Ranthambore National Park, covering an area of nearly 400 km2, is one of the largest national parks in northern India. It is situated in the Sawai Madhopur district of southeastern Rajasthan, about 140 km southeast of Jaipur. As I already wrote in an earlier post, we did a four-week-round trip to India for our honeymoon. Therefor we planned to visit Ranthambore as well, and since this was my first time in a national park, I want to share my experience with you.
Ranthambore National Park – Hard facts
Ranthambore National Park was established 1955 by the Indian government, and became a national park in 1980. A lot of animals are living here in their natural habitat, but the sanctuary is most famous for the 62 Bengal tigers which are living here.
But even without all those creatures populating the area, Ranthambore National Park is an astonishing place to visit. The natural mix of dense jungle, great and grassy planes, crossed by huge areas of water and scattered by old abandoned temples is a beautiful experience for itself. And that’s true even if you don’t have a photographer’s eye. If you wish to spice up your trip with some historical lessons, you can do so by discovering the mighty Ranthambore fort too, a declared UNESCO world heritage site, overlooking the park.
Bengal tigers are not the only interesting species in the sanctuary
The Ranthambore wildlife sanctuary is popular for it’s Bengal tigers. But you may see leopards, hyenas, bears, wild pigs, all kind of deer, crocodiles, macaques and many more. Despite all those living beings you can watch here, most people from all over the world come to see one of this majestic Bengal tigers. And I must admit, that I wanted to see an uncaged tiger too.
Limited seats – Book a safari tour early on
You will have to book a safari tour early on if you want to enter the park. There are jeep and bus tours starting two times a day, in the morning and in the afternoon. Keep in mind that there are no tours over midday, because the animals are hiding from the heat. Apart from this the Indian government restricts the total number of visitors and vehicles driving through the park. The allowed entries through the gates change on a daily basis, and the driving routes are different for every car to avoid noisy hot spots in the park.
If you stay in one of the nearby hotels the tour guides will pick you up reliably. The system seems chaotic and messy, but it works. And although the jeeps are in used condition, they seem to be reliable too. Don’t worry though, each car is accompanied by a skilled driver and a ranger who tries to track down a tiger for you.
Driving through the entrance gates reminded me of Jurassic park
A large wall surrounds the whole national park, punctuated only by a small number of gates. If you drive through one of this gates in the early morning, you will immediately remember the Jurassic Park films. Driving through this gates is when the adventure begins.
Rangers have additional senses to uncover animals in the jungle
The ranger knows the best places to see something interesting. First you will have a look at the water places, since tigers tend to attack deer when it’s gathering around the lakes to drink. If you are not successful there, the real pursuit begins. Our ranger stood up on the passenger seat, sticked his nose into the air and told the driver where to go. He showed us a lot of concealed and hidden animals, which we would otherwise pass without even noticing them. It was very interesting to see how experience and knowledge leads to the ability to find a given species in a huge overgrown area without effort. Maybe it’s because I am a city child, but I must admit that this was mind blowing for me.
It is still not certain that you will see a Bengal tiger
After three tours on two different days we had still not stumbled upon a single Bengal tiger. But on the fourth attempt driving through Ranthambore National Park, things should change dramatically:
Driving slowly on a trail road through the jungle, all of a sudden our ranger was tense due to the yelling noises of some macaques in the forest several hundred meters away from us. I did not notice any difference to their regular noises first, since these monkeys fill the forest with sound all day long. But the ranger told us this is a distinct signal, and that’s how they are alerting each other when a tiger is in the proximity. So we accelerated to get our first tiger shot!
Monkey alert – we realized that we are very close
The jeep hit several bumps and potholes. We tried to stay in our seats as we raced over the gravel road. Soon we got closer to the source of the macaque signal and the ranger instructed the driver to slow down. After sneaking up with the car for the last 150 meters we finally stopped. We listened to the yelling monkey horde moving in the trees above our heads. Nobody said a single word. We strained our eyes to hopefully recognize some tiger stripes in the covert of the jungle. We hoped that the cat would cross the gravel road in front or behind us. But time passed by and so did the monkey horde above our heads.
They say that patience is the key
After waiting for about 20 minutes we realized that it got late. So we decided to head back since the park gates are closing at specific times. The Indian government is calling substantial fines for tour guides who don’t take the timings seriously. The driver turned around the vehicle and we slowly drove back the the same way. Just behind the next bend our guide suddenly signaled to stop the car immediately. He took his rifle, climbed out of the jeep and stepped in front of the vehicle. He scanned the surroundings with a slow turn of his head and indicated us to follow him.
The clever cat passed our back
The clever cat had secretly passed our back while we were trying to spot it. And it left an expressive sign for us in the middle of the road: A fresh piece of tiger poop!
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