“Bhaiyya Kitna time lagega Swai Madhopur tak?” ( Brother, how long will it take to reach Sawai Madhopur?) We asked the passenger next to us. We, I and my husband P, were on the way to Ranthambhore National Park in a Rajasthan Roadways bus. He replied “ 3 hours” . “ WHAT…oh no no, we have our afternoon safari booked and the pick up is at 2.15pm. We must reach by 1 pm anyhow at least to check in.” I turned to P and blurted “All because of your Rawat ki Kachori, we will miss our safari” Before the bus became our drawing room (our battle ground at home!); the alarmed bus conductor intervened. He said “ Don’t worry, we will not stop at every turning and the driver is very good. You will reach on time.” We decided to believe him and depend on our luck. The Rajasthan Roadways bus driver and the conductor did not disappoint and when we got down at the Sawai Madhopur Bus stand the clock struck 1 pm.
It was a spur of the moment decision and a SOS call to Biju our friend who works in a travel company in Delhi, we were on our way to Ranthambhore National Park for a short weekend trip. That Saturday, because of the runway closure at Mumbai Airport the flight was rescheduled to 4.30am from the usual 5.55am. It was still slightly dark when we landed in Jaipur airport at 6.00am.
Since it was early we decided to go to the city and take a Rajasthan roadways bus to Sawai Madhopur, the nearest town of Ranthambhore. P suggested to have the famous “ Rawat ki Kachori” for breakfast before getting into the bus. The Rawat sweets shop is located very near to the bus stand. It was indeed something not be to be missed. But in all these, we came to know that the only bus to Sawai Madhopur left early in the morning. The guys at the bus stand suggested us to take a bus to Tonk and change to another one to Sawai Madhopur from there. Ranthambhore National park is approx 180 km from Jaipur city. However due to the road conditions, the Roadways bus option would have taken 4-5hours. The other option was to hire a cab. Actually the airport is already on the Tonk road around 16km out of Jaipur city. Since we came to the city, we decided to go ahead with the roadways option
It was fun crossing all those small towns and villages. We started from Jaipur bus stand at 7.30am and we reached Tonk by 11am. We got a bus to Sawai Madhopur almost instantly. We were booked in Ranthambhore Regency. We dumped our bags in the room and headed straight to the restaurant for lunch. The Safari canter came exactly at 2.15 and there were 6 guests from our hotel on it. In Ranthambhore there are 2 options for safari. Either by gypsy or by canter. Since ours was a last minute decision we could not get a gypsy safari. A canter accommodates 20 people whereas a gypsy is for 6 people. Every vehicle is allotted a specific zone inside the park for a particular day. On each vehicle there is a naturalist besides the driver. At the entrance of the park, we had to show our identity cards. You have no option but to go with the allotted vehicle and to the allotted zone. Each vehicle works on roster maintained by the national park authorities. We entered zone 3 on that day. 20 minutes into the safari we came to know of the presence of a tigress nearby. There were many vehicles at the spot. We could barely see the stripes lying on ground. The tigress was fast asleep. Our naturalist suggested that we should wait for sometime and as the sun goes down she will get up and we would get to see her. At times the naturalist and the driver made such type of pact to save fuel. But since it was a rare opportunity most of us agreed. However some people insisted on going inside the jungle till the sun sets. So we did and when we came back she was gone! We returned to the hotel disappointed at the missed opportunity.
Ranthambhore was once the gaming park for the Maharajas of Jaipur. However in 1973 when Project Tiger was started it got enlisted as one of the nine Tiger Reserves. Later in 1980, an area of 275 sq km from within the Tiger Reserve was declared the Ranthambhore National park.The Park is one of the best national parks in the country to spot a tiger. In fact it is said that the tigers of Ranthambhore are the most photographed in the world with “Machli”, the tigress being the most famous one.There are villages surrounding the National park. With the problem of poaching and deforestation, the number of tigers dwindled and the age old man-animal conflict increased. But the park doesn’t have only tigers. It is home to a number of other animals like sloth bear, crocodiles, deers, macaques, leopards and more than 270 species of birds.
On a hilltop overlooking the park is the Ranthambhore Fort built in the 10h Century by Chauhan rulers. Because of its strategic location, the fort was one of the most difficult to invade. For years the brave Rajputs fought against invaders. Later the fort went into the hands of Mughals and it is believed that Mughal Emperor Akbar stayed here sometimes between 1558-59. Now the ruins house a Ganesha temple which is thronged by devotees all over the country. Apart from the Ganesha temple there are ruins of other temples, mosques and other palaces. Most of all it’s the breath taking view of the park that the fort offers is worth the effort of trekking uphill to the fort. One should keep a full day for the fort. We couldn’t go as we didn’t have time
Next day early morning we were picked up for the morning safari. This time we had a more vocal and a strict naturalist named Shiva. He made it very clear to questions of possible “citing” that the park is not only about tigers and if one ran after the tiger he would miss a lot of things. No one can guarantee a view of the tiger. We were allotted zone 2. We went very deep into the jungle. When we were returning suddenly Shiva signaled the vehicle to stop. There she was! The big cat was sitting in the shade in her full regalia, T17 also called “Sundari”. Since ours was the last vehicle left inside the park and official safari time was almost over, we could not wait for long. But that glimpse was enough to make us gone through a lot of emotions. Happy that we could see the majestic big cat; wonder at the royal air it exuded, sad that we do not know how to value this beautiful national animal of India.
How to reach::
By Air: Jaipur, about 4 hrs drive, is the nearest airport. Usual bus services are available between Jaipur and Ranthambore.
By Rail: Sawai Madhopur is the adjoining Railhead. Different trains connection Sawai Madhopur to cities as Jaipur and Delhi are available.
By Road: Sawai Madhopur is the nearby township from Ranthambore which is well linked to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra