Anyone who knows me understands that my frequent choices of weekend getaways are mountains. I was searching for a photograph for my next Instagram post, when it occurred to me that due to my default weekend getaway choices, my repository was crowded with photographs of hills/mountains. Upon realizing this, I chose to step out of my comfort zone and venture into a new territory. With the long weekend (Good Friday) on the horizon, this was the right opportunity to try something new. As usual I began my research (one of the most enjoyable elements of the trip), and after countless hours of debating, I zeroed down on Sariska Tiger Reserve in the Alwar district of Rajasthan, India.
Anyone planning to visit Sariska has 2 options of stay - either you choose to stay overnight in Alwar ( around 40 kms from Sariska) and drive down to Sariska, or choose one of the camps in proximity of the reserve (more details on planning the trip later). About the safari, you can choose to either take it in the morning or the afternoon slot. We chose to stay overnight and take the ride from Alwar to Sariska. The drive was extremely picturesque with the imposing Aravalli range keeping company throughout the travel. The journey was truly refreshing and the sunrise was just serene. We reached around 6 AM, and were surprised to see a long queue and tourists waiting to begin the safari. There were 2 operating windows at the ticket counter - one, for those who had booked the safari online and second (longer queue), for folks like me who wanted immediate reservation. We waited for about half an hour before we could get the ticket. A tip - if you want on the spot reservations, it is advisable to reach by 5:45 AM. It is okay to travel with minimum cash as card payment options are available. Also, there are enough parking spaces available and a small cafe that will provide enough for a quick snack.
There are 2 modes of transport to experience the safari - Maruti Gypsy (5-6 people) & Open-top bus (14-16 people). After booking the tickets, we then headed towards the bus. The safari began with sightings of curious Langurs (too notorious for my liking). A few meters in and you get a sense of entering the wilderness, as the humdrum of the modern world fades away. Seemingly wide variation of flora and fauna dote the 800 sq. km. sanctuary. Lot of animals, from the grass-eating antelopes like Nilgai, Sambar, Chital etc. to one of the most formidable predators and the Indian National Animal - the Bengal Tiger, reside in Sarika. Around 12-13 tigers survive here today and spotting one is all about your luck and timing. The National Bird of India, the Indian Peafowl thrives in this national park. The guide keeps you abreast with information about your surroundings and is definitely useful for the layman.
The bus took a known path and made quick stopovers whenever we spotted something of interest. This would be a much pleasurable experience if you'd have had a private gypsy, especially for those who have caught the shutter bug (more details on photography later). Since the spectrum of audience was wide, our fellow riders decided to take a stopover at a temple situated within the national park. One can have quick snacks like kachori with kadhi and the traditional Kulhad chai. After around 15 minutes, we left from the temple and headed back but there were still no sightings of a tiger. Although on our way back, we heard the antelopes raise alarms to which our guide informed us that they do this when they smell the tiger's urine which the tiger uses to mark its territory. By the time we came out, a couple of hours had spanned. Although we were saddened for not being able to spot a tiger but the experience in itself was definitely worth our while.
Some pointers for the trip -
For online reservations, there are plenty of tour operators who can help you with the online bookings, or you can walk up to the counter on the day of safari. Nearest airport : Jaipur, Rajasthan, Nearest railway station - Alwar Junction, Rajasthan. A few budget hotels, comfortable stay options and a few heritage properties are available in Alwar. Ticket cost per head for the open-top bus is around Indian Rupees 450 and the gypsy costs a little more (missed out on inquiring the exact price for the gypsy but should be double than that of the bus). Things required for the safari ride : pair of sunglasses, binoculars, camera, bottle of water, scarf or bandanna for anyone conscious of their hair, some snacks if you are travelling with kids and a disposable bag (to be considerate to your surroundings and not litter).
Some photography tips -
Usually, I am fond of clicking photographs in the manual mode, but because of the rough terrain and not having the leisure to stop the vehicle at my disposal, I had to use the best mode for action i.e. Sports mode. Capturing photos in this mode is challenging and exciting at the same time. This mode uses a fast shutter speed which helps freeze the action of the subject; in this case - animals. Using this mode would also help capture motion of the subject. And about the light, I hadn't had to worry much about it while capturing photographs because the natural mid-morning light took care of it. In such cases where the shutter speed is the most important element and it has to be in place in order to capture the movement of animals, Sports mode is preferable because the shutter speed is automatically set and also you don't have enough time to change the settings manually and take test shots. You can also use the burst mode of your camera as it takes a lot of shots at one time and the probability of getting a good capture is high.
Hope you have a great trip. Happy Photographing!