Published: April 5th 2012March 28th 2012
RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK, RAJASTHAN, INDIA. Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29, March 2012.
We were collected at 8.30 am by Mr Barun for our drive to Ranthambhore National Park which was about 4 hours away (with a following wind) as we needed to arrive before our first game drive which was scheduled for 2.30 pm. We drove though the countryside to the town of Tonks, where we turned off the main highway towards our destination.
We arrived at our hotel, the Ranthambhore Regency, at about 12.30 in plenty of time for lunch. The hotel was well appointed and we were staying here on an all inclusive basis. Lunch was a buffet style affair and was of good quality. The room was large, modern, clean and airy. There was a good size swimming pool with a bar and an inside bar with free Wi-Fi access.
The hotel is located a few kilometers from one of the park gates. Ranthambore National Park is famous for its population of some 30 or so tigers, and was previously a princely game conserve where these magnificent animals were hunted for sport. A significant geological feature within the park is the 'Great Boundary Fault' where
D Getting in Safari Truck
Mr Singh the Guide with the Turban
the Vindhaya Plateau meets the Aravali Mountain Range. The Rivers Chambal in the South and the Banas in the North bound the National Park. Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve lies on the junction of Aravali and Vindhyas Mountains just 14 Kms from Sawai Madhopur in Eastern Rajasthan.
We were collected at 2.45 and were the last on the 20 seater safari vehicle. We were driven to the park gate where our passports were checked and our names ticked off a list. We were allocated sector 4 for our game drive by the Park Authority. There are 6 sectors in all and the number of vehicles in any one sector at a time is rigorously controlled.
The park sprawls over a varying and undulating landscape. The scenery changes dramatically from gentle and steep slopes of the Vindhyas and sharp and conical hills of the Aravali. There is a tenth century fort in the reserve which blends amicably with the background. There is also a Hindu temple here which means that the main track into the park is a public road. Ranthambhore is plagued by the typical problems encountered by all game reserves in India - people living in and around the
parks and grazing by livestock! Between 1976-1979, 12 villages within Ranthambhore National Park were resettled outside the designated park area with only a few people now residing in scattered hamlets within the park. Of course, poachers continue their activities with increasing demand from China for Tiger parts. There are no accurate figures on how many tigers and other species the poachers kill , but on occasion evidence appears in the form of large numbers of skins and other body parts found on couriers trying to leave the country.
Three big lakes – Padam Talab (meaning Lake), Malik Talab and Raj Bagh provide watering holes for the wildlife inside the park and the vast forests around the lakes abound with aquatic vegetation including duckweeds, lilies and lotus flowers. The park is well staffed and each vehicle must have a licenced guide. The guides we had were very knowledgeable on all aspects of wildlife in the park, although a little lacking in knowledge of the flora.
The drive through sector 4 was very bumpy - it didn't help being seated directly above the rear axel. Although we were primarily here to find a Tiger, the Tiger is not the only
attraction at Ranthambhore. On this first game drive we were lucky to see several varieties of birds including Common Kingfishers, Bee Eaters, Green Parakeets, Egrets, Herons, and of course, the ubiquitous Langur Monkey. We saw two species of deer the Spotted Deer and the Sambar Deer and a couple of Snub Nosed Marsh Crocodiles before we ground to a spectacular halt behind two other vehicles who were gazing down to a small stream attentively. Then we saw it - a large male Tiger lying under a tree by the river. We watched him for about half an hour. All he did was yawn, stretch and lick himself (just like a domestic cat) before he sauntered off into the forest. It was only later - after tomorrows game drives that we were to realise how lucky we had been to see him at all.
We returned to the hotel very dusty and bruised from bouncing around in the safari vehicle. We were however feeling extremely satisfied having accomplished our mission to see a wild Tiger. We had a Kingfisher (beer not the bird) in the room (we had brought them with us from Jaipur and cooled them in the room's
fridge), had a shower and then another Kingfisher. Dinner was another good buffet and the Indian bread was the best we have had anywhere. The bread waiter, who was a cheeful dumpy fellow, would take the bread out of the oven and then zoom around the room delivering it to the tables before it went cold. We went to bed early as we had to be up for 5.45 am for the following morning's game drive.
Next morning we assembled in the lobby at 6.15 for some tea and biscuits. The safari vehicle arrived 20 minutes late, but this time we were the third and fourth people aboard so managed to sit at the front (avoiding the rear axel). As soon as we started off it was apparent that it was far more comfortable at the front. We stopped at various other hotels and guest houses until our truck was full, went to the park gates, had our passports checked etc etc. We had only gone about 2 minutes down the public track when we stopped behind another truck. Away in the distance on a mountain ridge there was a Leopard. We watched him or her (too far away
to tell) climb the hillside and also saw a Common Mongoose wandering along the same ridge in front of the Leopard.
When it had gone, we continued into the park and were told by our guide that we had been allocated Sector 3. This was a much more interesting drive than yesterday from a scenery point of view. We passed a pair of female Blue Bulls which we had not seen yesterday. These are the largest species of antelope in Asia and were about the size of a horse. M asked the guide the difference between a deer and an antelope. The answer is that antelope shed their antlers and deer do not. Another great question for Bar JoJos quiz night back home! We saw a much larger Marsh Crocodile than yesterday but the couple in front of us on the bus laughed when the guide said this was a large croc. They were from South Africa so were used to really big ones. We also saw some more Parakeets, Spotted and Sambar Deer and Langur Monkeys of course but NO Tiger. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and hoped to have more luck this afternoon which was
to be our third and final game drive.
In the afternoon the Safari Vehicle arrived early. We were second on the vehicle and so got a good seat again. We followed the routine, picked up more people, passports and checks at the park gates and were allocated Sector 4 - the same as yesterday afternoon. We were a little disappointed but were comforted by the fact that yesterday afternoon we did, at least, see a Tiger in this Sector. We drove around for hours with our guide, Mr Singh, trying to find the evasive Tiger(s). It was very hot, dusty and uncomfortable. Mr Singh kept telling the driver to stop and for us all to be quiet. He would then listen intently for monkey and bird warning calls - signs of a Tiger in the vicinity (apparently).
He also pointed out Tiger tracks in the sand and said that it had definitely passed by here recently. M did wonder how these perfect paw marks had managed to remain intact with all these safari vehicles tearing around all over the place. She also remarked that this may be about as close as we would get to a Tiger today.
We saw another Common Mongoose and this time it was much closer, only about 5 metres away. We also saw a herd of Wild Boar and lots and lots of Peacocks. It was fantastic to watch the male birds fly out of the way of the truck with their long plumes trailing behind them. D hadn't realsised they could fly at all until we came to India.
We carried on looking for a Tiger with no luck. We were nearly out of the park when Mr Singh stopped the vehicle claiming that he had heard more monkey warning cries. We stopped in silence and waited. All this was a bit pointless though as hundreds of temple worshipers were wandering past our truck chattering noisily while we all sat in a stupid silence waiting for a Tiger to spring from the undergrowth. We think that this was a last minute attempt by Mr Singh to improve his tips.
We returned to the hotel and D had a swim in the pool. He was chatting away to a couple he had met yesterday from Australia who were on a long world trip. They were already extremely cynical about India. The
Ozzie guy related a tale yesterday to D about how an Indian salesman had waited expectantly after he had purchased a postcard. "You want a tip" asked Mr Ozzie, "Yes" replied Indian guy. "Work hard and look after your mother" said Mr Ozzie and walked off. D got along well with him.
Anyway, tonight they had been on their 4th game drive and still had not seen a single Tiger. Mrs Ozzie said that they too had seen plenty of Tiger tracks. However, she is convinced that there is a guy, employed by the Park Authority, to walk around with a walking stick with a tiger paw stuck to the end of it, stamping it into the sand to dupe the tourists into thinking that they are close on the trail of the elusive cat. She also thinks that to improve their 'PIT' (that's what Mr and Mrs Ozzie call tips so that the guide won't know what they are talking about) the guide will spot an extremely rare something or other, pontificating about how EXTREMELY LUCKY you are to have seen the beasty (in their case it was a Ring Necked Parakeet) just as you are about to
leave the park - so that you will give them a larger 'pit'. We enjoyed the buffet lunch, had a couple of Kingfishers, posted a few blogs, watched a movie and went to bed. Tomorrow is our first train ride in India and we have to be up at 5.45 am.
There are more photos below