Ranthambore safari: Encore with the Royal Bengal tiger
For animal lovers, the sight of a tiger in its natural habitat is an amazing experience, but spotting five Royal Bengal tigers in two days is a rare privilege. To experience wildlife, we signed up with adventure tour operator Jungle Lore, for a two-night/three-day safari to Ranthambore, which is a sought after destination in Rajasthan to spot the Royal Bengal Tiger in particular. After an overnight train journey, we reached Sawai Madhopur district, which is home to Ranthambore National Park and were escorted to Raj Palace Resort - our home for the trip.
Three tiger cubs, believed to belong to T-19 — the famous tigress at Ranthambore, seem to be oblivious to the shutterbugs. Pic Courtesy/Vishal Monga/jungle lore
The first safari
Post a hearty lunch, we hit the road by 2.30 pm for our first safari in a 20-seater canter — an open-top vehicle, with Mohammad Saad, our forest guide. The State Forest Department provides a driver and a forest guide with every vehicle; their cost is included in the fee we pay for the safari seats. Along with canters, tourists can also opt for six-seater open top gypsies to enter the park.
Tigers on the prowl. Pic/Tanmoy Mitra
Beyond the gates of the park, the road was narrow and nestled between high cliffs on both sides. It is leopard territory informed our guide. Our eyes scanned the cliff in hope of spotting a leopard, but we could see only a few langurs perched on treetops. Disappointed, I reminded myself that it’s easier to sight a leopard in Mumbai.
The Ranthambore fort standing atop a high hill caught our attention; the park gets its name from the historical fort, which is in the periphery of the forest. We spotted sambars, chitals, crocodiles and several birds, including peacocks, parakeets, ibises and cormorants as we moved deep into the jungle.
A herd of Sambar deer in the water. Pic/Tanmoy Mitra
And then, the moment arrived. We spotted three Royal Bengal tigers cooling off near a waterhole. Saad said the siblings were cubs of T19, the queen tigress of Ranthambore. The sun was about to set and we decided to call it a day. On our way out, we spotted a large male tiger, which disappeared in the grass before we had a good look. What a day! We had seen four tigers in our first safari that lasted three hours.
Next morning, our safari that began at 6.30 am, was a disappointment. Our new zone was rocky and we bounced from side to side as our vehicle rumbled along the stretch. After a dreadful ride for nearly 20 minutes, the canter broke-down and we were stranded for an hour before help arrived. We spotted few animals and birds, but no tigers or leopards as we headed back to our hotel.
Male and female parakeets. Pic Courtesy/ Vishal Monga/ Jungle Lore
The afternoon safari was our last chance to see the mighty tigers of Ranthambore for one more time. We reached Raj Bagh lake — one of the three big lakes in the park. The old hunting palace of the maharajas on the other side of the lake, presented a spectacular view. Suddenly, a sharp call of a sambar pierced the silence and we froze, it was an alarm cry that indicated the presence of a tiger. We spotted the three cubs as they emerged from the bushes and this time, they were accompanied by their mother T19, Ranthambore’s most dominant tigress.
A Kingfisher and crocodile by a waterbody. Pic Courtesy/Vishal Monga
It was chaotic, as canters and gypsies arrived from all directions. Within seconds, tourist vehicles had captured every vantage point around the lake. Amid the frenzy, our canter moved away from the area and stationed on top a hill from where we could see the tigers at a distance. Saad assured us that the tigers would eventually cross our path.
After cooling off for a while near the lake, T-19 and her cubs started walking along the banks only to reemerge in front of our vehicle. We got a full frontal view of four Royal Bengal tigers! We thanked Mohammad Saad, for making the difference between an average sighting and a memorable one.
From Mumbai 1,119 km
Overview: Ranthambore National park is spread around 400 sq km. The park is divided into tourist, buffer and core areas where tourist area comprises five zones. Visitors are allowed twice in a day — early morning and afternoon.
Flora and Fauna: Ranthambore has around 60 tigers, including cubs. Besides tigers, other animals such as leopards, caracals, jungle cats, sloth bear, jackal, striped hyena, few deer species and several reptiles are found in the park. Over 300 species of birds, both resident and migratory, are seen in Ranthambore. The park is dominated by the dhok trees, which form more than 70% of the deciduous forest.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Ranthambore National park is from October to May.
Stay: From 5-star to standard, there are a number of hotels around the park to suit all budgets.
How to reach: Jaipur is the closest airport, around 150 km from Ranthambore. The nearest railway station is Sawai Madhopur, which is 10 km from the park.