WHERE TO STAY: We booked Hotel Rajputana Heritage on agoda.com. It's a budget homestay (Cost per night - Rs 3000) with decent service quality and maintenance. It features heritage rooms with adequate amenities and a terrace garden. Ranthambore in general has pretty expensive accommodations, given most of the properties are heritage palaces. I really liked the look and feel of some of these properties. Check these on TripAdvisor: Aman-i-Khas, Tree Leaf Kipling Lodge, Anuraga Palace (my personal favorite based on 1 quick visit and I'm definitely booking this one the next time).
TIGER SAFARI: Once we checked-in to our hotel and settled in, we inquired about safari booking at our hotel reception. It's recommended to book a safari in advance since the best zones to spot tigers have limited jeeps going in a day and these get sold out pretty soon. There are 2 safaris which happen everyday with fixed departures, one leaves at 6:30 am and the other one in the afternoon at 2:30 pm. Morning safaris have better chances of tiger-sighting and get booked sooner. Also, there are two options available - jeep safari which costs Rs 1300/- pp (6-7 passengers) and canter safari which costs Rs 850/- pp (15-20 passengers). Jeep safaris are more personalized and can go closer to the animals, but we decided to go for an early morning canter safari the next day as all jeep safaris going to better zones (1,2,4) of the park were already sold out. Our experience with canter safari was also good, the guides and drivers were really serious about tiger-sighting and did everything they could to spot these magnificent beasts. TIP: Go with low expectation. It's very difficult to spot tigers. You would see a lot of other animals and you will enjoy no matter you spot tigers eventually or not. Trust me, it's the thrilling experience of chasing a tiger that counts! The thing that I love the most about safaris is that you get to experience these ferocious beasts in their natural habitat, I hate going to zoos now and see the tamed versions of the animals. It's not a pretty sight at all. In safaris, if you get lucky you can also spot some wild hunting which just gives me a rush of blood even thinking about it for a moment, definitely something I want to witness after having 2 failed attempts already (Kruger & this one, but never say never right!). We started our safari at 6:45am and were super excited to spot some tigers, as our driver also had pumped us up quite a bit telling us that he was able to spot 3-4 tigers in his zone the very previous day. May be that's what they tell everyone everyday. Anyway, an hour later, we're still trying to spot a tiger. We spotted quite a few rocks, bushes, plants etc looking like a tiger. Lol that's what happens when you really really want to see something. Being quite disappointed, our group almost gave up and some started taking a nap as well, afterall we were up since 5 in the morning and still there were no tigers to be seen. And then our moment of extreme thrill finally arrived. We spotted a tiger in its full glory yawning and probably preparing for his after breakfast nap. It was a sight I had never witnessed earlier. We could not get very upclose as canters are not allowed beyond a point and hence I was not able to capture a very clear shot, but I think I will always remember those 5 minutes where we watched this beauty without blinking our eyes for a second. Our driver told us the tiger we saw was named 'Ladali' by the forest department and they have a name for each tiger. I wonder how could they even tell from that distance which tiger was it :P. Anyhow, we returned with some unforgettable moments of tiger spotting, sights of some other beautiful animals and birds and some way up-close time spent with the monkeys of the park. The canter dropped us back at our hotel at around 10am.