24 Dec 2008 (Day 1)
It is with great enthusiasm my family was looking forward to visiting Ranthambhore – after all, we were taking a break after several years (owing to kids higher education), so me, my wife (Sunanda) and my son (Anshuman) went to bed early on 23rd Dec in the hope of waking up early the following day and kicking off the Ranthambhore drive much before others hit the highway. To me it was special, as I was re visiting the place after 20 years!
I woke up at 4AM and got ready by 5AM. I then woke up my folks at 5AM, by which time my driver and maids also landed up to help us with the early morning tea and other sundries. We were all up and ready soon. My driver (Ravinder) loaded up the Scorpio with all the luggage and warmed up the engine early morning. We all came down , hopped into the car, bid goodbye to our helpers and at 6:22AM .I moved the car into the 1st gear to head off to our dream destination.
I have always believed in leaving Delhi early in the day, much before the usual crowd catches up and roads get congested. Since it was winter, not many ventured out even at 6 in the morning, so I was lucky – we could cross Gurgaon within 40m and when I saw on my dashboard we clocked the 1st hour, we were well on the Jaipur highway. Sunanda had already set out the breakfast menu – ‘Alu Paratha in a Dhaba on the way’ so around the 8AM mark (after Behror), I was avidly looking for a good Dhaba, we finally found one ‘Pram (read Prem) Pavitra Restaurant. I didn’t want to turn the breakfast break too long as I was clocking well since morning and wanted to keep the run rate going. But despite all the rush, it still took us a good 30m before we finished two rounds of hot Alu Paratha, hot Chai and we hopped into the car again.
The drive from there to Jaipur was great, interrupted by huge trucks often, but navigating constantly from left to right (as some truck wallahs will never give you side) I managed to clock a good average and reached Jaipur outskirts by 10AM. We then decided to take a break at Jaipur, do some shopping (Sunanda’s menu), have our lunch and leave for Ranthambhore later. That is what we did, spent the time at Sanganer Market (wholesale market for bed sheets, churidars, etc.), M I Road (lunch at Niro’s – good restaurant; also don’t miss to have Lassi from Lassiwala opposite the road) and left for Ranthambhore at 4:22PM. The Jaipur – Tonk road is a NH (NH 12), but a single road and very congested. So you can hardly speed here. Still with all the might of the Scorpio and revving up the gears constantly, I managed to overtake many a truck and finally reach the cut to the left from where you get off NH 12 and get into a SH that takes you to Sawai Madhopur (which is the Railway Station for Ranthambhore). This was one hell of a road; most parts of it were under construction, so very dusty and full of road diversions. You can barely pick up speed here. We took one final chai break just before Sawai Madhopur before reaching Ranthambhore Bagh at 8PM (!) where I had my tented accommodation reserved already. Ranthambhore Bagh (www.ranthambhore.com) is a nice accommodation, a bit expensive at 5K a night (including Dec surcharges and food). There are obviously all kinds of accommodations from Budget to 5 star Hotels in Ranthambhore. We had some light food in the night and retired soon after the day long journey. We were told by the receptionist to arrive at 6AM the following morning for what was going to be our 1st safari.
25 Dec (Day 2)
We woke up at 5AM to get ready and reach the reception by 6AM as advised. At Ranthambhore Park, they regulate the number of vehicles inside the Park. There are open Jeeps (Gypsy) and open Canters those are the only vehicles permitted inside. We were on a Canter which can take 20 people, the seats are nicely made and very comfortable to sit. The only problem is once inside the Park, it is fairly dusty so do expect to have a good shower after the Safari.
At 7AM, our Canter grazed past the Park’s main entrance Gate and that marked the beginning of our eagerly awaited Safari. It was still a bit dark, the sun had not risen and it was very very cold! We were each given a blanket from the Hotel, I was wondering why needed to carry such a bulky thing – I soon realized why! Soon after the entrance, we spotted a Leopard, yes! It was parched high up on a tree at a distance. Since I didn’t have my zoom lens then, I could not take pictures. But from my Nikon binoculars, I could have a good close look at it…
An early Leopard raised hopes of the next best thing – the Tiger! We went around Zone 3 (the Govt pre decides which Zone each vehicle will ply on) the rest of the morning upto 10AM. Alas, we could not spot the elusive Tiger. Our driver was quite an expert, but that did not help. As they say, spotting a Tiger is a matter of patience and luck. I guess we ran out of both that morning. However we had ample share of other animals – Crocs, Sambars, Spotted Dears, Peacocks, Langurs, Antelopes, Mongoose, Wild Boars and nice scenic jungle beauty!
Ranthambhore currently has 38 tigers and has one of the highest tiger densities in the world. The forest is the dry deciduous type. It has two mountain ranges – the Aravalli and the Vindhya. The total area of Ranthambhore Park is 282 sq km which is split into the Core area and Buffer area. The Core area is where most of the predators and animals live and this is where we get to do the Safari.
After a quick and short afternoon lunch and some rest, we were all set for our next Safari trip starting 2:30PM. This time we were allocated Zone 5. But even this one turned out to be a damp squib with respect to tigers. But I managed to get nice snaps of spotted dears grazing right in front of our Canter. Its not that cold in the evening as it is in the morning. We didn’t need blankets. Completely dusted and a little bit sleepy / tired, we return back to the Hotel at 6PM with lady luck still not smiling at us.
In the night, we had a peaceful dinner amidst Rajasthani folks songs being sung by local artistes live. That was very soothing. I must admit the food wasn’t that tasty though.
26 Dec (Day 3)
We were woken up middle of the night hearing the crackling noise of some animal inside our tent! I knew what it was as I had spotted it just before bed – the famous Indian rat which finds its way into every plastic packet that has food! I carefully packed all the open bags and we went back to bed. Within a minute or so, my wife jumped up screaming at the top of our voice – our friend managed to find his way right on top of her blanket! Scary!! Not knowing what else to do at that hour, we just put the room lights on and slept – that seemed to have worked.
The team was tired out of two consecutive early mornings, so the day started a bit relaxed. Anyway, we did not plan a Safari this morning, but instead wanted to trek up the Ranthambhore Fort, on top of which is the famous Lord Ganesh temple. This is the only temple where Lord Ganesh has 3 eyes!
Most of the Hotels in Ranthambhore (including where I stayed) are all on the same road that leads to the Park. They are all in the 5 to 10km distance from the Park entrance. So we drove out of our Hotel this morning and proceeded to the Park entrance, about 6km. From the main entrance you are allowed to go inside upto the point where the Ranthambhore Fort entrance is (about 5km). Private vehicles can go no further and only listed Canters (LCVs altered to have 20 open seater arrangements) and Gypsies are allowed to do the Safari which is farther away from the Fort entrance. The booking for these vehicles needs to be done fairly in advance. I did my Hotel booking about 45 days and still could not get the Gypsy, had to settle for the Canter (perhaps because it was end Dec).
I parked my Scorpio at the Fort entrance (there is a car park) and we hired a guide for 150/- who would show us the Fort and the famous Ganesh Temple inside the Fort. The guide is a nice simple guy, who did a sincere job – he is also well educated about the Fort. He is Naresh and reachable at 99503 59028. The climb to the top of the Fort is not that tough and one can easily do it in 40m with breaks. This Fort is the 2nd largest Fort in Rajasthan (next to Chittorgarh), spread over 7km and over 1000 years old! It has a rich history to it, which I will not elaborate here for want of space. One of the buildings, Badal Mahal is a must see. We went to the top of Badal Mahal and spent about 30m just appreciating the beautiful views of the Hills, Ravines and Lakes of Ranthambhore Park. If you are really lucky, you can spot a Tiger from the top as well. We did spot several Sambars and Crocs though (you need good binoculars though).
Then we had darshan of the Lord Ganeshji temple. This is a very famous temple and the only place where devotees write letters to Lord Ganesh. The idol is supposed to be 6500 years old! Everyday the postman carries a 35kg load of letters to the Lord which he opens and reads out aloud to the Lord. After spending some quite moments at the Temple in prayer, we started our descend. I would also like to give a nice tip here – there is a deep gorge right behind the Temple, so if you have 30m to spare, I would recommend you follow the Fort boundary just behind the Temple and take a look at the deep valley below – it is quite scary, but revealing! In the evenings, you do hear rants of various animals echoing in the valley.
The descent from the top of the Ranthambhore Fort was quick. It was past noon time so we were looking for a decent Dhaba – we found one Nikunj Dhaba on that main Ranthambhore road itself. The food was decent.
It was about time to make our last Safari of this trip starting 2:30PM. The Canter came in finally a bit late and we all rushed into it to grab the best of seats. I was lucky to get the 2 front seats empty (next to the driver). It is less dusty and bumpy from here! But unfortunately we got a very disinterested driver and guide combo, not enthusiastic at all! They took so much time at the Park entrance itself to get the ticketing done that all the rest of the vehicles went in, while we were patiently awaiting our duo to get back! This time our allocation was Zone 4. I was just praying that this trip does the trick. Our hopes raised! As soon as we entered the Park, we heard the opposite vehicles waving at us to rush as they spotted a Tiger right up that road. The spot was at least couple of kms away from where we were. Our driver immediately revved up his engine and we dashed to that point – but alas, the Tiger had moved from that spot already behind the bushes and was no more to be seen! We missed it by a
whisker. We continued our ride inside the Zone 4 of the jungle. This part of the jungle has a very interesting landscape – there is a huge lake inside which had many animals – Wild Boars, Gazelles, Sambars and several species of birds / storks there. I took quite a few pictures at this point. We continued our journey in the wild and reached some tents where a couple forest guards live – wow, it sounded too scary when I talked to one of them. They live right amidst all the predators nearly becoming part of them! They need to keep an eye on the animals, their whereabouts, and lookout for any poachers, forest grazers, etc. The guard was telling me that he sees the Tiger ‘everyday’!
By then it was already quite late and we had to head back to the Park entrance. We started our journey back while I continued to keep my vigil on the sides of the road, just in case there was a Tiger hiding behind the bushes my guide and driver could not spot! That was not to be… So the journey of Ranthambhore ended at 5:30PM. I take back several memories of having seen and spent several hours in the wild. That itself was a very satisfying experience. The kuccha roads of the jungle, the early morning rising sun behind the hills, the freely grazing animals in ‘their’ world, Badal Mahal of Ranthambhore Fort , the darshan of the rare Lord Ganesh deity – all will remain etched in my memories for a long time to come. The elusive Tiger is the reason why I will come back to this beautiful Park once again. Now I know why Shruti my daughter missed to be with us in this trip. She had to join the rest of us one more time in our hunt of the King of the Jungle amidst the wild terrains of Ranthambhore…