Wildlife in India is both unique as well as exciting, which attracts tourists from all over the world. Amongst the Indian Wildlife Tours, the Tiger Safari Tours are the most popular as you get to watch the majestic Cats in their natural habitat. Here is my bitter-sweet Jungle Safari experience at Ranthambore National Park.
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 by 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.
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 canceled at the last moment? All kinds of weird thoughts were crossing my mind.
Finally at 7 am our Tiger Safari canter arrived. No apologies were 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 onboard (no points for guessing). One family couldn’t get ready on time and therefore everyone had to suffer.
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. The excitement was building and the tension was palpable.
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 the 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.
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.
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 travelers who become a nuisance for the Jungle or maybe just feed them to the tiger!
HERE ARE SOME TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR RANTHAMBORE TRIP:
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.
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.
Which Zone to book:
Ranthambhore 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
Ranthambore National park contains 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 Squirrels, 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.
Beyond Tiger Safari:
Ranthambore 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.
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.
PS: Special thanks to Manish Sharma for making this trip and article happen.