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India

Current stop: Tiger Safari!!
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We had planned 4 days in Ranthambore so that we could go on several safaris to increase our chances of seeing a tiger. We went out the first morning there (5:00 wake up call!). It was so cold, we took all the wool blankets off the bed and wrapped ourselves in those. The cantor (20 person safari jeep) came and picked us up and zoomed us out to the park as the sun rose.

Entrance into the park is strictly limited, and it is divided into 5 different zones. 3 buses (called 'canters' here - holding 20 people) and 3 jeeps (called 'gypsies') are all that are allowed into each zone during a particular time. The numbers are literally picked out of a hat as each group enters the park, so there is no assurance whatsoever that you'll be in an area where tigers have been recently seen, and there's no traveling to other zones!
The guides huddled around a fire warming up, but once the drawing started, they all got over to line up and see where they were off to. We pulled our raffle lucky number 3! and went into the park. 

We made a last bathroom break, got all the paperwork in order, and were entertained by the chattering monkeys, peacocks, parrots, and pigeons that were stopping by for their breakfast.

Our first stop was at the base of the enormous fort that looks over the entire park area. 



Inside the park, we saw tons of different kinds of wildlife...

a baby antelope getting breakfast from mom...

including wild peacocks...
and many herds of spotted deer.

We saw the 'prehistoric' bushbuck...

a tired owl...
an egret on the prowl and crocodiles on the shore and in the water

But where oh where was the famed tiger - the creature that would be only too glad to make a meal out of this little cutie?
We'd seen footprints, so we knew they were in the area, but would they be active today? Many folks from school had gone on multiple safaris and had no luck seeing tigers. There is lots of wildlife, but the tiger is the prize.
As we came to a lake just shaking off the morning fog, our guide spoke with a man who had been watching the tigers and decided to stop. We sat, watching the water, for close to 20 minutes. What were we waiting for - let's go find the tigers!!
Suddenly, we saw four tigers come out of an abandoned palace on the island!. They drank a bit, and then swam across the channel towards our side of the lake.
They climbed out, onto some rocks, where they chased each other and played for a bit. After drying off and spraying all the trees to mark their territory, it was time to go.
Three of them wandered out in front of us, crossing the road as they made their way towards a hill off to the side.
Playing follow the leader, they took turns loping up the hill for a place to relax
Because they were not alone. Cellphone and walkie talkie coverage made it possible for all the buses and jeeps to converge on the spot to check out the action. We were even visited by the so-called "Tiger Birds!" 

While still keeping a close eye on us, the tigers went about their business, including cleaning each other off and relaxing in the sun.

Then one of them got curious and decided to see what all the fuss below him was. As he came closer and closer, some kids in a jeep started screaming and carrying on. Our guide had warned us to be quiet, as noise would probably not provoke the tigers, but it could scare them away. Apparently the dad knew this too, as he tried mightily to keep his video camera trained on the tiger while slapping his kids across the head and whispering "SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" Ahh, that'll be a home video to treasure.
Of course the ending to the story is that the tiger got within about 15 feet of us (and above us too, so it would have been an easy leap into the uncovered bus) and then decided he'd heard about enough screams, slaps, and sobs, so he ran off to the side, and that was it for our tiger sighting.
We had been able to track them for more two hours. It was one of those experiences we'll never ever forget. We were so fortunate and so lucky. It was a mother tiger and three almost grown cubs. They frolicked, played, ran, walked, licked, cuddled, jumped and lazed. They got within 15 feet of our cantor. Dave's pictures attest to the magnificence of these animals. We were so lucky. We were also warmer given the sun had come up! Elated, we went back to the hotel for a huge breakfast and two hour nap. Our first day! 
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