This trip was probably my 1st interaction with nature and wildlife. We were just planning out which places we should visit in north as we had to attend a close friend’s wedding in Delhi and Ranthambore just happened! It was actually part of a full 5 day trip where unfortunately we had allocated just a day’s stay at Ranthambore. We boarded our train from Mumbai Central which reached Kota at around 4 AM. After spending an hour at Kota, we boarded another train to Sawai Madhopur which is the closest station to Ranthambore National Park. We had planned to stay at the Tiger Safari resort and the manager of the resort had arranged a pick up from the station to the resort.
We finally arrived at our resort at around 7:30 AM. Having just a day at our disposal, we decided to do a visit to the Ranthambore fort in morning followed by Jungle Safari in afternoon. The resort manager had arranged a Jeep for the trip to Ranthambore fort and also the Jungle Safari (Rs 6000 per Gypsy with max 6 people; excluding driver and guide). There is also a canter option which is cheaper but I doubt if it would go too deep into the forest. After getting fresh and having a sumptuous breakfast (overpriced for sure); we started our journey to the Ranthambore Fort. It was early February and even though the sun was shining bright, the weather was pretty cold with a chilling breeze. The Ranthambore fort is at the start of the Ranthambore National Park, hence you have to go through the same entry gate. As soon as we crossed the gates, the driver quickly helped us to spot a crocodile relaxing next to a stream. Going further we saw lot of Indian Peafowls, Spotted Deers and Sambar Deers.
The driver also helped us to spot few pug marks along the muddy road. We made a stop at another spot where we saw more Indian Peafowl, but I quickly noticed a crow sized bird with a mix of black, light brown and white colours; the Rufous Treepie. Going a bit further, we saw a flock of the beautiful Plum headed Parakeets..!
We continued our journey to the base of the fort from where we had climb stairs to reach the top. There are hardly any stairs and you reach the top of the fort pretty quickly. The fortification of the fort is pretty much intact and you have lots to explore on the fort. We were short on time so we had a quick round and returned back to the resort for lunch. I would suggest to keep sometime (at-least 3 hours) to have a good exploration of the fort.
During our lunch, all discussions were about the Jungle Safari and whether we would be able to see the big cat. We quickly finished with lunch and were eagerly waiting for our ride to arrive and finally it did. We started the journey where the guide quickly introduced himself and the driver. Within 15-20 minutes we were pretty glad that we had got a very knowledgeable guide in Hemraj. Its only later we found out he is working as a conservationist for more than couple of decades. You can checkout his website and profile at Rathambore Tiger Home. After following the same road as to the fort, we reached another gate from where the safari actually begins. As we finally started with our Jungle Safari, we were greeted by a huge lake which had quite a no. of crocodiles on the shores, little cormorants perching on trees near the shores and couple of Brahminy Shelducks. Looking over the other side, Hemraj quickly helped us in spotting a pair Grey Francolins. He also pointed towards a tree where we could see a spotted owlet.
Going ahead, we could see a lot of Spotted Deers and Indian peafowls. We reached yet another lake where we again saw crocodiles, Brahminy Shelducks, Painted Storks and the Wooly-necked storks. We had spent around 30 minutes in the Safari and we were pretty happy with the different sighting but from this point all we could see was the Indian peafowls and Spotted Deers. Hemraj was pretty well versed with the trail and took us pretty deep in the jungle but there were no signs of the big cat. Being our 1st Safari, we already started to get a bit disappointed. Hemraj told the driver to drive right up-to the peak. The drive was pretty intense, virtually no road and 4X4 option used at all times..! Hats-off to the superb driver. If not for the big cat, this ride itself was one hell of an experience. Once we reached the top, Hemraj got down and listened to the surroundings to see if there were any alarm calls (That’s a sound different animals make when they spot a big cat). There were none! After spending some time, we decided to head back. We were pretty much dejected. This time we came from the other side of the lake where we took a stop. We saw the Red-Wattled lapwings and the Greater Stone Plover.
All of a sudden, Hemraj told the driver to start the Gypsy and go to some spot. He had heard an alarm call. We all jumped in excitement and were ready for the sight. The driver drove to a small lake where Hemraj finally spotted the big cat. We all were so happy and ecstatic that finally we managed to see it. It was pretty much of a glimpse across the light, still was more than a sight enough for us. We thought our journey was complete and that we would head back now. But no, then came the surprise part; Hemraj told the driver to ride to a particular location and just wait there next to the road. Within few minutes, the tiger was right there; around 20 meters away, where he sat and relaxed like a king. There came a point where we just put down our cameras and just enjoyed the sight. If this was not enough, what happened next is something we will never forget. After relaxing for a good 10-15 minutes, the tiger got up, walked right passed our Gypsy. That moment where the tiger was just a couple of meters away from us. We were scared and super happy! This surely is one moment which will remain with us for a long long time, probably forever. Hemraj identified the tiger’s name was “Akash and he was young adult.
We finally started back to the resort and all we discussed was the big cat. A big thanks to Hemraj and the driver. During dinner, we met few of visitors who had done 4 safaris in past two days and did not manage a sighting of the big cat. Only goes to show that one needs to be patient and lucky to see wild animals. More than luck, its patience.
Best time to Visit :
We were told by Hemraj that best time to view the big cats was between May to July when it is hot and the tigers come out to the lakes to cool down. However, I know quite a few friends of mine who have visited in Winters and managed to view the big cats. As I said, a bit of luck and loads of patience is all you need.
If you are amongst the ones who thinks going to a Jungle Safari will surely make you sight a big cat, then the answer is a clear NO. Also, there no point in running after animals or birds; as it would only scare them further away. Rather let them live in their own environment in their own way, and we can stay at some distance and just observe them without disturbing their habitat…