass the time; Ravi taught me Uno and in return I taught him poker. After dark it did get pretty cold and there were drafts coming from all over the place. I wasn't going to take a sleeping bag, just a sheet but luckily Mr B insisted I brought one.
We arrived in Ranthanbore station at 1am. This station was small but much more like what I would have expected in India dirty, smelly and with lots of rats. It was quiet at that time but there were people sleeping absolutely everywhere. We were picked up by a jeep sent from the resort. They guys gave us blankets to wrap up in which was lucky enough as the already cold night was just Baltic when you were moving at 80 km per hour. The guy was speeding his way to the resort, quite exciting, and on the way there a rabbit appeared in front of us. The silly bunny seemed only to run forward and the guy was making sport out of chasing it
. Just when we thought it was clear it turned right back in front of us causing the driver to slam on the breaks to avoid squatting it. It was nice to see his sport in chasing it had no intention of killing it. The resort looked quite good although we didn't delay in heading straight to our rooms. I lay on the bed and flicked on the TV, found Braveheart and ended up awake til 3 watching it.
We got up about 9 and headed for breakfast. Ravi briefed me on the plan for the day over our omelets and toast. I would be heading on Safari at 3:30 and until then would have time to chill out. The resort had a lovely garden a pool area in which to sunbathe so I was glad of the free time. After soaking up the rays for a few hours we had lunch. There was a large group of Indian there so lunch would be a buffet. Moments after filling out plates Ravi looked up at me, water in his eyes, saying it was too spicy for him. I had to laugh as we had had a little bit of masculine competitiveness about eating spicy food, something like the way Irish lads would compete on handling their drink. I was quite enjoying the kick to the lunch but Ravi had finally met his match. He said he would be asking for something a little less spicy for dinner. After lunch we went out for a walk to explore Ranthambore a little bit. We first visited a Hindu temple that was a work in progress. Here when building the temple the idol is first placed and the building is built around it
. Although from the outside is was very much a construction site inside was fully furnished. The was another hotel in the area which Ravi claimed was one of the top 10 places to stay in the world. It looked pretty swanky alright, the main attraction for me was the two 'house' elephants. Unfortunately they had left for a ride when we arrived. We headed on up the road and caught up with the elephants. I was delighted as it was my first time getting up close and personal with one. There really wasn't much else to see in the one-horse-town so we headed back to the hotel. I lay by the pool for another hour or so and while doing so one young girls came and stood behind me while her friend was taking photos. I'm pretty used to random Indian tourists wanting photos with me but I though that was a bit odd and rude. As I turned to say hello she ran off to her friend giggling to see the photos.
At about 4 I headed off on the safari. To get into the national park you have to give the guide a copy of your passport and also bring your passport with you for some boarder check. The wildlife stewards accompanied by the army board every bus and ensure the guide has handed over copies of every persons passport. A bit strange I thought but I'm sure there is a good reason for it. Immediately on entering the park you notice it is totally clean. Maybe not such a big deal in Europe but its fairly profound in India. The park itself covers almost 400 square kilometers and is home to 40 tigers and about 90 leopards among a wide range of other wildlife. The roads started to turn into narrow rocky dirt tracks and felt a bit like the journey between Udaipur and Jodhpur. Remember that my LCD screen was still broken, I can assure you blind wildlife photography from a moving vehicle on a bumpy road is very very difficult. Therefore my photography may leave a little to be desired in this section
. The first thing we say was a group of giant deer. They were larger than the largest of horses and quite an imposing animal indeed. Soon after there was a family of spotted deer, those are the Bambi types and then some antelope. These first sightings of these three species were slightly exciting but I would be sick of looking at them by the end of the 2 day safari. We continued onwards and stopped by a lake where a fairly large crocodile was heating itself up in the afternoon sun. As we entered the thick jungle the guides tiger sense went on high alert, the driver cut the engine and we rolled quietly along the track. We didn't head too deep into the jungle but instead went for the high planes, I guess or chances of spotting a tiger there were a bit higher. No luck there so we swung about and headed along a river in the valley... these things have to drink, and they also eat thing that have to drink so maybe they were hanging out there. We did see some interesting things in that part of the safari such as an eagle perched on a branch stalking anything in the shallows of the river, and mongoose skipping through the brushes and a huge turtle in one of the shallow streams along with plenty of monkeys. Monkeys perched high in the trees cooperate with the 4 leggers on the ground to keep watch for any hungry predators. As the sun set hopes of seeing a tiger were waning. The hot day turned very quickly into a very cool night which was made all the worse being in a open top bus. Freezing and having had enough of the rugged track we headed back towards the resort a little bit disappointed
I arrived back at about 6:30. There were a large group of students from Mumbai there and some of them were very excited having spotted a tiger on their safari. I was jealous. In the resort garden there were setting up a bit of a disco for the students. The had big speakers a little DJ box and the most tacky multicolor illuminated dance floor you could imagine. At dinner Ravi had asked to be a little less spicy than lunch. I wondered if he actually played the foreigner card when requesting a milder meal. After dinner we checked out the buzz at the outdoor disco. The were playing mostly Bolloywood hits but also some western pop songs, the kind which I would expect are being played in the clubs at home. Wild horses wouldn't have been able to drag Ravi up to dance and I wasn't gonna be the only westerner among the Indian gang. We stayed on the sideline for a while before heading to bed.
I got up at 6am the following day for my morning Safari. I had initially took the lazy option to have two evening safaris but I changed my mind after the guide said chances of catching a glimpse of a tiger were a bit better in the morning. I was given a thick blanket from the hotel and that was lucky enough as it was absolutely freezing in the morning. The guide on the morning safari was a lot better than the previous one he gave us lots of info on the park and tigers as we headed toward the jungle and through the entry formalities
. We took a different route this time which would take us deep into the jungle. Early morning was definitely the best time to see the jungle. It was a wonderful eery feeling as the rising suns rays were cutting through the trees and reflecting through the mist rising from the streams. Banyan trees were every where and their hanging branches are really what the jungle is all about for me. The symphony of what sounded like hundreds of different tropical]al bird songs among other animal calls gave a lovely soundtrack. Really it was like something you would find on National Geographic Channel, indeed I'm sure they have filmed in there. There were lots of birds in this part of the jungle and the guide had all the info on them. We saw loads; eagles, king fishers, Although we didn't see anything much more exciting than a few crocs I really enjoyed the second safari, more so than the first.
I was back at the resort by 10:30 in plenty of time for breakfast. After that I had a few hours to burn so lounged around by the pool reading and catching a few rays. We had lunch and after that headed back into the park one last time, this time to visit Ranthanbore fort. This, the second largest fort in Rajasthan is perched on a hill in the middle of the park. This time we took a small jeep from the resort, just Ravi, the driver and I. A light jeep was a much better way to move around in the park
. Not only was it faster and less bumpy but it also made you feel closer to everything than when your sheltered inside a big tourist bus. We arrived at the foot of the fort where Ravi and I disembarked and head up the steep climb through 4 layers of defense walls and gates. Only moments after entering the first palace there was fierce excitement as someone had spotted a lion in the distance. I couldn't make it out myself but Ravi was pretty sure he saw it. We spent an hour or so wandering around in the fort visiting various palaces, temples and a mosque. At the highest point in the fort was the main Hindu temple; a significant place of pilgrimage. It was surrounded by gift and chai shops with lots of cheeky monkeys and a few cows in the area. I suggested a chai and we sat in one of the places. Seconds after sitting down I saw that the place was absolutely infested with rats. There were hundreds of them, and they were not shy. They were in bins, flour bags, water pots and all around the ground. It was lucky that it was only a chai we were having there. After a few moments a big cow wandered in, looking for a chai I presume, which I thought was pretty funny. After chai we headed back down out of the fort and back to the resort for dinner. We had a few hours before catching out 11 o clock train so I chilled in the room for a bit and enjoyed the feeling of a bed before the night in the train. There was a much smaller and older group staying there that night so instead of a disco there was a traditional Rajasthani group of musicians with a dancer and fire breather. The dancer tried to drag me up at one stage but I clung to my chair for dear life. It was OK, something very similar to the show we saw in Jaisalamer desert.
Khumaji took Ravi and I to catch our 6pm train to Ranthambore, dropping the others to orphanage along the way. We were going to be traveling in sleeper class and I was a bit nervous about this since I had booked all my trains in the much more expensive (like 5 or 6 times the price) 2 and 3 tier AC classes. The vast majority of Indians travel in sleeper class and the train usually consists of 8 to 12 sleeper carriages, a couple of unreserved 2nd class (mayhem) and one or two AC carriages. I had read some horror stories about sleeper class being filthy, uncomfortable and way over crowded. Just like everything else you hear about India these stories were grossly exaggerated. We had a reservation berth too so we were guaranteed a sleeper which is the main thing really. Of course inside wasn't exactly clean and there was a distinctive toilety smell but apart from that it was fine. The toilets themselves, well lets say they weren't worth mentioning. The design was much the same; although maybe a little less spacious