My feet were itchy, my last trip was in June and it was September now. It was an indication that they would have to soon land in an unknown territory. I was initially planning a trip to Pondicherry with my parents, but we cancelled on it, as we have to save for something else. While Pondicherry remains on the list of places to visit, I had to think of a place nearby that would not burn a hole in our pocket.
I have never been on a wild life safari. Whenever I have considered national parks earlier, it was time of the year when they are closed. A quick internet search revealed that Ranthambore opens in the 1st week of October. Moreover, between Corbett and Ranthambore (both near to Delhi), the latter is more famous for Tiger sightings. Now, one could easily drive to Ranthambore, but we chose to travel by train. There are few options of trains from Delhi to Sawai Madhopur and travel time is 5-6 hours. Unlike Corbett, Ranthambore does not have hotels/resorts within the park. However, I wanted to have a jungle experience, and Tripadvisor came to the rescue once again. In fact, there is a list of hotels on www.ranthamborenationalpark.com, I picked hotels from this site and read reviews on Tripadvisor to finalize.
I booked train tickets, hotels and then safari. I actually delayed booking the safari. I was busy with some other developments in my professional life, so I did not search much about the safari. It is only when I reached our destination, I realized that how important it is to book a safari as early as possible. Ranthambore National Park is huge and is thus divided into 10 zones for people to visit. It is a common belief that probability of sighting a Tiger is higher in zones 1 to 5. And, earlier you book, better chances of you landing up in these zones. One could book either a jeep (shared by 5 people) or a canter (14-17 people). If you book through an agent, jeep costs 1500 per person while canter costs 900 per person. The other option is to reach Ranthambore and stand in queues for current safari booking. This is cheaper but people usually prefer booking beforehand. I did book ahead of our trip but not early enough to land in one of the prime zones.
Before I begin my day-by-day travelogue, an important question for you all: Do you guys travel with your parents? Do you ensure that they get a break from their monotonous life too? I am lucky that my parents like to travel, so it does not require much of convincing. Maybe, I got my travel genes from them and I have taken that interest to another level. When we were kids, my parents tried that my brother and I get to travel (either through school trips or as a family trip) and now I ensure that the tradition prevails. We, of course had an advantage as our mum is a school teacher.
We take a 7 am train and reach Sawai Madhopur by 1 in the noon. Our resort, Tiger Moon, is around 12 kms away. There is an option to take a taxi or auto. Auto charges 250-300 bucks and taxi charges 500 bucks. Tiger Moon, with variety of flora has a forest feel to it. Sometimes in the night, a leopard might give you a visit in the resort. Machli, the famous tigress, which died recently, has even swum in the pool of Tiger Moon.
We had no plans for sightseeing on our 1st day. Our resort was pretty good and all we wanted was to relax and laze around. Tiger moon goes a step ahead to ensure that one feels close to nature, it does not provide wifi or TV. Yes, you read it right, no TV. My mum was disappointed; she would miss the season finale of 24! However, the hotel gives you a plethora of indoor games as options. We spent the evening playing carom, ludo, snakes and ladders and antaskshari. I played these games with my Mum-Dad after ages. It was an evening full of nostalgia. Now, let me tell you my dad loves to cheat in games and he is a smart cheater. So, rather than concentrating on our moves in the game, my mum and I direct our attention to his moves. Moreover, like a kid, if he were losing, he would make sure to spoil the game. So, if a snake bites him, I am talking about the game not the real ones. Apparently, there were a few found in our resort the previous night. So, if a snake bites him, he would discontinue and scatter all the pieces on the board. We fought and laughed a lot. It was a good family time far away from the social and artificial world.
Another good thing about hotel packages in Ranthambore is that they are inclusive of all meals. Even morning and evening tea/coffee are included. Rajasthan is famous for its food, and the hotel made sure to offer the taste of Rajasthan but in a bit bland way to cater to foreigners as well.
We had an early morning safari. Canter had come to pick us up at 6:30 am, and we were all set and eager to sight a Tiger. As I mentioned earlier, we were not lucky enough to get into zones 1-5. Our morning safari led us to Zone 6. It was farther off from the main zones. As we moved deep into the zone, it started sinking in that it was more of a hill than a dense jungle. I had a completely different picture in mind. We did spot Deers in abundance but no luck with Tiger or any other wild animal. Even the guide in our safari did not seem interested to talk about the history of the park. All of us in our safari were disappointed, and to add to our misery a co passenger said that they saw a Tiger yesterday in zone 8. Everyone bombarded them with questions, “When?”, “Morning or Evening?”, “But zone 8, really?”, “Can you show us pictures?” and etc etc. This became the only interesting thing about our safari.
I had not given up on sighting the Tiger, I made up my might to book another safari the next day. A lot of people do sight Tigers, so will we. I went to my resort manger and following is our conversation:
“Could we get a jeep safari for tomorrow evening? “
He was sure about his reply:
“No, ma’am, you are too late to get a jeep”.
“Okay, what about a canter”
“Yes , I can try”
“I do not want to go the same zone again.” (I had earlier thought I would request for Zone 1-5 but since I was told about a sighting in Zone 8, I did not mind that either.)
“Ma’am, I cannot guarantee that, we get to know about zones at the last moment”
“No, please, not the same zone”
He did not speak, after seeing his not so positive reaction, I continued:
“Please, please, any other zone”
“Ma’am okay, I can guarantee you a visit to one of the zones from 1 to 5, but you will have you pay extra”
“Sorry, what, why?”
“These are the primes zones”
“Oh, okay, I get it, how much extra”
“1200 per person”
The desire to sight a Tiger in its natural habitat led me to pay the extra amount. I am not sure, why did he wait so long to ask for the extra money.
Convinced, we will see the Tiger the next day; we set our foot in the Ranthambore Fort that evening. The fort lies within the National Park region and sometimes one can see Tiger crossing the road from one zone to another on the way. I had my eyes open, so was our driver’s, he was a good man and narrated many stories about the area and tigers. The Machli and the pool story came from him. He has even patted Machli, he claimed. Now a jeep to fort and back costs 1000 bucks. He made us spot a crocodile on our way. He was much better than the actual guide in the safari earlier that day.
Within the fort, lies the famous Trinetra Ganesh Temple (Three eyed Ganesha Temple). Locals believe one’s wish would most certainly fulfil with the visit to the temple. It is at a certain elevation and is not much of a comfortable walk. It has around 250-300 ancient style stairs, but with the trust in God, people make sure to climb them. Fort is scenic, has a lake and one would spot a few peacock/hen and a lot of Langurs.
When we were on our way to the temple and my parents took a halt to rest, a group of students joined us. They were full of excitement, as they had spotted a Tiger on their way to the fort. I asked them what time exactly. And voila, 10 minutes after we had crossed that path! Some could spot the Tiger at no cost, we paid extra, we better do the next day.
Our resort had organised a cultural night with Rajasthan’s folk music and dance programme. It was fun, the kid who was part of the group was talented and more. With the musical beats in our ears, we called it a night.
I have to mention, that a family in our resort saw two Tigers in a single safari in Zone 4 that evening. We were all the more passionate for our encounter with the Tiger tomorrow.
We lazed around in the morning, did some local shopping and after lunch went for our evening safari. Mum, “we will see the Tiger, I kept saying”. Well they say, only if you think positive, would positive things happen. Canter came to pick us up around 2:30, and I am sure you can guess my first question, “Which zone are we heading towards?” Zone 5 was the answer, to my relief.
Thankfully, the guide this time was well informed, and talked about history of the wildlife in the park. We again spotted a lot of Deers and their different breeds. Another point of comfort was that Zone 5 was like a real jungle, with vast greens of trees, langurs, birds and large lakes. We saw a wild boar as well. The guide and the driver stopped the canter and the noise of the engine to concentrate on other noises and hints for the tiger. We went real deep into the forest, this safari lasted much longer than the earlier one. Did we spot a Tiger? No, we did not. However, the zone gave us many scenic views, so we were not disappointed largely.
We were shown a documentary on Tigers that night in the hotel, Sher Vilas. Yes, we changed hotels this morning, as Tiger moon was not available for three nights. Sher vilas was quite opposite of Tiger Moon, as it had open spaces, garden and offered outdoor games like Volley Ball.
We took a train back home the next morning. Over all, Ranthambore is a great weekend away. You could easily cover it in two days. The weather is pleasant in this time of the year, it even rained one of the evenings. The safari was a good experience, even if we did not see any Tiger in its natural habitat, we did see a few other animals in wild and not caged. The way, they should be!
Pricing of hotels:
Tiger moon: 6800 for three people, including all meals
Sher Vilas: 5000 for three people, including all meals
I booked the hotels through Tour My India