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  13. India: Rajasthan – Ranthambore...

In search of tigers but only found some mating hyenas - much rarer!

Ranthambore National Park is one of the biggest and most renowned national parks in Northern India. The park is located in the Sawai Madhopur district of southeastern Rajasthan, which is about 130 km from Jaipur.

Once considered as one of the famous and former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur, today the Ranthambore National Park terrain is a major wildlife tourist attraction that has drawn the attention of many wildlife photographers and lovers.

Ranthambore National Park is vast, covering approximately 110 square miles, and is home to 60 or so tigers. So finding them can be challenging, especially as there are no fences or walls around the park to contain the tigers, they are truly wild. Indeed, during our stay at the resort fresh tiger paw prints were found not too far from the tents and cabins.

One of the nice things about visiting Ranthambore it gives you a chance to escape the cities and see some of rural India.

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Safaris

People come to Ranthambore to see the wildlife, especially tigers. Like, most folks we decided to take a few safaris; in our case, we signed up for three. The safari tours operate in several different sectors of the Park – which means you get to see different terrains. This maximises your chances of wildlife encounters including tigers.

Safari Drive 1:

We woke to a rather chilly morning, but we felt very snug in our tent. We were setting out early on our first tiger safari of the day, so there was no time for breakfast, but there was coffee waiting at the reception area. Before we departed the hotel kindly provided us with some important provisions: A sandwich, some water, a blanket and a hot water bottle. Morning temperatures in Rajasthan can be cold in January, especially when you are traveling around in the back of an open top truck!

Our naturalist guide was a lady, rarer in the park than the tigers themselves … indeed she was the only one of her kind! The drive to the entrance of Ranthambore National Park was quite short, but once we reached the gates we were confronted by a large crowd of people who were walking along the same road that we were traveling. They were heading up a steep road towards Ranthambore Fort. It was January 1st and a National holiday, and these were Hindu devotees on their way to pay respect to the gods whose shrines were within the walls of the fort. Luckily, our route veered off and we were soon in the relative calm of a scrub like jungle, bumping up and down on rough tracks in search of tigers. It should be said at this point that finding tigers in a huge tract of land such as Ranthambore is not easy. For one thing they are mostly solitary animals, so there is usually just one to find (unless there is a female with cubs) and their territories are large (a tigress may have a territory of 20km2 and a male’s territory can be up to 60km2 to 100km2) and they are well camouflaged in the long grass!

After a short-time the cold was setting in, despite having a blanket and hot water bottle. It was a pleasant surprise when pulling over to eat our sandwiches our guide pulled out a flask of hot chocolate and some cake to share with us. She had made these home comforts for us!

We got to see a lot of deer and antelope, which was not necessarily good as they seemed to be happy munching on grass and bushes; if there were tigers around they would have been long gone. There were also some alligators sitting near a dried-up waterhole. A couple of hours later we still had not seen a tiger and it was time to head back to the hotel. It was disappointing not to have had a sighting of a tiger, but we were still having a good time just being on safari. As we were on the way to the entrance one of our fellow passengers spotted a stripy creature moving in the bush not too far from us. Sadly, not a tiger, but it was a pair of mating hyenas. Yes, animal porn! To some this might be a lesser experience than seeing a tiger, but our guide was tremendously excited. Hyenas are nocturnal animals, so to see them during the day is extremely rare. There are only a small number of hyenas in the park, and when we showed the naturalist back at the resort the pictures she was also very excited and asked Karen to send her some of the pictures to put on their website.

Safari Drive 2:

We were tired and hungry when we got back to the resort, so it was a treat to use the fabulous shower in our tent and take some breakfast. As we were in such an exotic location and due to our bodies being bashed and bumped on the safaris we decided to book ourselves in for a couples’ massage in the evening.

In the afternoon we had our second safari lined up. We were travelling with the same English family we had met in the morning, minus the mum who was not feeling so well, and a young local man who just enjoyed coming to the park to take photos of tigers. He shared some of his photos with us during the journey (he also has a website where he posts the pictures to). The sector of the park we covered on this safari took us over mountainous ridges into a lush valley with more water, including a large wetland area. If we thought the morning’s trek had been bumpy, this was even more so. The evening’s massage loomed large in our minds! There was again plenty to see in terms of antelopes, deer and more alligators. For a second time, we were to be disappointed with the tiger viewing opportunities, so there was nothing more to be done than head back to the resort for a shower, dinner and a massage. There was still a final safari trip tomorrow to finally break our tiger duck!

Safari Drive 3:

Our 3rd safari was another morning drive and old friend the fog was back in town. It didn’t look very hopeful for spotting tigers, but nonetheless, we followed the previous day’s routine, except we put on as many layers of clothes as we could comfortably manage without resembling the Michelin man. Even with these clothes on and the blankets and hot water bottles, it was still cold.

Our journey today took us to another sector of the park. The drive was about 30 minutes, taking us through a local town, which again presented us with further evidence of the harsh life led by those living in rural India. By the time we entered the park the fog had lifted, and we were feeling a little warmer, but still grateful for the extra layers of clothing we had decided to wear. This section of the park felt like it had previously been used as a residence as there were many signs of man’s occupation. The tall grasses and scrub gave way to a more rugged landscape and soon we had climbed high above the valley floor and were treated to spectacular views across mountainous terrain. The trail was bumpy, but it made it all the more fun to be jiggled and tossed as we worked our way up and over the hill. On the other side, we ran to the boundary of the park and the perimeter wall. Here there was a quarry with a watering hole, apparently a popular haunt for the tigers … but not today. A short distance from the quarry we entered a lightly wooded area where we came to relatively close quarters with a sloth bear, which was quite large. For most people, this was exciting but having got up to within a few feet of grizzly bears in the US it was not quite as thrilling for me! It was now getting towards time to return back to the resort and we had yet to see even a glimpse of a tiger – disappointing yes, but we had still enjoyed our time in Ranthambore.

Once we got back to the resort we just about had enough time for a shower, pack away our things and get a quick bite to eat.

A sloth bear

In Summary …

  • Tigers are elusive and largely solitary – so there is no guarantee of seeing any on a safari. Book multiple safaris to maximise your chances of seeing tigers
  • It can be chilly in the mornings – especially in the winter, so wrap up & wear layers.
  • The safaris can take you into some rough terrain so be prepared for a bumpy ride (which is great fun)
  • It is great to escape the cities and see some smaller towns and villages.

Planning your visit to Ranthambore National Park

Ranthambore National Park is located in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. There’s a train station and a small airport in Sawai Madhopur that receives domestic flights from around India but the nearest major city is Jaipur, which is about 115 miles north. Taking the train from Jaipur or Delhi takes about two or four hours, respectively. Driving or taking a bus takes much longer, so unless you’re flying directly to Sawai Madhopur, the train is your best option.

Address:Rajasthan, India
Website:http://www.tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/sawaimadhopur.html#ranthamborenp
Hours:

Monday to Saturday 6 am to 7 pm

Admission Fees

Safari tours can be booked directly or with a tour company or through a hotel package. 

For direct booking you can do this 365 days in advance on the government website: http://fmdss.forest.rajasthan.gov.in/

There are two main ways for booking your safari expedition: the easier, more expensive way or the complicated but less costly way.

The cheap but complicated way is to book your own safari online through the Rajasthan government portal. You’ll firstly need to sign in or register for an account and then select the “Forest and Wildlife” option to find Ranthambore and book your tickets. You’ll select the date of your visit and choose which zone you want to visit. However, the website is not user-friendly and getting to the point of actually booking your tickets is a convoluted process. Plus, travel agencies and hotels often book up huge blocks at a time, leaving few options for travelers to choose from. If you do get a reservation, you’ll be randomly assigned to a vehicle and a guide.

An easier way of going on safari is to leave the planning to a tour group or your hotel. You’ll pay more for the service, but you don’t have to worry about booking the right zone, getting a bad tour guide, or transport to the park. Since you can look at reviews for travel agencies or hotel safaris beforehand, you can choose one with high ratings instead of just being assigned a tour guide. Many hotels in the Ranthambore area include safari packages for guests, which is often the easiest way for getting into the park.

Best time to visit Ranthambore

During the monsoon months – which is also mating season for the animals – of July to September the park is closed. The best time to go to Ranthambore for wildlife watching is just before the rains, from April to June. Be aware that it can get very hot now – 40°C – but the scarcity of water encourages animals out into the open. January to March is also a great time to visit as temperatures are more comfortable and tiger sightings are on the increase. Ranthambore can also be foggy and freezing at the start of the year.

Where to stay in Ranthambore

1. KHEM VILLAS

When we visited Ranthambore we stayed at Khem villas in one of their tents – which was very much glamping rather than camping. It had a huge and comfortable bed and each night the staff would come in and turn the sheets down on the bed. We went in winter and the nights were chilly but we were very snug in our tent. 

The staff were execellent and very accommodating. We arrived late on our first night and they got us situated and provided dinner, despite the kitchen being closed. The food here was excellent.

There is a pool here to relax around when you are not on safari. You can also grab a massage – which is nice after a day on bumping around in the back of a jeep.

2. FATEH’S RETREAT

Fateh’s retreat is based on a farm near Sawai Madhopur. It was for the former home of renowend tiger conservationist Fateh Singh Rathore. Fateh Singh joined the Indian Forest Service in 1960 and was part of the first Project Tiger team. He was widely acknowledged as the tiger guru for his legendary knowledge of the big cat. He worked over 50 years in wildlife conservation.

Today, you can stay at this farm homestay.

There are five large, beautifully-appointed double rooms, each offering a spectacular view of the forest and the Aravali Hills. And within the secluded lawns, and hedged between the trees, is a completely private infinity pool that overlooks the forest.

Home-cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner can be ordered and served on request.

3. HOTEL TIGER HAVELI

Tiger Haveli is a family-run hotel in Ranthambore. It provides a comfortable and luxurious lodging option during your wildlife tour to Ranthambore National 

It has a great location located just 8 minutes away from Sawai Madhopur Railway Station. 

The Hotel Tiger Haveli combines the traditional style with modern amenities. Here you will experience traditional Rajasthani hospitality

There are three room options: Standard Room (Non AC), Deluxe Room (Non AC), Deluxe Room (AC) and Super Deluxe Room (AC). 

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