India Diaries: Reflections from Ranthambore.

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Jungles, like magic, have universal appeal. They are essentially a large (and often the entire) part of a child’s sense of geography. For as kids we were certain about at least two kinds of places on earth – cities (where human beings lived) & jungles (where wildlings* lived)

 

*and I’m not referring to wildling as in Game of Thrones. Application here refers to the conventional connotations of the word.

 

Whether it was Kipling, Bond, Panchtantra or my nani’s (grandmother) tales, I was well acquainted and well excited with jungles and stories that’ve outlived their tellers. Well, things haven’t changed that much and it holds as much thrill now as it did then. Therefore, since the day I received the booking confirmation of the jungle safari,  I landed a new job – to paint self-consuming pictures of our forthcoming adventure and tiger became a near constant element of my dreams.

 

We’d already settled for Khem Villas as our camping grounds in between safari rides (you can read about it here). Quite like the Indian Railway system the Ranthambore National Park opens its seats for online booking three months prior to your chosen day of safari. Being meticulous planners we’d set our reminders for the booking date so that we could book the timing and the vehicle of our preference at the earliest. And we sat smug & speculative all this while.

 

Until just 90 days ahead of our travel.

 

It was on that day, that we realised how naive we were. Besides being smug & speculative about it. Within just hours of opening of online booking all our preferred seats were gone (we wanted a six seater Jeep). We’d already once been back to the drawing board to change dates of our entire road trip to fit in this adventure and it still did not look any better. So there! Elvis had left the building. The show was over before it even began.

 

Next? A frantic search for a jeep (and more importantly, an incentive to visit Sawai Madhopur)! With several emails exchanged and a few phone calls made (thanks to our caring hostess), we caught hold of two seats on a jeep thereby salvaging the trip.

Also realising that when travelling in India one has to be lot more than just being punctual (actually being punctual is totally optional)!

 

With this prologue, I’m sharing with you some tips, do’s & don’ts and our pictures from Ranthambore National Park (you can read about the timings and other general information about the park on this link) and some more information on park can be found here.

For all else, keep scrolling down 🙂

 

 

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Reflections from Ranthambore!

 

 

For a three day stay one could do at least five safaris and that makes a lot of sense as tiger sighting is a matter of chance. The more number of safaris you take, the better your chances are. However booking a safari or five, does not come with a guarantee of tiger sighting. But one has to take their chances.

 

We booked two safaris for our three day stay, one by jeep and other by canter. One early morning & the other in late afternoon. That was because we wanted our backs in good condition for the remaining eight days of our trip. And we wanted to make the most of our stay at Khem Villas.

 

 

 

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On another nippy morning, I’m wrapped in my wool shawl and on a lookout for tigers right at the entrance!! What was I thinking?!

 

 

First and most important thing to do is to book a safari vehicle, IN ADVANCE!

 

It can be done at the consistently inefficient government website: www.rajasthanwildlife.in.

 

Incase you are not able to find a jeep safari on the website (which is a more likely scenario) you can either contact your hotel/resort/camp or a safari booking agent, who will be delighted to book the same seats for you with price at government’s website, multiplied by four.

 

That’s not it, there is a catch – many travel agents do bookings for the entire trip (i.e including your hotel + sightseeing, safari + food) & not just the safari. So yeah, it’s tricky and a test of luck!

 

Another option is to let go of the jeep experience and book a 20 seater or a 16 seater canter which are always amply available.

 

DON’T DO THAT! A 20 seater canter is a huge, rusty, roaring, gurgling beast of a vehicle that raises a dust storm behind it & could potentially cause or aggravate back injuries! Also this huge vehicle cannot navigate into narrow by-lanes of the park.

 

Worst of all, it cannot take you close enough in case you do spot a tiger.

 

Having said that it is much better option than a 16 seater petrol canter!! (Yeah, we too were surprised at that, going by the logic that smaller the vehicle, better the experience). We haven’t been more mistaken on our travels.

 

The smaller canter has all the qualities of a bigger canter with superlatives and an added quality of falling apart anytime without warning or backup. It did happen to us.

 

So the pecking order here is: A personal Jeep (catering 1-2 people) > 6 seater Jeep > 20 seater diesel canter >NO SAFARI > 16 seater petrol canter.

 

All these vehicles pick you up from your hotel/resort/camp at 10-15 minutes past the confirmed time. Now, don’t be discouraged by all the delay, they do drop you back on time!

 

Also what no website or person or reviewer tells is that you have to sign a consent form right before a huge tiger that sits royally over the ‘Ranthambore National Park’ board saying that you are entering at your own risk and the national park takes no responsibility should something happen to you during the next three hours.

 

And Voila! You are ready to enter the park.

 

 

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It is under here, that you sign a consent form.

 

 

 

 

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A beautiful sunny morning in Ranthambore & Indian wild boar is out for breakfast!

 

 

 

 

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A young inquisitive fawn looks on the opportunist intruders!

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful, unspoilt landscape of the tiger reserve.

 

 

 

 

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The wide expanse of the imposing Ranthambore fort inside the park.

 

 

Ranthambore National Park takes its name after the majestic Ranthambore Fort, which in turn takes its name after two adjacent hills named ‘Rann’ & ‘Thambor’. The park was formerly a game reserve for the Maharajas of Jaipur for their recreational hunting.

 

 

 

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A gaping croc by one of the many lakes inside the park.

 

 

On this morning we were accompanied by an Irish and an English couple who had already seen a few tigers on their previous visit. We were hoping for some Irish luck to rub on us!

 

 

 

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So far, so good!

 

 

 

 

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The most glorious of birds perched on ancient ruins.

 

 

 

 

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Spotted deer spotted!

 

 

 

 

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The ruins of Jogi Mahal at the banks of Padam Talao. It is in these ruins that some of the most impressive tiger sightings have occurred. Right next to the palm tree, there stands the second largest banyan tree in India.

 

 

This place is supposed to be a favourite among tigers. So we waited for around twenty minutes to spot a tiger here but in vain.  In general tigers love to be around the water. But I guess it wasn’t that time of the year where everyone likes to be in water more than land.

 

 

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Padam Talao, the largest of lakes in the tiger reserve.

 

 

 

 

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We’d been forewarned by our guide that this langur likes to hitch a ride on the passing vehicles but doesn’t do any harm.

 

 

 

 

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Nearly still waters of another lake holding the mirror image of a lone palm tree

 

 

 

 

 

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The broken beak Kingfisher.

 

 

The English couple sharing the jeep with us were avid bird watchers so birdwatching was more meaningful as they knew the names of most of the birds. And I owe this knowledge to them and our guide.

 

 

 

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Snake bird. It was beginning to look like bird watching is all that is going to be today with only 30 minutes remaining to our trip.

 

 

 

 

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Orange body bird sitting on another jeep.

 

 

And bird watching is pretty much what we did that morning.

 

 

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A bird looking here and…

 

 

 

 

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A bird facing there!

 

Till there were no more birds waiting to be spotted! We turned back famished in both ways.

 

 

 

 

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and we did visit again, next day afternoon.

 

 

I had been to Ranthambore and back (some years ago) sans a tiger sighting and it was beginning to feel like a replay of the similar chain of events. But they say probability of tiger sighting is more during noon safaris so we still had a flicker of hope.

 

 

 

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Back again on dusty trail of the jungle. No matter what time you take a safari, it always starts with spotted deer.

 

 

 

 

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And more spotted deer.

 

 

We were on a 16 seater petrol canter this time (and wished we weren’t). To make matters worse we got seated towards the rear end of the vehicle. If matters could still be made worst, we had the most outrageous fellow tourists for company. Our so called ‘naturalist’ barely knew anything about the jungle or its residents. Whatever he knew he could not communicate it in a comprehensible language.

 

Let me get over with the ‘outrageous’ tourists first. The following paragraph also doubles as :

 'Don'ts on a jungle safari'

 

Starting from worst, there was a group of  4-5 college boys who were incessantly chatty and indecently loud with it. Despite being asked by the naturalist to keep it low, if one’s tongue happens to be an involuntary muscle that is, they carried on. Noise scares away animals (and some human beings too). One of the guys would occasionally turn back, although none of his gang was behind him & spoke unspoken to with his mouth painted red with & reeking of, pan. That was enough to turn me off and I regretted not bringing a scarf! Further into the forest area, they finished their 1.5lt bottle of Sprite (they even brought wafers to go with it!!!) & before we even realised what happened, he flung it into the forest!!!

Another regret (and probably the biggest): I could not do anything.

 

And they carried on singing Bollywood songs, calling out names to Tiger (because it was too shy to come out), cursing each other for planning this trip & in general disgusting those who got disgusted.

 

Second in order was a family of four, the youngest member of which was called ‘Khushi’ (happiness in hindi). Since mom & dad were sitting on either side of the vehicle, they kept on calling Khushi here & there, everytime a parent spotted a deer or a peacock or a monkey or a bird or just anything. There were no volume tabs here either. And all we could hear was ”KHUSHI!!! LOOK, A PEACOCK”, “KHUSHI!!! LOOK A DEER”, “KHUSHI!! LOOK ANOTHER DEER”, ”KHUSHI!!! LOOK. JUST LOOK. FIND SOMETHING”. Till there was Khushi all over the vehicle, but no peace. None.

 

There was another family of four who sat quietly for the most part except for getting up suddenly and pointing a finger to a tiger now & then, that no one else saw.

 

My heart went out for the French couple who sat on the last seat, watching, probably contemplating, probably even enjoying because they were finding India as they’d imagined – as a loud ongoing circus absolutely free of cost!

And then there were us, who were forced to see two jungles for the price of one!

 

 

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Sambhar deer.

 

There was a chance of tiger sighting as we’d heard some animal calls on the way. And it was a hot day, which was good, as the tigers would come out to be near the water bodies.

 

 

 

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A stork on the ruins in Ranthambore.

 

 

 

 

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A large toothy marsh crocodile.

 

 

 

 

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A shy spotted one!

 

With an hour left to turn back & more deers coming our way I was doubting the ‘Irish luck’ theory & thinking of settling with even a leopard sighting.

But just then, we heard from a vehicle coming back that a tiger has been sighted in an area.

The vehicle and the excitement accelerated towards it. And I thought, may be it was too soon to refute the Irish luck theory.

When we reached there, a cavalcade of vehicles surrounded the only tiger who sat perfectly camouflaged in the tawny forest grass giving no more than a hint of its presence. However filtered & far, its presence brought on the only moments of dead silence during the safari. All eyes & lenses (and some fingers) were focused to its highest calibre at this.

 

 

 

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That’s all he would let us have.

 

Vehicles smaller than ours and taller than ours might have had a better sight of the beast. Not us.

 

 

 

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This too was captured with a long range lens. Nevertheless, I’m glad we saw one. Near or far, every bit enthralling !!

 

 

 

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Eye of the tiger!
🙂

 

 

We found the tiger. We went” ‘click’, ‘click’, ‘click’…oh wait, let’s see the tiger with the naked eye as well!!” and with daylight fading & gates to the park about to close for the day, we made an about turn.

 

But our jungle adventure was not over yet!

 

 

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The Glorious Peacock!

 

 

 

 

 

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No wonder he inspires so much art.

 

 

A few minutes past these wonderful pictures that Adi took on the way, our debilitated vehicle broke down! In the middle of jungle!!

Some ten or fifteen minutes following the debacle a few vehicles flew past us while a couple of them stopped to help our driver.

As for the tourists? All of them got down including children. Except us, for we were waiting for someone to tell us what’s going on, whether we should keep sitting in the vehicle while they try to repair it or ??

No clue.

From what I can recall of my past safari experience, our naturalist had instructed, that under no circumstances should anyone get out of the vehicle as long as one is in the forest area as the jungle is fraught with kraits, cobras & vipers, should you be lucky enough to escape a tiger, leopard or a croc. So we stayed put.

 

 

 

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But something shocking was happening where I looked.

 

 

Everybody was off the vehicle & scooted away in all the directions, to take pictures &/or a pee break (even though you would be out in another twenty minutes)!!!

 

Since nobody told them anything, they seemed to have rationalised, it was only wise to go near a lake covered with red algae to take some cool pictures! How about that!!

 

I was shocked, amused, confused & sorry at the same time.

 

 

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And this is where I was looking!!!

 

 

I have no idea if this is an ‘okay’ thing in a tiger reserve. But I would really like to know. Even if this is a done thing, I can definitely live without it.

 

 

 

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Bemused! That’s the best I could be!

 

 

While the problem stayed unresolved, I heard the driver and naturalist talking regarding sending the tourist in twos on some exiting vehicles. So when a 20 seater canter was stopped, there was no one present, no one in a hurry to leave the jungle but us! By this time things had stopped surprising me.

 

Call it Irish luck or whatever we left the jungle before nightfall on a hitched ride. And it was way better. The naturalist & the tourist spoke to us and we saw each others tiger pictures. The naturalist was an interesting fellow who told us more about the forest and the tiger in twenty minutes than we learnt in three hours.

 

As to what happened to other fellows on our ill-fated canter, I hope they all returned back safely.

 

 

While I’ve been sharing the tips all along. Here are some more.



DRESSING FOR SAFARI

For winter safaris, dress in layers of which you should be able to remove at least two of the outer ones.

A fleece jacket under a down jacket &/or a wind stopper should keep you safe from freezing temperatures.

A scarf and a cap/hat is as important. Have it secured to your head or you could loose it to the jungle thanks to the wind.

And so are a pair of sturdy shoes. Although you don’t need to get down but they don’t make you sign the form for no reason.

Sunglasses would be much needed.

Tie your hair, if they can be tied. Otherwise you’ll have to say goodbye to a lot of them in your next shower.

Another bandana or scarf to protect your face from tasting the dust, literally.

For summertime safaris, a light cotton jacket would be doubly good. It’ll protect from sunlight & dust & stray branches of trees from grazing your arm.

Wear toned down earthy colours, bright colours attract insects, mosquitoes & unwanted onlookers .



GENERAL TIPS

Take care of eating and relieving business before safaris, incase you’re faced with a situation like ours!

There are two safaris in a day and one can do both.

More tiger sightings take place on afternoon safaris.

More sightings take place in hot summer months May-June than any.

In general, tigers are seen around water bodies.

Odds are you are more likely to see a tiger in this reserve than any other in India.

90% of pictures from all over the world featuring tiger are taken from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve!!

I repeat, opt for a 20 seater vehicle over 16 seater one. The former are more spacious, newer and therefore in much better condition.

Do not stand in the vehicle. There is a risk of being hit by thorny or thick branches in the head or face (if you wish to keep one or both safe). Some people in our vehicle narrowly escaped getting hurt.

Do not get down from your vehicle in the jungle!! The wildlife of this forest is rich with Tigers, Leopards, Hyenas, Jungle cat, Civets, Hedgehogs, Deers, Langurs, Crocodiles, Snakes – cobras, kraits, vipers and lot more! But this list should be enough to keep you in.

Forests are our heritage, help preserve their unspoilt, innocent beauty.

Remember you are a guest there, so it is only fitting to behave like one (by not throwing any garbage, for example).

In these two safaris, we’d been to zones 3, 4 & 5 which also has more probability of tiger sighting. Besides the jungle and its treasures, history & photography bugs might like a visit to the 10th century Ranthambore Fort. All forts were built with a temple inside, this one is no exception & has a highly famed Trinetra Ganesh Temple.

 

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Ranthambore National Park, has a lot for everyone!

 

Read the next post on Udaipur here

More from India soon 🙂

Comments

  1. Thanks Nykita for this wonderful piece. You’re quite gifted in the written speech, I must say! I came to your blog from TA as we are planning for a Ranthambhore Trip and I really find myself more educated now. As you rightly mentioned, I couldn’t book seats for the three of us until November or the next 90 days as they are all gone and I don’t want to book a canter as many travelers have advised against it. Looks like I too have to go through agents which is quite a shame as they charge what they want. But many thanks once again for putting up a motivating article as I was down after the unsuccessful booking experience on the nasty website…

    • pastlifeseamstress says:

      Saif!! Thank you, for being here and for your kind words. Yes, the process is definitely not straight forward and transparent which is annoying and de-motivating but good to know that you’re still up for the adventure.Hope you have a great safari!

  2. Hello Nykita, I loved reading your diaries and your experiences, however, i would like to compliment your partner for taking such beautiful pictures, the pictures pefectly capture the essnece of the place and the beauty.

    • pastlifeseamstress says:

      Thank you so much (on behalf of my ‘way better half’ as well)!! 🙂 Also thanks for being here!!

  3. Ashwini says:

    Another very well written piece …..Ranthambore has been on our bucket list since a very long time….It’s so sad to see that no one follows the rules of the jungle and behaves worse than the langurs themselves….beautiful pics woven into an engrossing story.!!!!!

    • pastlifeseamstress says:

      Thank you so much Ashwini! Yes, it is sad to see our heritage, our forests being ill-treated this way by management and by tourists alike. It’s such a beautiful place and has a well deserved place on your bucket list.
      Again, thanks for being here 🙂

  4. shagufta says:

    Hi Nikita, your Indian Diaries are very interesting n informative,You transport your readers to faraway places without moving an inch. It seems more of a bird sanctuary rather than tigers. General tips are very useful. All the pics are excellent supplemented by well versed text.