In Tiger Territory
As the road curves upwards between the barren, rocky hills of the Aravalli range, you enter a different world far removed from the dusty little town of Sawai Madhopur, the base from which you begin to explore Ranthambore National Park.
Here, massive banyans and palms tower over sparkling streams coursing over rugged boulders draped with moss. Remnants of old walls and shattered ruins entwined with roots add to the overall impression of a strange and wondrous tropical paradise. At the approach of our Gypsy vehicle, a troop of langurs sets up a noisy chatter, and then settles down to an extended grooming session. Further up the path, a peacock treats us to a dazzling display of tail feathers in shimmering shades of emerald and blue. Since there are no females around, we presume it is simply an expression of joie de vivre... a stunningly beautiful creature paying homage to life.
Waves of dry desert heat bounce off the sandstone walls of the Ranthambhore Fort silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky. It is only 8 am in the morning and if the clear skies are an indication of the kind of weather we can expect today, it’s going to be a scorcher. Our guide tells us that it rained continuously for three days prior to our arrival, but though we search the skies for some respite, there is none.
Jogi Mahal, probably the most beautifully situated forest rest house in existence, was closed to the public at the time of our visit.
These lakes attract large gatherings of ungulates including sambar, chital and nilgai. And, in their wake, the tiger. But we must content ourselves with a distant view from the ramparts of the fort. Through binoculars observe a herd of sambar, antlers festooned with water weeds, wading unconcernedly across the lake, in full view of basking crocodiles. All of a sudden, the water erupts into a frenzy as the deer rush towards the shore. Something has disturbed them, and it isn’t the crocodiles. The water settles but the sambar have gone.
On many drives through the forests, you see herds of sambar and nilgai or blue bull, even the odd chinkara. A family of wild boar trot across the grassy expanse of Milak Talao while in the trees, overlooking the peaceful scene, a crested serpent eagle eyes us imperiously.
Ranthambore is rich in bird species, including raptors and several species of water birds.but try to find us a tiger!
In fact, you spotted more birds in the sylvan surroundings of the Tiger Moon Resort, comfortable home for the duration of stay. Golden and blackheaded orioles, tree pies, kingfishers and paradise flycatchers flitted freely through the grounds of this exclusive, 37-room hotel located on the outskirts of Sawai Madhopur, a short 20-minute drive from the park. Tiger Moon, run by the Mumbai-based Indian Adventures, is one of many places to stay in Sawai Madhopur but what makes this special is its location on the fringes of the park and the eco-sensitive layout of the complex. While a sapphire-blue swimming pool adds a five-star touch, the basic accommodation is refreshingly simple low stone cottages and bamboo huts that blend beautifully with the surroundings.
The Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan is a jewel among the national parks and sanctuaries in India, and probably one of the best places in the world to observe and photograph tigers in their natural habitat. It once formed part of a contiguous belt of virgin forest that stretched across the width of Central India. The past 50 years have seen the relentless destruction of vast tracts of forest land and all that remains today are isolated pockets of jungle preserved by virtue of the fact that they have been declared protected areas. Ranthambore was one of the eight national parks and sanctuaries designated as Project Tiger Reserves in 1973.
Rigorous conservation efforts ensured a healthy increase in the number of tigers in the park, but a spate of poaching in the early 90s decimated the tiger population by nearly half. Today, there are approximately 35 tigers in Ranthambore, Still, here, more than in any other park in India, tigers can be seen in broad daylight, a fact that is borne out by the most amazing experience you have.
How and Where
Located in Rajasthan, the Ranthambore National Park encompasses an area of 1,334 sq kms, with a core area of 410 sq kms. In 1984, an adjoining 104 sq kms of forest land, the Sawai Man Singh Sanctuary, was added to the sanctuary.
The park is open from October to June, but November to March is the best time to visit. Ranthambore is closed in the monsoons. April and May can be stiflingly hot but wildlife sightings are better in the summer months as animals can usually be seen near water sources.
The animals to look out for are tiger, leopard, hyenas, jackals, jungle cats, sloth bears, ratel, sambar, chital, nilgai, wild boar, hares, mongoose, monitor lizards, marsh crocodiles. Ranthambore boasts of a rich variety of birdlife including crested serpent eagles, great Indian horned owls, quail, sandgrouse, spur fowl,tree pies, paradise flycatchers, kingfishers, golden and black headed orioles, painted storks, spoonbills and a variety of ducks.
The closest airport is Jaipur (132 kms), while the nearest town and railhead is Sawai Madhopur (14 kms).
No private vehicles are allowed in the park. Visitors can book licensed Gypsy taxis for Rs 750 per jungle trip, which usually lasts about two and a half hours. It is mandatory to hire the services of a guide (Rs 100). Park entry fees are Rs 25 per person. In short, a two-hour jungle trip can add up to a fair amount. Every vehicle is allotted one of four routes and each route runs through a different area of the park. This is done to control the number of vehicles on each route and ensure minimum disturbance to wildlife.
Since Ranthambore is a relatively small park, only a limited number of vehicles is allowed in at any given time. Most hotels arrange vehicles for their guests but during the peak season (December-January) jungle trips could be limited. This can be annoying for visitors on a short stay who may not be able to get into the park as often as they would like to in order to make the most of their visit.
THE TIGER MOON RESORT
Run by Indian Adventures offers visitors three options. The Jungle Plan (boarding, lodging and two safaris) the American Plan (boarding and lodging) and the Continental Plan (bed and breakfast), All three rates are per person per night on twin sharing basis. The rooms are air-cooled only.
THE TAJ SAWAI MADHOPUR LODGE
Run by the Taj Group of Hotels, is a 13-room hotel set in beautifully landscaped gardens. There are tents as well, with prices pegged (single occupancy) (for double occupancy). The rates are per head and include all three meals. A standard room is pegged (simple) and a double also.
CASTLE JHOOMER BAORI FOREST LODGE
Run by Rajasthan Tourism, was once a hunting lodge belonging to the rulers of Jaipur. Today, it is a trifle frayed at the edges but is popular with western tourists. The tariffs are: suite Rs ……. air-conditioned doubles Rs …….., and air-cooled doubles Rs ………. A seven percent luxury tax is applicable.
Run by Rajasthan Tourism, is clean but basic. Suites are available per night and air-cooled doubles cost per night.