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Not room enough in one forest for PM & tigress

Jaipur, Dec. 24: Tigresses have a habit of snapping at the heels of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister, it seems, might not be able to spend the night at the Ranthambore tiger reserve because, of late, a tigress has been frequenting the forest department guesthouse, Jogi Mahal, and other private resorts at hours of her choosing.

That — to be honest — is not the only reason.

Vajpayee’s holiday planners asked for 20 rooms for the Prime Minister and his entourage, but in Ranthambore and the town of Sawai Madhopur where the reserve is located, that many are not available. Other tourists have booked rooms well in advance.

The Prime Minister’s team wanted 20 luxury tents managed by an international chain of hotels, but 16 of these had already been taken.

His holiday minders have not given up all hope, though. They are getting two run-down hotels of the Rajasthan State Tourism Development Corporation, Jhumar Bhavdi, ready, just in case Vajpayee expresses a desire to check out a tigress of the wild.

And if the Black Cats agree. Which they are unlikely to since Sultanpurwali tigress was sighted near Jhumar Bhavdi only five days ago.

In June, when Jaswant Singh was visiting and it was very hot, the tigress trotted up — two cubs in tow — close to the finance minister’s airconditioned comfort, causing a security stir.

The late Rajiv Gandhi, when he was Prime Minister, had holidayed in the sanctuary 18 years ago in the company of close family friend Amitabh Bachchan. They had stayed at Jogi Mahal, which has only six rooms.

But that was then and now is now — security staff have said Vajpayee can’t stay there.

The Prime Minister has had some bruising encounters with tigresses that come wrapped in saris — in one case, sporting mostly salwar-kameez — from almost all parts of the country.

The Royal Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, wasn’t much of a surprise. After all, she comes from tiger country. But Jayalalithaa or Mayavati' At last count, there weren’t any tigers in Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh.

That said, no one — least of all, the experienced Vajpayee himself — can cast doubt on either’s tigress-like qualities.

According to the original itinerary, Vajpayee was to leave for Ranthambore the morning after his arrival in Jaipur tomorrow, his birthday, and stay there for two days.

Given the nosy tigress and the problem with accommodation, he might only pay a day-visit to the reserve on December 27.

It may not be the only change in his plans. The Maharaja suite, the best in Rambagh Palace — that belongs to the former Rajmata of the royal family of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi, and now run as a hotel by the Taj group — would have been the natural choice for Vajpayee.

Initially, that was how it was to be. But, widely reported in the local media, there are second thoughts on accommodation, again for security reasons. He may have to be satisfied with the second best: the Suryavanshi suite, named after the Suryavanshi rulers.

Maharaja or Suryavanshi or whatever, the Prime Minister’s security wishes to keep it a secret.

With Vajpayee’s reputation of a gourmet preceding him, the hotel is flying in its best personnel. A chef for Chinese cuisine has already landed in Jaipur.

The Taj group should know the way to the Prime Minister’s heart — he had spent a few days one year-end at its Kumarakom resort in the backwaters of Kerala.

Whether or not he has the stomach to risk a possible rendezvous with Sultanpurwali tigress, he does like fish, it is said.

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