Hit the road two weeks back, and this is my first chance to really catch up. Leaving Dharchula, the Himalayan highway was lined with rhododendrons, and the towns filling with the first Hindu pilgrims of the season. Meanwhile, my father was on an overseas flight for a pilgrimage of his own -- to meet me, search for tigers and check out the Taj.

I'll spare my gentle readers the painful details of coming and going from Dharchula, and focus for now on the first of our tiger sightings. It came on an early morning jeep safari in Ranthambore National Park, a small preserve on the edge of the Rajasthan desert. Rocky escarpments overlooking the park feature thousand-year-old forts, and the jungle is said to hold anywhere from 20 to 40 of the big cats. Dad's proclivities steer as much towards birding as looking for tigers; though ultimately he is no different than any other tourist. The chance to spot India's most famous king of the jungle is one he prizes above counting our feathered friends.

As it turned out, birding paved the way for our initial encounter with the elusive tiger....

We sat at the remains of a small reservoir, a little lake populated by tall pink-and-white Painted storks, and comically beaked Eurasian spoonbills. Our fellow passengers in the jeep were a trio of older Australians, whose focus seemed as much the forest as the animals, so they were content as we observed the shore birds, when out of the woodlands behind us came the alarm call of the Sambar, the largest of the Indian deer. In a New York minute, we had left the lake in our dust and raced to the nearest high point. The deer cried again from the woods below, and we shifted into high speed once again, jostling over the jeep track to brake at a shady point in the forest.

About 70 yards distant, we spotted the tell-tale flash of orange on the heavily-muscled tigress who occupies the area (allegedly with her cubs, who were not in evidence) shifting slowly through the trees, neither concerned with us or with the Sambar hind who had tipped us off. For several minutes, she ambled at a slight angle to the road, and we excitedly glassed her through our binoculars until she disappeared from sight.

This was more fortuitous than we realized, for with three more drives through Ranthambore we never did spot another tiger. Our other jeep-mates sighed and rolled their eyes when we explained that birds were a good way to spot tigers; after all, that's how we'd found ours (though, honestly, I had some sympathy, but so did Dad). Meantime, we discussed with guides the problem of poaching -- pronounced in Ranthambore, where the arid climate forces concentrations of wildlife around water holes -- and amassed a list of over 70 bird species, not to mention seeing mongoose (mongeese?), crocodiles, spotted deer and the big Indian antelope known as a "nilgai," which means blue cow.

Our Ranthambore evenings, meanwhile, were spent at the old Jaipur Maharaja's hunting lodge, a charming if rundown state-run inn high on a hill in the Ranthambore buffer zone. By the end of two days, we were famous among the guests for having seen the tigress, an experience none seemed capable of replicating.

Next, we pushed off for additional parks -- Bharatpur's Kaledeo National Park, for birds; Corbett National Park in the Himalayan foothills for more tigers and wild elephants -- stopping off at the Taj Mahal enroute. Those seeking a final tally will be curious to learn that we saw two additional tigers in Corbett, and between all parks managed to rack up a list of some 213 birds altogether. Unfortunately, I'm heading back to Dharchula today, and the details of these other experiences will have to wait.

With luck, I'll find Internet access up the road. If I don't,expect me to be dining off my tiger sightings when I get back to Delhi at the beginning of April.

And, finally, yes, the Taj Mahal remains as wonderful as ever; though as a monument of romantic love, I can think of better company than my Old Man to take in the splendid marble architecture of Agra. Now, I've really got to get back on the road.