Some years as Christmas approaches, you cling to tradition, requiring everything to perfectly reflect your idealized memories of childhood. Other years, you open yourself up to the possibility of new traditions or even just one-off festive notions. And then in other rare years, you just skip the whole deal in favor of other exciting options. We had thought this would be a year of altered traditions, but it turned out to be much more of a skipped Christmas. This was Melissa’s third skipped Christmas – the first when she convinced her mom to run away to Las Vegas with her for a weekend of decadence instead of a holiday she wasn’t feeling in a difficult year, the second when she was newly returned from Australia and eager to start the drive from LA to begin her new life in Portland – so she found the excitement of safaris to be a reasonable replacement for Christmas. It was more of a challenge for Tom, Julie, and Meagan who missed the comforting, joyful traditions they love. Still, we all had a lovely time in Ranthambhore. We arrived around 1 pm on December 24th and just had time to check in to the Sultan Bagh Jungle Lodge and grab a quick bite to eat before being picked up for a safari at 2pm.
The safari was amazing! We saw spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, peacocks, lots of cool birds, and – drum roll, please – a tiger!
When we returned to the camp around 5, we noticed that a stage and huge speakers were being set up in the central clearing between the cabins and tents. We had a while before dinner would be served at 8 so we settled in to play a couple rounds of estimation and hearts, while a man wandered around playing jingle bells on his traditional home made instrument.
It all seemed pleasant and charming until the techno music started blasting from the courtyard, loud enough to create an unpleasant, bassy chest rumble while we yelled to hear each other. Tom raced down to reception, only to be told plaintively, “But it’s for Christmas, sir!” In a country where holidays are all celebrated with loud music and bright flashing lights, they were sure that they were honoring our holiday appropriately. They promised to turn off the music by 9 and actually stopped at 8:30, but it made for some noisy card playing.
When booking our accommodations, we were concerned about air conditioning, and marveled at the idea of air conditioned tents. We should have been more concerned about the cold. It was freezing! Ok, not literally freezing, but 42 degrees Fahrenheit feels really cold when you’ve been living in South India for 18 months and don’t own any winter clothes. It also feels pretty darn cold if your relatives who are supposed to be the experts tell you that you just need to bring a light layer with you. Oops. The bonfire in the clearing was tempting enough to brave the blaring techno – oh, the thrill of warm fingertips and thawed toes! – and we enjoyed the chance to chat with our visitors.
We slept in all the layers we had (Melissa was particularly grateful for Tom’s flannel shirt which became her constant companion for the next week) and woke early for safari number two. The 20% of the park that is open to tourists is divided into 9 zones, each large enough to require hours to explore. On the first day, we went to zone 1 and on the second we ventured into zone 3. Zone 3 had three large lakes which were so beautiful, as well as the remnants of the Maharaja’s hunting lodge of yore. Across one of the lakes, we saw another tiger – it was far off, but so amazing!
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading, playing cards, and napping – entirely delightful if not entirely traditional. For dinner we had a simple, but tasty Indian dinner at 8 pm and then went to bed.
Surely next year will come with all the Christmas trappings, but probably none of the thrilling tigers! For now, we’re off to Bundi!