Spotting a Tiger in Ranthambore, Rajasthan

Well, to start with, the tiger surely has no spots, but the leopard does. But since spotting a tiger seems bigger thing than spotting the leopard, I am going ahead with this title.

Ranthambhore is a forest park most definitely on the tourist map –  a place that seemed far and distant a few years back before we were officated as Ghumakkars, and then it came closer and we tried to place it in the forthcoming trips. A few plans made and unmade, we finally got us a booking (at a great deal) at a place called The Pug Mark. As we gathered us together for the trip to the Ranthambhore National Park, our official trip-cousins joined us and it seemed like a reunion that we were definitely looking forward to.

We left Delhi on a relaxed Saturday morning at 5:30 AM and started the journey of the next 450 kms (we ended up using the longer route, explained later) and 7 and a half hours on the great National Highway-8 (Indirapuram-Delhi-NH-8-Jaipur :  Bypass from Transport Nagar-Dausa-Lalsot-Sawai Madhopur-Ranthambhore).

Ranthambhore NP is one of the biggest national parks in the country, mostly famous for its dense tiger population (yes, more than 25 of them) and is very popular amongst the foreign tourists. With luxury wildlife resorts and easy tiger sighting, it is a sort of an exotic and a must-do place for our foreign guests. It is located in Rajasthan, 11 kms from Sawai Madhopur, the nearest station, and falls on the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express route. It is also very well connected by road and is off Dausa, a small place on the Jaipur-Agra highway, via Lalsot.

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From the info we gathered, Ranthambore is spread over an area of 400 sq. km. (not too big, with 25 tigers odd, it makes a chance of spotting one tiger every 16 sq. km. WOW!) and divided in 2 main areas – the core forest and the periphery. The core region is further divided into 5 zones that have 5 different routes on which the safaries are permitted. Each Jungle safari can last up to 4 hours max and the vehicle is allotted a particular route, a few hours before the Safari time. The 2 slots when you can visit the Jungle are 7 am in the morning, and then at 3 PM in the evening. Private vehicles are not permitted at all, you need to take the vehicle run by the forest authorities. Here again, you have two option – you may hire a Jeep (rarely available, the hotels give it @ Rs. 1000 per person, you can hire directly from the forest gate @ Rs. 2700 for the whole jeep) or take a seat on the open canters (@Rs. 550 from the hotel and @ Rs. 330 from the site gate). The bookings for the Safaris are also done on the net and if in case you arrive the city in the morning and intend to leave by the evening, without staying, it is advisable to make the booking beforehand. We contemplated booking directly as we were 7 seats of us, which means Rs. 1400 extra – but eventally bore that cost. We went to the site the evening before and researched (the word is an over-statement but I feel like sounding boorish here) on the option – and then realised that not only were the vehicles over-booked as it is, one is also required to come an hour earlier, present the identification for each passenger, and post all the formalities is alloted a route which you may take. We decided to have the hotel do it for us!

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Actually, Sundays are also the days of more visitors as the Palace on wheels, the famous train-hotel of Rajasthan makes a stop here – so a trainful of people, who insist on chartering the jeeps makes the ride more scarce for many. As we explored more info on the forest and the tigers at the Forest gate with the drivers and guides, it seemed that tiger sighting was a very usual thing in the park, and the guys were quite confident of the success rate. Having visited the Corbett National Park multiple times, and recently the Panna Tiger Reserve (which apparently has no tigers anymore), I had never spotted a cat of any variance. The story seemed unreal to me, but it was fun nevertheless and with the great company we had, one didn’t mind it either ways.

So, to sum up the routine for Day 1 – we reached the hotel by the lunch time, grabbed all the food that we could and checked-in. While some of us retired to make-up for the early-morning rise, a few wanted to soak more of the place and the beautiful landscape. The hotel was decent with decent rooms, but what more than impressed us was the colorful gardens, the greens and the birds and butterflies all over. Since it also happens to be the migratory month for the birds, it was a feast to the (camera) eye! By the evening, we went for a quick drive to check out the Safari options, and post a small Rajasthani folk-music session and outdoor cocktail session, we had dinner and called it a day.

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The next morning was to be the day of Safari. We got up at 5:30 and were ready for the 6:30 ride. The vehicle came late and we were on the Jungle gate around 7 am. February-end, the winters had almost gone, and it was Rajasthan – who would think of putting 3 layers of clothes! – well, some wise guys would (not us!). It was COLD, we were in an open canter, inside a forest where despite the Sun having risen would not lend its rays to the ground. We huddled together close, trying keep the kids warm. The vehicle was actually a TATA 407 painted Green in color and some 6 rows of two-seats fixed on the floor, with a long hind seat and a bench between the Driver and the passenger area (where extra passengers booked could be made to sit). In all, it was fancy green thing roaming freely in the jungle. We had a seemingly usual driver and a guide who endorsed our entry at the park gate. It was a rather bumpy ride on a cold end-winter morning and there we see the pugmarks on the sand!! Stop, said the guide and the driver followed. Some of us who were fighting the chill well leaned over and saw the marks – not us, since we’d been there, done that and knew the tactics – so we thought. Isn’t that what they do each time, show you the pugmarks, the scratches on the tree, the bird calls, the antelopes running away? We started again and trailed some 3 more vehicles that had halted in the same hope. Suddenly the driver accelerated, screeched, burnt the rubber along and over took the other three. And the guide, like a strict Geography teacher hushed us to keep quiet and control our respective kids. And there it was!

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On our right, some 30 meters away, behind the fall-white bare trees and dry grass – a yellow heap with black stripes. It was bigger than any Tiger seen at any city Zoo in our whole entire life. It seemed anywhere between 6-8 feet long at the torso alone, with a huge face and thick paws. People gaped, eyes were still and the shutters were fluttering at full tempo. The driver started moving the vehicle slowly, parellel to the cat. The tiger seemed conscious of our presence as it stopped behind a barren trunk and gave us a shrill look. It then started moving swiftly and disappeared. The seemingly usual driver proved to be smarter than the others, as he overtook the caravan the first time, and now moved quietly and steadily to stop at 200 meters from this stop. It would come here on the path, the guide told us assuringly – and it did. And we had another view, better than the earlier one, hearts jumping with joy and having seen a wild tiger in the wild finally! Ofcourse we could not have enough and in what seemed like 2 minutes, the tiger disappeared again. All the passengers were thrilled, but the driver and the guide seemed equally excited for having given us a ‘sighting’ in the first ten minutes of the Safari.

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Photo Courtsey : you-know-who

We drove further ahead, satiated and content. The shutterbugs, too, relaxed and stretched with a constant grin for the next kilometer. The forest has some amazing banyan trees with roots branching out to an area of 70 sq meters or so and they looked so old, entwined and mystic. Meanwhile, the guide gave us some more gyan on the big cats – how a tigress is more responsive and fearless, that the male one (like the 2 year old we saw) is rather shy, that the leopards are much difficult to spot since they stay on higher altitudes and are swifter and then more about the forest, the flora-fauna etc.

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smile-pl

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In all, there were plenty of monkeys – the red butt ones and the black face ones, peacocks, deers, sambhars, neel gai, and flocks of colorful migratory birds. We also acquainted this beautiful yellow bird with black stripes, and aptly called the ‘tiger bird’. It is also called  so, since it dares to pick in to the sleeping tiger’s mouth and nibble on the meat strings stuck inside. As daring as that, the bird does not hesitate to come and befriend a human being if he has something to offer.

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I wonder what it would do if I was to grin after a hearty meaty meal!

We returned from the safari around 10:30 and had breakfast. Tired as everyone was, we took to our rooms and the lawns to spread ourselves. The kids had a ball of course (literally!) thanks to the open, child-safe greens and sets of parents too drowsy to interefere.

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Post lunch was the time for another safari. We did not take that but decided to drive to the stretch as far as permissible. We took the same route as the morning (route 5 it is called), only that we did not take the left to the core forest, but went straight on the road towards the Ranthambhore Fort. Now the drive was as picturesque but the traffic was more frequent because of the fort. The Fort, as all forts are, is located on a hill top and one needs to climb some 250 steps to reach (a normal floor is 15 steps. So this would mean 16.5 floors in all – steep). We chickened out.

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The road ends at fort and we took an about turn. Realising that we had ample time before it would get dark, we decided to go slow and take in as much as we could. There were enough peacocks and langoors, and an occasional deer and a sambhar. As we were going slowly, we saw a local jeep halted on the roadside with two men looking upwards. Curiously, we slowed down further. One of them asked “sighting karni hai?” (you wanna sight?). I don’t think he needed a reply, for all we did was gleam from the eye. There, somewhere up there, there was a much smaller cat, about half the size of the one in the morning. It was spotted! (pun intended). This was like the cherry on the burberry chocolate banana walnut hazelnut raisin pineapple crusty fudgy souffle. In one day, we saw a tiger – nicely and closely and then a leopard for a few seconds!

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We drove back, more slowly, hoping to get more views but I guess we were running beyond our quota for luck anyways. We reached the local market stretch and bought a few souvenir – t-shirts with tiger faces embroidered.

It was a night for celebration and peaceful sleep, for we had to leave the next morning.  For the way back, as advised by a kind well-travelled co-passenger, we drove back on a different route (Ranthambhore-Lalsot-Dausa-Agra road-Sikandera not the Agra one-Kishangarh-Bhiwadi-Dharuhedrha-NH-8-Delhi-Indirapuram) that metered 390 odd kms, 50 short of the earlier route. The roads were damn good, especially the Jaipur-Agra connect and were mostly toll roads with a neat drive.

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We were home by 7:30, right in time to catch the cook for a back-to-home-sweet-home sumptious meal. This was one destination from the latest lot that I vow to visit again, soon.

32 Comments

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Beautiful blog! Even the selection of pics smacks of femininity, from the bee & the flower to the three cute lil ones.

    Make sure you have a bowlful of that wonderful souffle for me, if we ever meet :-)

  • Nice write up. I am jealous Nandan & Family.

  • smitadhall says:

    Thank you, Patrick! I’m so glad you liked it. It speaks feminity from the very first picture, the yellow one :-)

  • smitadhall says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Upanshu. I saw some pic’s on Jha’s machine on the air-show you went to. Would love to see a blog on that! :-)

  • Sudhir says:

    Engrossing write-up, Smita ! Ably supported by wonderful pics. Would have loved a couple of pics of the fort…well at least from afar. Spotting a tiger in the wild is an achievement in itself.

  • smitadhall says:

    Thanks, Sudhir. The fort was not properly visible from the point till we were allowed to go… and was not in the line of vision anyway. Yes, of all the umpteen trips we have made to the Jungles, it was the first time we managed a good view.

  • nandanjha says:

    I read it few times already. So well written.

    super.

  • Ram says:

    What a beautiful write up and what to say about the supporting pictures !! Simply superb.

    As Sudhir said, the close shots of the fort would have added more colour to this excellent narrative.

    You were lucky to spot not only the big cats, but also the presence of hoards of the migratory birds would have been a feast to the eyes.

    The cute little girls seem to have enjoyed the most.

  • smitadhall says:

    I know, now I feel we could’ve climbed up a bit, but we’d had quite an eyeful already that we sorta felt full.

    Oh, yes, the little girls loved running all over the place!

  • Shaguna says:

    That was an engrossing write-up! I’ve been and met so many people who’ve been to Corbett and other NPs and ‘sighting a tiger’ sounds like dream. Everyone just talks about others’ seeing tigers, but no one i know personally has ever seen the cat themselves. You guys had all the luck! Thanks for sharing your exeperience. Now ghumakkars know where to go in search of a tiger.
    BTW, what are the chances of spotting a tiger? Were you guys lucky or visitors usually get to see one?

  • smitadhall says:

    Thank you and thank you again.

    Wellllll…. it is difficult to say what are the chances, but it seemed like a fair chance, a lot of people staying in our hotels got a sighting. And then the hotel staff claimed to have seen tigers marking territories to as close as the main highway. So… hmm… I think the chances are definitely higher as compared to other NPs.

  • charu says:

    Very nice one smita. It was a perfect executive summary. You brough out all the points.
    Well done tigress ;-)

  • smitadhall says:

    Thank you, Charu. And for the record, it was a great trip, and I got to spend time with after such a long time – hope you won’t take too long for the next one now :-)

  • Poonam says:

    I am jealous too. I went to Panna, and saw no tigers. I don’t think there are any tigers. :(

  • smitadhall says:

    i knnnow….. even i don’t think there are any tigers in Panna or Sariska!

  • dpndr says:

    great write up and great pix – the original u know who

  • smitadhall says:

    ha ha ha… thanx and u know what.

  • Jogiraj Sikidar says:

    Wonderful writeup supported with pictures….i was so much there while reading it…I am sure this would be a good reference points for those who are planning to visit Ranthambhore…looking forward to more of such kind..

  • smitadhall says:

    Thank you, Jogi. You should’ve been there in person :-)

  • Rahul says:

    Beautiful entry.
    I really wonder why my brother hadn’t liked Ranthambore on his trip there!

    When I went to Corbett, we didn’t spot a tiger, although we apparently chased one as there were deer calls nearby, and saw very fresh pug marks. But I didn’t regret it one bit, the jungle is sufficiently amazing in itself!

  • arvindpadmanabhan says:

    Lucky to have spotted a tiger within the first 10 minutes! Thanks for the useful tips about bookings and safari options.

  • smitadhall says:

    Thanks, Rahul and Arvind for encouraging words.

  • adamxp says:

    it’s nice posting

    keep writing……..

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Very interesting write-up Smita, moreover you made us enjoy the sightings thrice – twice of tiger and once of leopard. This post is very informative too.

    Well, I think you must add that a jungle is a jungle, and high probability does not mean sure sightings. I still have to visit Ranthambore and after reading the post this is what I am telling to myself :-)

    BTW where did you see the leopard, climbing on a mountain ?

  • smitadhall says:

    Thanks, Manish.

    Yes, indeed a jungle is a jungle and probability does not promise surety. We also kept the skepticism guarded close to us :-) until we finally saw the cat. So yes, we must keep that in mind.

    The leaopards rarely come down on the ground level. They stay on a height and this one too was spotted climbing.

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    I had been to Jim Corbett 2 times but never able to see the tiger, but enjoyed the natural beauty of the jungle.

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    A well written account of the Ranthampore National Park supplemented with excellent photographs! You were lucky to spot the tiger, especially when many tigers in this park were killed by poachers in recent years for their body parts which were collected by an underground syndicate in New Delhi and shipped them via caravans to Lhasa and China.

    Protecting the remaining tigers in India is a priority. Currently they are trapped in an uncertain world between the poachers and the politicians. Tigers have no votes, but we do.

    Your blog is inspiring to all nature lovers. Thanks again!

    Jerry

  • prerna says:

    hello mam
    realy a nice pics and the tigers r lovely
    thr
    we r also able to spot a tiger thr last week only they r beautiful
    gud luck

  • shalabh says:

    Can anyone suggest good budget hotel to stay in Ranthambore. We will be reaching late in night around 12Pm or 1 AM. Not sure we can get hotel then. better book in advance.
    Will be starting on 22nd Dec from Delhi.

  • This is the most complete guide I’ve ever seen about visiting the Ranthambore. I’m going this fall and I am sure going to use all your tips for the tiger sightseeing. Some of your photos show such a different side to the place too. Thanks for sharing.

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