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India: Rajasthan: Chittorgarh, Devigarh, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Kumbhalgarh, Ranakpur, Ranthambore, Ranthambore (Visit 2), Udaipur
Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India: Stripes galore
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
You have to be lucky to be able to sight tigers at the Ranthambore National Park – one of India’s fine reserves for tigers and other wild life. Not to forget hundreds of species of birds that the park attracts. The park covers an area of 370 square kilometers and is home to about 65 tigers. Well, the number is at the time of writing. Hopefully, the population would grow. India had over 40,000 tigers in the early fifties. Now, just over 2000 remain!
Talking of seasons, a good time to sight tigers would be May and November. The dry months deprive the park of vegetation thus increasing the chances of spotting tigers in a relatively open environment. Moreover, watering holes become that much more active. Temperatures in May will cross 45 degrees Celsius. November would be pleasantly cool. I was in Ranthambore in early June. Whilst the evenings were bearable, daytime was hot as hell.
For this trip I was with Sudhir Shivaram, a fine wild life photographer and teacher. I loved his patience and the passion to impart knowledge to amateurs like me. We were a group of 12, and probably, I was the most ignorant among all. Each one of them had multiple camera bodies and super tele-photo lenses. Sure gave me some inferiority complex since I was only carrying one camera (Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 100-400 mm lens).
Sudhir had booked 4 safari vehicles that for the next 3 days would carry 3 photographers each. Though the vehicle has the capacity to take 6, we needed room to place the camera gear and also the space to be able to take pictures from desired angles. With full-day safari, we had unrestricted access to all the park zones and could be in the park from 6 AM to 7 PM. That's 13 hours. Good to know that during my visit, the temperature was hovering around 50 degrees Celsius! And for company we had dust and bumpy rides. Though I was adequately protected, the scorching sun did its job. All said and done, the luxury of being in the park for such a long time had its rewards. The sightings did make the hardship bearable! I am told, only 5 vehicles per day are allowed for the full day safari.
Visitors to the Ranthambore National Park need to follow fixed time schedules. The morning safari departs at 6 and the afternoon one at 3. Each safari lasts for about 3 hours. Any delays to get out of the park before the closing of the gates attract heavy penalties. Only authorized operators are allowed to run the safaris. Private vehicles are not allowed. There are two options. A 20-seater Canter or a 6-seater Gypsy. The cost is about Rs 700 per passenger. Still cameras can be taken in without cost. Video cameras and professional shooting attracts a fee. All hotels would be happy to book safari seats for you. During the rush season, it’s a good idea to book your safari in advance as the park has restrictions to the number of vehicles that can get in. There are 8 designated routes on which the vehicles ply. Once a route is decided, there’s no changing. Neither can the vehicles go from one route to another. Since tiger sighting is not guaranteed, tourists generally stay for a couple of days and opt for 2 or 3 safaris on different routes and times with the hope that luck would favour them.
Ranthambore is about 180 kms from Jaipur which is the nearest airport. And the nearest railway station is Sawai Madhopur which is just about 10 kms. and is quite well connected with the rest of the country. Scores of hotels dot the neighbourhood and getting a room, across various budgets, should not be an issue. It’s a good idea though to have confirmed reservations especially whilst travelling in busy tourist months.
We stayed at Ranthambore Regency for 4 nights. It's a comfortable 3-star property and about 7 kms from the park gates. The staff at the hotel was excellent. The food was good; though we just had the dinners since breakfast and lunch was boxed which we carried with us during the safari. Typically, we left the hotel at 5:30 AM and returned at around 7:30 PM. From 8 PM to 9 PM was allotted to discuss the day's happening and learn the tricks of the trade from Sudhir. Post dinner, by 10, I was in bed... the alarm would wake me up at 4:30 AM the next morning!
During the days of the raj, Ranthambore was the hunting grounds of Maharajas of Jaipur. Beautiful palaces were built for the comforts of the hunting troupes. Special canopies were built near the watering holes where the hunters would wait with loaded weapons waiting for the tigers and wild boars. It pains me to visualize a picture of a maharaja, safely located with a loaded gun, killing the helpless tiger from a distance. Cruel fun. I was told that at times killing of tigers became a necessity because of their growing population. Typically, a tiger needs 40 square kms of area for himself, a couple of tigresses and their cubs. Irrespective of the logic, I still don’t approve of the killings.
During our 3-days in the park, we had many sightings. Here I would like to thank my fellow photographer, Dr Nitin Baste, a cancer surgeon from Nasik who helped me with the names of the tigers. His knowledge about tiger lineage and birds was awesome. Our driver was Balram and guide was Hans Raj. Special thanks to them for taking extra pains to enable us to optimise our sighting.
Day 1, Zone 6: Veeru & Jai. Zone 2: Noorie. Zone 4: 2 male tigers (yet to be named and numbered). Krishna and Shakti (they are mother and daughter)
Day 2, Zone 4: Krishna and Shakti. Zone 3: Arrowhead and her 2 cubs. Kumbha T34. And a Leopard.
Day 3, Zone 6: Veeru. Zone 2: Noorie and T57. Zone 3: Arrowhead and her 2 cubs. Zone 2: Noorie and T57. Zone 2: Noor and T57 (pre mating aggression).
A few highlights:
Arrowhead, the famed tigress had 3 cubs. A few days prior to our arrival, one of her cubs was eaten by a crocodile. That made the mom very cautious... she was in the hiding for many days and was more than careful to go near the waters with her cubs.
Got to see a pre-mating aggression of T57 (a male) with Noor. The guy was quite keen, but Noor showed no interest. The growling reverberated in the jungle.
Veeru was cooling off in one of the watering holes when he spotted a sambar, just a few feet away, drinking in the same pool. Had it not been for soggy black-soil, the tiger would have easily got his prey. Know what, the sambar knew that the black soil in the pond would make it difficult for the tiger to react swiftly! He happily quenched his thirst and walked away.
I was informed that tigers are not agile hunters. They hide themselves and attempt to attack only when the prey is within easy reach. The tiger is successful in only one out of ten hunting attempts. Today was not his day.
Tiger lives and hunts alone; average lifespan is about 17 years; average weight is about 250 kgs; can eat up to 20 kgs of meat at one go; the stripes are unique to every tiger.
While in Ranthambore, I would recommend a visit to the majestic Ranthambore Fort too. Given our schedule, I could not make it though. There’s no entry fee to visit the fort. From the parking lot, a series of comfortable steps takes you up the fort. Built in the year 944 the fort has a bloody history. The rule changed hands from the Meenas to Rajputs to Sutans to Mugals. To cut the long story short, the fort finally passed on to the Maharaja of Jaipur in the 17th century. Strategically located, the fort offers excellent view of the Ranthambore National Park and is home to the famous Ganesh temple as also the temples of Lord Shiva and Ramlala. There’s also a Jain temple of Lord Sumatinath and Lord Sambhavanath.
With this I will let the pictures do the talking.
Ranthambore Image Gallery Photo viewer
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