Welcome to the Circus – Ranthambore Jungle Safari

Sitting at a beach-side bar. Live band playing. Adele, the undisputed queen of melody, is rocking the scene. Sometimes it hurts.

The lyrics remind me of Ranthambore National Park. Baffled with the link between a sad love song and a National park? Well the link is what gave birth to this article.

It is what I felt when I saw how Ranthambore National Park is slowly transforming into a circus. Though circuses have long gone out of business in India, National Parks are trying to take their place. Don’t believe me? Here’s my personal account on the plight of poor wild animals. Let’s rewind.

Tiger crossing in front of our vehicle, Ranthambore National Park

On 18th March 2016, when the world was sleeping, I was wondering if my jungle Safari vehicle would show up. It’s already 6:30 am. My call time was 5:30 am. Why hasn’t it arrived yet? Was there some accident? Was my booking cancelled at the last moment? All kinds of weird thoughts were crossing my mind.

Finally at 7 am our Tiger Safari canter arrived. No apologies given. All seats were taken. Mostly foreigners except for two Indian families. One family had a 2-3 months old baby. Other family had a toddler and a 2 years old kid. I had no place to sit. So I had to involuntarily endure the bumpy ride while getting sun-baked. The sun was in punishing mood even though it was only mid-March.

Sanju, our safari guide, tried his best to make up for the time lost. But today was not a day for me. Some more waiting since our guide had to register passengers’ details at the park entrance Gate. In the meantime, some hawkers tried to make a quick buck by trying to sell a cap worth Rs. 250/- for 1100 to a foreigner. The deal was finally sealed at Rs. 700/- Both parties were happy as both thought they made a good bargain.

After 15 minutes of wait, we finally entered the park but again we had to wait at the Jogi Mahal Gate. We were probably amongst the last ones to arrive. And at last, after Sherlock-ing for some time, I found the culprit responsible for our delay. It was the Indian families on-board (no points for guessing). One family couldn’t get ready on time and therefore everyone had to suffer.

Jogi Mahal Gate, Ranthambore National Park

Birds saying Hi to us at Jogi Mahal Gate, Ranthambore National Park

Zone 3 Jungle Safari Route, Ranthamore

Zone 3 Jungle Safari Route, Ranthamore National Park

Sanju started telling us about the park and giving instructions on how to behave when we spot a tiger. Little did he know that adults become worse than kids when they see a Tiger. We cross other vehicles loaded with enthu cutlet ‘tiger lovers’ telling us they saw the tiger here…there…everywhere. We have been roaming in the park for almost an hour now but no luck so far. Everywhere same story is replayed. “Arrey aap late hogaye. Abhi toh yahin dikha tha Tiger.” (Oh!You are late. We just saw a tiger here!)

Finally Sanju asked the driver to kill the engine near a water body in Zone 3 where tiger sightings are the most. There were already a few canters and gypsies waiting. Karol Bagh aunties were busy sharing success stories of Tiger sighting in full volume. Either the person that they are talking to was deaf or probably they were deriving sadistic pleasure by teasing lesser mortals like us who still haven’t had Tiger darshan.

Our guide Sanju was an intelligent person and thankfully didn’t get swayed by countless suggestions given by our co-passengers. Giving into their suggestion would have meant that we roamed like headless chickens in the park without any success. After waiting for half an hour we decided to move towards the grass. And as we were moving, Sanju told our driver to stop and park the canter on a side. Excitement was building and the tension was palpable.

Zone 3 Jungle Safari Route, Ranthamore National Park

Zone 3 Jungle Safari Route, Ranthamore National Park

Jeep Ride. Ranthambore Tiger Safari

Still in search of the elusive Tiger. Ranthambore National Park

Voila! There’s a Tiger. It’s patiently waiting for the right moment to pounce on its prey. However, little did it know it’s not going to be its day. Everyone starts jumping with excitement of sighting a Tiger. Seeing the excitement in our canter the other vehicles get the hint. Everyone came rushing in. 8 Gypsies and 5 canters. The Tiger is being pursued by dozens of Gypsies and Canters carrying camera toting wildlife enthusiasts. All kind of cameras in action- from point and shoot to DSLR’s, from mobile phones to iPads. People were about to get down from the Gypsy and vehicles were encroaching Tiger’s territory. And the icing on the cake was the kids squealing and shouting. Not just in our canter but in others too. Now the whole Jungle Safari experience looked like Jurassic Park meets Disney World. I wonder how the tigers cope with this continual harassment and intrusion.

Tourists during Ranthambore Tiger Safari

Tourists going picture crazy during Tiger Safari, Ranthambore National Park

Our noise had frightened the prey and the predator. I was heartbroken to not experience the safari the way I had imagined. Our guide Sanju probably read my mind. He asked us to sit quietly if we wanted to see the Big cat in full glory. His strict tone put the kids and the parents (who were worse than kids) to their place. Now without making any noise we were all waiting.

After some more waiting we finally saw the Tiger in full glory. He was preparing for the kill. For approximately one hour I saw him following his prey patiently. If there’s one thing we can learn from Tigers is their patience. In spite of being so powerful and strong, they have to play the waiting and the patience game.

Finally Tiger Darshan, Ranthambore National Park

Finally Tiger Darshan, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger following its Prey, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger following its Prey, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger following its Prey, Ranthambore Tiger Safari

Tiger following its Prey, Ranthambore Tiger Safari

Finally the Tiger rewards the waiting eyes, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger still in the hunt mode, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger patiently waiting for his prey, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger patiently waiting for its prey, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger Safari in Ranthambore National Park

Another Tiger near Padam Lake, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger at Padam Lake, Zone 3, Ranthambore National Park

Tiger getting hounded by the picture crazy wildlife enthusiasts, Ranthambore National Park

I was happy because in spite of lousy co-passengers I saw the majestic Tiger. But I really wish that the Government can step in to stop this circusisation of our National Parks. Strict penalties should be imposed on travellers who become a nuisance for the Jungle or may be just feed them to the tiger!

HERE ARE SOME TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR RANTHAMBORE TRIP:

  1. When to visit: Ranthambore National Park is best enjoyed with as little ambient noise as possible. For better or worse, it turns into a circus during long weekends or holiday season. So visit it during weekdays. March-May is the best time to spot the Tiger. When the park reopens in mid-October, the jungle becomes lusher after the monsoon, but tall grass makes it harder to spot the big cat.
  1. Which Vehicle to book: Only park-approved vehicles are allowed inside the Jungle. There are a limited number of vehicles allowed into the park, a maximum of 40 vehicles, 17 Gypsies for tourist and 3 Gypsies for VIP and 20 Canters at any one time. Only 8 Gypsies are allowed on a track. You can either choose an uncovered Gypsy, which seats six people, or a Canter that seats up to 20. You can book per seat. The Gypsy costs approximately 6000 and is ideal because it allows you more freedom to go explore the park’s many nooks and corners. The Canter costs 800 per person. Gypsies are in high demand, so book early. You can reserve one through the park’s official website.You can also book through a travel agent or your hotel, though they’ll add their service charge.
  1. Which Zone to book: Rathambhore park is divided into ten zones. Visitors are assigned their Jungle Safari zone by lottery. If possible, insist on getting Zone 3 and 4. These are VIP zones and are the best bet to sight a Tiger. If you can pull some strings, try for the Freezone Gypsy which comes with a satellite phone. It has a freedom to go in any zone of the park.
  1. What Safari Time to book: There are two safaris a day – morning safari starts at 6.30 a.m. and evening safari starts at 3 p.m. Usually morning safari is better. However, starting April 2016 five gypsies will be allowed for a full day Safari in the park only on the tourist zones (1-5). The full day ticket would be Rs. 30,000 for Indians and Rs. 40,000 for foreigners.
  1. Where to stay: Ranthambore has hotels to suit any kind of budget. Best places to stay in Ranthambore are Nahargarh, Oberoi and Jhumar Bawri (RTDC hotel in the jungle). The later has a good view but bad food.
  1. How to get there: Reaching Ranthambore is not difficult. You can either fly to Jaipur, take a three-hour road journey or you can take a train to Sawai Madhopur. There are direct trains from Delhi and Mumbai, but make sure to book way in advance.
  1. Number of Tigers: As per the locals there are 62 Tigers in Ranthambore right now. The stories of Fateh, the largest Tiger, and Machali are world famous. Do talk to locals to get scoop on Jungle tales
  1. Wildlife: Ranthambore National parkcontains rich flora and fauna. If you are a nature lover you are in for a treat. You can see Tigers, Leopards, Striped Hyenas, Sambar deer, Chital, Nilgai, langurs, Macaques, Jackals, Jungle cats, Caracals, Sloth bears, Black bucks, Rufoustailed Hare, Indian Wild Boar, Chinkara, Common Palm Civets or Toddy cat, Coomon Yellow Bats, Desert Cats, Fivestriped Palm Squirels, Indian False Vampires, Indian Flying Foxes, Indian Foxes, Indian Gerbilles, Indian Mole Rats, Indian Porcupines, Longeared Hedgehogs, Ratels, Small Indian Mongoose, Small Indian Civets and Common mongoose. You can also see marsh reptiles near the water bodies.
  1. Beyond Tiger Safari: Ranthamore is also counted as the famous heritage site because of the pictorial ruins that dot the wildlife park. You can visit the Ranthambore Fort and Raj Bagh Ruins. These ruins are located between the Padam Lake and the Raj Bagh Lake. Padam Lake is the largest lake in the park and the beautiful Jogi Mahal is located on its edge. Jogi Mahal is the place where apparently Bill Clinton stayed. And if you are game for a walk do climb up the Ranthambore Fort, which stands majestically atop a hill overlooking the entire park.
  1. After Ranthambore: You can club your Ranthambore Jungle Safari with a tour to Jaipur, Agra or Bharatpur. Or if you want to explore the lesser explored places then do visit Chand Baoli at Abhaneri or Samode.
Padam Lake, Ranthambore National Park

Padam Lake, one of the favourite spot for Tiger Spotting, Zone 3, Ranthambore Jungle Safari

Padam Talab, Zone 3, Ranthambore Jungle Safari

Padam Talab, Zone 3, Ranthambore Jungle Safari

Sambar Deer, Ranthambore National Park

The prey of the Tiger – Sambar Deer, Ranthambore National Park

Crocodile resting at Padam Lake, Ranthambore National Park

Crocodile resting at Padam Lake, Ranthambore National Park

Crocodile at Ranthambore National Park

Crocodile at Ranthambore National Park

Birds at Ranthambore National Park

Birds at Ranthambore National Park

Flora and Fauna at Ranthambore National Park

Beautiful Fauna at Ranthambore National Park

Peacock, Ranthambore National Park

Are you looking at me? Ranthambore National Park

Jogi Mahal, Ranthambore National Park

Jogi Mahal, Ranthambore National Park

PS: Special thanks to Manish Sharma for making this trip and article happen.

68 Comments

  • Excellent pictures… Really ! You got so very fantastic up-close-and-personal with the Tiger you captured… But then yeah, I can too feel the angst of having terrible co-passengers… But I don’t see any solution to this !

    Happy following you, none-the-less 🙂

    • Hi Shaunak,

      Thanks a lot for your lovely comments. I am super delighted to read them. Well, if each one of us start behaving ourselves then both animals and humans could live peacefully and happily. But that’s easier said than done 🙁

  • Chandresh says:

    Amazing Pictures and lucky you .. I was unable to spot one despite 7-8 visit to this place and Jim corbett …. But idea of feeding the co-passenger to tiger ,seems ur inspired by Ram Gopal Verma 🙂 ….

    • Hi Chandresh,

      Thanks for reading it and sharing your lovely comments.

      Well, I too have visited Jim Corbett many a time and never saw even one Tiger there. I sometimes wonder if they really have any tigers left there.

      By the way that “feeding the co-passengers to Tiger” was just a sarcastic comment. I wasn’t serious about that. But surely something should be done to stop this continuous harassment of the animals.

  • Ankita says:

    What we need is better pre-safari counselling to ensure that passengers behave the way they are supposed to.

    • First of all many thanks Ankita for reading the story and sharing your thoughts.

      I agree we need proper pre-safari counselling but I have seen people forget everything once they are in the Jungle. Either we have to become more conscious and regulate ourselves to not harass the animals or there should be strict penalties. I have been to safaris outside India too but it isn’t as bad as in India.

  • Quite frankly, National Parks require stricter regulations. There is no hiding from the fact that Indian Tourists are the worse travellers in the world. I am repeatedly infuriated by the reckless shenanigans of the crowd on safari tours. We come to the Park to observe the animals in quiet, not to enforce our loud and pretentious ways on them. This article is the need of the hour. I wish more people write about the problems than just blatantly promoting a destination. Inspire and educate to be a responsible traveller.

    • Thanks a lot Vaibhav for sharing your point of view. I am so glad I am not the only one who feels this way. Things would change if we start traveling responsibly. Let’s keep doing our bit.

      Cheers!

  • Truly stunning captures Archana and loved reading every bit of this post!!

  • Deepika says:

    Indian tourists! Sigh. Archana.. I can totally understand your angst. But good sightings! 🙂

    • Hey Deepika,

      Thanks for sharing the same sentiment. I wish something is done sooner than later.

      And, yes I absolutely loved seeing the BIG CAT. Totally mesmerised by its majesticness.

      Cheers!

  • Shaivi says:

    The pics are breathtaking! Reading your post, I was reminded of my own visit. The girls accompanying us in the Gypsy seemed to be more interested in taking selfies than following the guide’s instructions! I feel kids below a certain age should not be allowed in some zones where Tigers are mostly spotted.

    • Hi Shaivi,

      I am so glad I am finding more and more people sharing the same sentiment. At least there are some people who wants a change. I just hope more people join in to help the poor animals.

      Selfie addicts and noisy kids ruin your experience anywhere you might go. I have had horrific experiences with them. Unfortunately there’s little you can do about them except they themselves realise how they spoil someone’s experience.

      Anyway thanks for reading the story and sharing your heartfelt thoughts.

      Cheers!

  • Nishant says:

    Nicely written and awesome photographs 🙂

  • Nisha says:

    Nice write up. I am glad I am not the only one to think like that. Unless, we behave in responsible manner, we shouldn’t be allowed to any safaris.

    • Thanks a lot Nisha for taking out time to read and comment on the article. Heartfelt thanks. And we really need more voices to speak on this topic. Responsible Tourism is the need of the hour.

  • riya says:

    Hey Archana,

    you just convinced me to visit Ranthambore… 🙂

    it is one of the nearest tourist attraction nearer to Gujarat.. initially we are planning for matheran. but your pictures and writing convince me to visit this place…
    just one question, Do you recommand this place in summer ???

    • Hi Riya,

      When people say that words are mightier than swords they are absolutely right. Your words just made my day. Thanks a lot for the kind words 🙂

      Yeah, you can very much go in summers. Since the safari timings are early morning and evenings. It might be slightly hot and humid but I guess no pain no gain.

      So go for it.

      And don’t forget to follow the rules. Be nice to the animals. Both in the jungle as well as in your vehicle 😛

      Have a great time!

      Cheers!

  • Ranthambhore has truly become a circus.with hundreds of hotels coming up, the pressure to not shut the park and to open it even more is very high. I just hope good sense prevails and they leave the animals alone. Also, children below an age shouldn’t be allowed.

    • Hi,

      I totally concur with you on this topic. Responsible Tourism is the only solution to save our wildlife and nature.

      Hope they are more like minded people 🙂

      Cheers!
      Archana

  • Hi Archana,
    I have been following your blogs for quite some time now. I visited ranthambore but was unable to spot the tiger. i think you are very lucky to see it as it is a very shy one. by the way your images are superb.

    • Hi Sumit,

      Thanks a lot for being a loyal reader. Really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. I know there are many people who never get a chance to see the Tiger in the wild. I was lucky to see not just one but three tigers and that too hunting.

      Perhaps they were in a good mood that day 😛

      Wish you all the best for your next time.

      Cheers!
      Archana

  • Been there. Seen that!

    Totally echoing my feelings. I guess ‘tourists’ are waiting for the day they wont be allowed inside parks at all.
    If safari education is not imparted, there wouldn’t be any difference between zoos and jungles.
    I have seen insanely stupid people using flash in the tiger’s eyes and not letting it cross over.

    Needs to be a conscious effort.

  • Totally agree with you. It should be as strict as in other countries. For example in Australia when they saw that the population of little penguins was decreasing they made the island ‘humans free’. You can visit the island to see the Penguin Parade when thousands of them come out of the ocean at dusk. No cameras allowed. No harsh lighting. Pindrop silence. Only a limited number of people permitted and they too have to sit in a particular area so that no one disturbs the little penguins.

  • wow that place is looking awesome and best place for adventure. you capture beauty of Ranthambore. these are amazing.

    • Thanks a lot. Yeah, it was very beautiful. The experience could have been better if people behaved more responsibly.

      This post is a small step towards that direction. Hopefully one day we all will understand.

      Cheers!

  • What a lovely pictures……

  • Tourpirate says:

    This is an amazing photo post which truly reflects the travellers experience and entices others to explore this place, truly a thrilling post.

  • Rutavi says:

    Archana,

    Wondering how I missed seeing this post! I totally coincide with your thoughts.Last year I did three top national parks of India with an esteemed luxury hotel. To my surprise, I saw tourist trying to touch a walking tiger next to the jeep. The other van was close enough to the tiger and the tiger was being blocked to go to have water from the pond till the right picture was taken by the wildlife photographer. Each guide was given extra money to keep the car closer to the tiger. It was like Mumbai Local chaos to get the best seat. Really how shameful that none of the guides stop this nonsense and no ‘tourist’. Not forget the tourist who flashed right in the face of this magnificent beast. I should write this experience I think!

    • I guess it’s the same story everywhere. We lack basic courtesy of whatsoever. We can neither respect people nor animals. But it’s normal people like you and me who can bring a change. Lets continue spreading the word 🙂

  • I used the same terms “circus” last month when I was at Tadoba Tiger Park in Maharashtra. National parks nowadays are weekend getaways for us as they are now full of resorts, pool spa, etc.
    And the thing which I hate most about the tiger parks is that we are following a tiger and waiting for him to hunt, it’s like you are eating at a roadside dabha and dogs start to sit beside you with their swinging tail. Same story in tiger parks.
    But the irony here is that we will eat at the dabha as changes of dogs frightening the waiter is 0% but not in tiger parks, as these centers and jeeps, most of the time frighten the hunters prey. I even asked this from my tour guide & she just couldn’t give me a straight answer.
    After the Todaba trip, I decided not to visit or suggest national tiger parks as they are circus full of fools aka, we, not the animals.

    • I totally concur to your thoughts Jatin. And we are the ones to be blamed. But I am sure people like you and me can also bring a change. Lets spread the good word 🙂

      • I remember that once, tiger national parks were confined to limited tourists, especially of wildlife photographers like Aditya Singh who use to sit on machans (tree houses) for weeks, just to get a perfect photograph, but now Tiger parks are like the new Shimla Manali.

  • nice post & thanks for sharing. Keep it up

  • RISHI MATHUR says:

    Good to the point narration, good photos, would have liked a little more description of the jungle flora especially. Good job…

  • RISHI MATHUR says:

    Good to the point and crisp description. Good job…..

  • Yashaswini says:

    I really like this post. I couldn’t agree more. Had very similar experiences in Tadoba and Gir early this year. There are way too many so called wildlife photography enthusiasts who throng these natural habitats. I sighted my first striped cat and a pride of lions on that trip but was left saddened having seen their plight. Hope people follow ethical tourism. You have captured some really good pictures !

  • After my Gir forest safari i am looking forward for this one,thanks for this guide.

  • Good to see so many tigers at one place! Atleast here tigers are totally safe!

  • Bhushavali says:

    I can totally relate to you. One, I know the excitement of spotting a big cat in wild, I haven’t seen a tiger yet, but got to see a leopard… Two, I can understand the nuisance of mindless people in the name of tourists. Can you believe when I say, I saw hoards of tourists, in a cave in Andhra, were just ‘whooo’-ing and using flash camera on bats!!!!!!!!
    Btw I don’t agree with feeding the tigers with those people. Come on, those people eat junk food and tigers have a better diet!!!!

  • That doesn’t sound like the best safari looking for a tiger, but at least you got some awesome Pictures. I have alwas felt uncomfortable in tour groups, for many of the reasons you listed here. National parks definitely need some more regulations. This can’t be good for the animals.

  • Jean says:

    Oh how disappointing. It certianly doesn’t sound like the best safari to have gone on. Sadly these things to happen when we are travelling. Those tigers do look majestic. And so do the rest of the animals that you got to see.

  • What a truly incredible experience to see these magnificent animals in their own environment. However it is a shame that it wasn’t quite what you expected, especially with all the noise and chaos by other travellers. I wonder too what the tigers think about their territory constantly being invaded! What length lens did you use to capture these photos?

  • It is so sad that the tigers are disturbed in their natural environment. I am so glad that the second time round the passengers behaved allowing you to experience and take those amazing shots. I agree that stricter controls should be put on tours.
    Thank you for your honest review of the experience

  • Kunal Sutar says:

    Hi and thank you for a great article. I really just love your blog. I will bookmark it and come back for more.

  • Ali May says:

    Wow. The tiger is my favourite animal on this planet, and the description of these tourist vehicles and the urges from tourist seems a bit OTT. Is it regulated in any way? Your photos are amazing! I think you have had a very lucky experience. I hope the tour operators spend the down-time discussing the conservation of these beautiful animals. It shouldn’t be ‘expected’ to see a tiger in the wild, as there are only about 1300 left in the wild in India, right?

  • Grace says:

    Hi Archana, I am a nature lover, taught from very young age to respect and preserve it (meaning: if I see a rubbish on my local beach I will pick it up and put to a bin, if my kids want to have half an hour shower I will tell them of the importance to use water responsibly and ask them to be done in 5 min, if I forget a carrier bag while shopping and I am offered a plastic bag I will decline the offer- so nothing spectacular but something that we all can easily do- and I believe we should do) Now, your article ( a really lovely one) convinced me that I have no desire to take part in a safari of any kind as by doing so I would feel partly responsible that there are no stricter regulation you are calling for. If the money still flowing why would anybody think to change something that brings income? I will instead watch David Attenborough on my TV and of course I will miss on seeing a tiger but I will not feel like being a part of a circus 🙂 Having to put up with the tourists like the one you had described would have spoiled my experience altogether but having said that I often read about Americans, Australian, Canadian etc who do trophy hunting and travel across the world not only to annoy the animals but to kill them. There are a number of facebook pages where they try to expose the hunters. Shockingly those hunters are convinced they do nothing wrong and in many cases they pass on their ‘passion’ to their young children. Those kids sometimes as young as 9 pride themselves with a dead tiger, or a freshly slaughtered zebra or whatever else they just have killed and pose for a photo with a smile just like their parents! How sad is that?? In comparison those Indian tourist look just like super annoying and stupid kids that need a slap on the hand.

  • Christie says:

    THIS IS SO AWESOME!!! What a seriously cool experience. And great info, especially about trying to book zone 3 or 4! Noted. Thanks for sharing

  • Riely says:

    Those pictures of the tiger patiently hunting his prey are out of this world. You are right though, it is sad how individuals don’t recognize animals’ rights to their own space. We need to take responsibility as travellers and make sure we protect our beloved animals. I would not appreciate the yells and screams of the others as well.

  • Informative article and great clicks

  • Nicely written and Images are too attractive. Great work Archana

  • Kunal Sutar says:

    BRAVO FOR REALLY IMPRESSIVE SITE

  • Amy Adam says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing your point of view. I am so glad that I read this post. Rajasthan has a vast cultural and historical repertoire. Colors, intricate designs, and jubilance are embedded in every aspect of life in Rajasthan – be it food, clothes, houses, and mansions, or entertainment.
    Tiger travel in Ranthambore National Park is often offered as an extension on tours to other parks and reserves, to give wildlife enthusiasts, even more, opportunities to see the majestic creature in the wild. It was very great experience with me to travel wildlife areas with an elephant. Me and my friends experience a lot with an elephant ride and saw many new animals in the Jungle. Also, we take a photoshoot of the tiger, lions and many more new animals in the Jungle.

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