Oh! La La La Ranthambore:

The magnificent Ranthambore National Park is ideally located in between the picturesque Aravali Hills and the plateau of Vindhya. It is easily one of India’s pride as far as Wildlife Sanctuaries are concerned. The park has attracted dignitaries and world-renowned personalities galore by its magical charm. High on the list of present-day dignitaries visiting Ranthambore was the charismatic former President of USA, Bill Clinton who was mesmerized by Ranthambore’s prized possessions – The Tigers.

I last visited Ranthambore in the winter of 2003. That trip to the National Park was by no means an eventful one, as I came back disgusted without a glimpse of the big cat.

My photographer friend Neeraj, fresh from his photo assignment to Ranthambore, courtesy WWF (World Wildlife Fund), was singing paeans about the rugged beauty of Ranthambore and what a fabulous time he had at the National Park shooting animals, including the big cats with his state-of-the-art Nikkon camera.

I was least interested on his eulogy of Ranthambore as my last trip to the sanctuary was a damp squib. However, Neeraj was not the one to give up. He persuaded me with facts and figures. Neeraj was of the opinion that there was a heaven and hell difference between the Ranthambore of 2003 and the Ranthambore of 2008.

According to Neeraj, Post Bill Clinton’s visit and the pro-active approach of the new Manmohan Singh government at the center, things had improved by leaps and bounds at Ranthambore. If statistics were anything to go by, the Tiger count had increased. So has the conservation and anti-poaching measures, which has kind of galvanized the National Park.

At last, I decided enough was enough. I said to myself – “Let me give it a try. One last time”. I have been hearing from my conservationist friends from UK and USA, what a marvelous ambience Ranthambore possessed and that it was easily one of the great wild areas of the world.

We boarded the train to Sawai Madhopur from Delhi. After an overnight’s train journey, we reached Sawai Madhupur station in the early morning at around 4.30 A.M. After a cup of “Garam Chai” (sipping traditional Indian tea) at the Railway station, we hopped in to a waiting cab that would take us to Ranthambore National Park. The 20 Kms. drive was beautiful, although the road was potholed at certain stretches. Not surprising. Tell me, which Indian road isn’t potholed?

We checked in at the impressive Tiger Den Resort, which is located in close proximity to the National Park. We opted for tented accommodation rather than the more luxurious air-conditioned cottages because we both wanted to rough it out in the wild. The Swiss Cottage Tents offered all the amenities ranging from washbasin to attached toilets, king-sized bed and breathtaking window views.

After  freshening up, we had a wholesome breakfast and Neeraj consulted with the Resident naturalist of the Tiger Den Resort with regard to our 3 Nights & 4 Days itinerary. Neeraj knows Ranthambore by the tip of his fingers since he has to visit Ranthambore twice every year for his photo assignments for a few USA based conservation organizations.

To track Tigers at Ranthambore, you need someone who knows the topography well as also the skill to interpret the telltale signs in the form of pugmarks. Mind you, not all pugmarks are fresh. You need loads of experience to correctly make a call.

For the benefit of the tourists, Ranthambore National Park is divided into 5 separate zones. Each zone has a definite carrying capacity and at no point of time is any particular zone too crowded.

Although luck plays an important role as far as sighting Tigers are concerned, Neeraj was unanimous in his opinion that if one is patient enough, one is sure to sight a Tiger in 8 attempts inside the sanctuary.

Neeraj handpicked a knowledgeable driver – Mathurdas who has been working for the Tiger Den Resort ever since its inception. On Day 1 itself we made as many as four attempts. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon. But we drew a blank. All we saw were Sambhars and Nilgais grazing. The monkeys were literally having a ball of a time. The Peacocks of Ranthambore, I must say are among the most graceful of all the National Parks that I have visited. A herd of Deer were quenching their thirst at a (Bheel) or reservoir, which clearly indicated that there was no probability of the big cat on the prowl.

I was downright disgusted and seeing my forlorn face, Neeraj knew what was going on inside me. I had come to Ranthambore primarily on his assurance that I would at least have a glimpse of the big cat. After a not-so-eventful day out in the wild we retired for the night at our tents.

Next morning we woke up to a cacophony of bird songs and readied ourselves for the day’s adventure. Mathurdas – our jeep driver came out with a startling revelation. He had a conversation with a Forest guard the other night who informed that a Tigress had given birth to a cub at Zone No –2 near a watering hole. Now we knew for sure that we would be able to spot the Tigress because she had just delivered a baby cub barely a few hours back (3A.M.) and would in all probability be recuperating.

Off we went “Zip-Zap-Zoom” on our 4 Wheeled Drive to Zone No-2 and parked our vehicle near the watering hole. Still no sign of the Tigress and her newborn cub. We were becoming restless. Finally, my photographer friend Neeraj spotted the Tigress’s tail waging by the side of a thick bushy grove. We could view only the tail, nothing much. Mathurdas decided to take a deft left turn and there they were – the Tigress licking its new born cub with her tongue in such a tender manner that only a mother could. We marveled at the sight and the mystery of creation.

For Neeraj and me, the scene was straight out of a National Geographic TV episode. We were literally emptying our camera rolls on the Tigress and its cub. I had my “Nikon Vibration Reduction” lens ready and went on clicking from as many angles as possible. Finally, after frenetic clicking of 20 odd minutes with our cameras, we decided to leave the Tigress alone since we thought it would be dangerous to spend too much time here, particularly at a time when she had just given birth to a baby cub.

With the primary task of sighting a Tiger complete, we decided to explore the many other attractions of Ranthambore. High on our list of must-visit places was the Ranthambore Fort. Let me tell you, in the days of yore, Ranthambore used to be the royal hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

The magnificent Fort is believed to be centuries old and was built by the erstwhile indomitable Chahuan Rajputs way back in 944 AD. From a distance the fort looks stunning as it is made of the finest variety of sandstone. Make it a point to visit the Jogi Mahal wherein you will come face to face with one of India’s largest Banyan tree.

Our next halt was the splendid castle of “Jhoomar Baori “, which has now been converted into a heritage hotel by Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation.  If you travel a few kilometers all the way through the forest, you will come face to face with an unusual forest retreat belonging to a 19th century Jaipur ruler.

Given the aura surrounding the Chambal region, you would do well to visit the Chambal River, which is within close proximity to the Ranthambore National Park.

Most Indians are familiar with the “Ravines of Chambal”. The Chambal area is famous for its clan of dacoits. In fact, so much so that, the Chambal region has become a part of modern Indian folklore. The stories of exploits of the Chambal dacoits has been artistically reproduced in many films and documentaries. One of Chambal’s pride was “Bandit Queen” – Phoolan Devi, who in her lifetime went on to become an honorable Member of Parliament (MP).

A trip to the Chambal region would be incomplete without a visit to the Chambal Ghariyal Sanctuary (Crocodile Sanctuary). Here in this one-of-its-kind sanctuary, young crocodiles are scientifically reared. The sanctuary stretches all the way to Pachnada in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Here at this sanctuary you can have a date with Marshy Crocodiles as well as the endangered Indian Crocodile. Bear in mind, the sanctuary is not for the faint hearted though!

The fascinating tribal culture in this part of the world is like a breath of fresh air for the jaded international traveler. The tribal people live within close proximity to the National Park and one can see their intricately designed houses replete with indigenous design patterns.

For the avid Ornithologists, Ranthambore offers unparalleled vistas. Bird watchers come from all over India and abroad, fully equipped with custom designed cameras to aid in their bird watching activity. And for company, you have more than 272 species of birds that are residents of this National Park. Commonly found birds like White Throated Kingfisher, Indian Greenpie, Green Treepie, Red Vented Bulbul, Rosewing Parakeet, Peacock, Anhinga, Black Headed Ibis, Common Snipe, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Teal, Grey Francolin, Partridge, Common Tern, Osprey etc…. offer you with endless opportunities to marvel at their secret and colorful lives.

In terms of Wildlife Photography, Ranthambore offers some of the most awe-inspiring wilderness vistas. Although the quality of cameras matter a lot, no doubt about that. But if one is patient enough and with luck by his side Ranthambore can be a paradise for photographers.

It is always wise to plan well in advance of ones departure to the National Park. A guide with expert knowledge about the terrain and topography can come in handy. Ranthambore still has stretches of magnificent forest that is ideal for Wildlife Photography.

Traveler’s Fact File:

Getting There: If you traveling by train, Ranthambore National Park is located at a distance of 132 Kms from Jaipur, 227 Kms. from Agra and 408 Kms from Delhi. The distance is much more when you travel by road from Jaipur, Agra or Delhi. Delhi airport is well connected by a network of national and international flights.

The Entry Fee to the National Park is Rs. 25 for Indians and Rs. 200 for foreigners. A vehicle can be hired at around Rs. 125 and for Jungle Safari the charge is around Rs. 1350. For the services of a Guide Rs. 150 is the minimum rate. There are no charges levied for Cameras but the ones with Videos are charged Rs.200.

The Park is open from 6:30 A.M. to 10:00 AM & from 1:30 P.M. to 5:30 P.M.

Accommodation:

As one of India’s premier Wildlife Sanctuaries, Ranthambore offers accommodation to suit every budget. For the up market tourists, some of India’s leading hotel chains like the Taj and the Oberoi have their world class jungle properties located in Ranthambore.

The Oberoi Vanyavilas for instance is the very epitome of jungle hospitality. So is the Sawai Madhopur Lodge run by the Taj Group of hotels. In the days of yore, it used to be the royal retreat of the Maharajas.

Mid budget hotels and resorts too abound at Ranthambore. The elegant Welcom Heritage Ranthambhore Forest Resort is a classy resort located at a distance of a mere 3 Kms from the main entrance to the National Park. Then, there is Pugmarks Jungle Lodge, 2 Kms from the National park that offers 21 airy rooms all of which are tastefully decorated.

Of late the Tiger Den Resort too has carved a niche for itself as a classy jungle resort and is much preferred by the mid-budget visitors. There are 18 air-conditioned cottages, 2 regally done up Suites and 8 absolutely cozy Swiss Tents.

Often visitors with a sense of history and heritage come to Ranthambore primarily to be a guest of a heritage hotel for which the royal state of Rajasthan is so famous worldwide. Mention may be made of the magnificent Nahargarh Fort and the impressive Dev Villas that are much preferred by Western tourists.

The best part about the hotels and resorts in Ranthambore is that apart from Continental cuisine, they also offer the delicious traditional Rajasthani cuisine, which is much in demand due to its spicy taste.

For further information, please feel free to contact:

Field Director,
Ranthambhore Tiger Reserves,
District- Swai Madhopur,
Rajasthan-322001, India.

Telephone: 91- 07462 – 220223/ 220490

E-mail: cffdswm@sancharnet.in

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