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Published: March 27th 2020
Mission Ranthambore - Day 1
Our plan was to reach Jaipur by early morning flight from Bengaluru (6 AM) and rush to Sawai Madhopur directly, to attend the Afternoon jeep safari at Ranthambore National Park, same day. Reporting time for safari was 2 PM, very tight schedule. Any delay in between would jeopardize our program.
There were repeated news of early morning flight delays during immediately preceding days due to fog and technical issues. It was a risk but re-arrangement of our booking would have been costlier.
Both (Myself and my wife) of us could not sleep the previous night in excitement. Keeping our fingers crossed we reached the Bengaluru Airport departure gate. Flight departed in time. A sigh of relief. Fortunately flight landed at Jaipur on time also (around 8.45 AM).
First encounter with early morning cold weather we faced, when we were disembarking from the Aircraft. It was cooler than Bengaluru.
We already hired a taxi thru Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation ( a Rajasthan Government entity) which would accompany us for the next two days until we would board the train to Jaisalmer on the third day afternoon. RTDC charged Rs. 9500 plus toll
fare and parking charges. It was an expensive arrangement since there were other economic alternatives also.
Distance between Jaipur Airport to Hotel Vinayak, Sawai Madhopur (our place of abode) was around 170 Kms. Considering the shortage of available time I decided to make this arrangement in advance (Contact details Mr. Rathod, RTDC, Jaipur, Mobile 9829068100).
It clicked well. Details of driver was provided in advance. Mr Mahesh, the driver with Maruti DZire car was also present at Jaipur Airport in time.
Route to Sawai Madhopur was thru Jaipur-Kota Highway (NH 552), to take left near Tonk (around 90 Kms from Airport) to reach Sawai Madhopur. It was an excellent drive for around three hours. There were toll plazas in between. I was eager to watch whether every vehicle owner was paying toll thru FASTAG only. Yes it was. Bengaluru was still to catch up Rajasthan since a large number of toll payments had been still in cash there.
Our driver Maheshji was an interesting fellow. In first half an hour chat he narrated how a tourist family in one of his previous journey pressurized him to cover maximum places within the fixed tour program. Also another
passenger family used to have food without him. We understood the indirect message and obeyed accordingly during the entire three day company with him.
Stomach was burning. Unlike in highways in and around Bengaluru, there were absence of high quality restaurants on this highway. We stopped in between at a roadside dhaba. It was a pleasant surprise with the quality of food served. They offered Poha, freshly cooked and delicious, followed by hot tea. Rajasthani tea was prepared with good quality milk and thus gave a different taste. Both were not available in Bengaluru. Above all the price, so cheap. Overall it was a delightful breakfast in a chilled sunny morning.
We crossed Banas river on the way.
After crossing Tonk, there was left turn towards Sawai Madhopur. Outside scenario changed a lot. Miles of Mustard cultivation with matching of yellow and green colours on both sides of the road. Road was wide but needed careful and patient drive, since villagers in the country side most probably preferred to walk on the road without bothering for incoming vehicles coming from behind, indifferent to horns many times.
We reached Hotel Vinayak, Sawai Madhopur at around 12.30 PM.
Meanwhile my sister and brother-in-law already arrived from Mumbai. My son also joined later from Delhi. Hotel Vinayak, Sawai Madhopur
A Rajasthan Government (RTDC) Hotel, it was located on Ranthombhore Road i.e. the same road which directly reached the park entrance, distance being around 3 kms. It was a two storey old fashioned building with moderate maintenance. A spacious green lawn adjacent to the building was a point of attraction to us. We opted for AC Room, although room heater became a necessity inside the hotel room. Rooms were reasonably sized but housekeeping might require further attention. There was no Wifi facility at the room.
One big disadvantage was not having any enclosure for accommodating drivers. It was not intimated when we booked our car from RTDC, the same entity. At night driver complained for that and I had to pay him extra for his stay outside the hotel.
But the big plus was the food which we explained later. With varieties of dishes food was served with lot of care. Each one was tasty and enjoyable. Food price was also reasonable.
Due to time constraint, we went outside for lunch to a nearby dhaba.
It was on the roadside named Sivshankar Restaurant. We opted for Daal Baati Churma, the signature Rajasthani Food for the first time in our tour. It was served in a big thali, with churma (type of sweet made of broken wheat with ghee), thick daal, big size green chilly, tomato chutney with raw onion. Objective was to taste both sweet and pungency together. Quantity was too much for us. A tasteful lunch with reasonable price. Ranthombore National Park
Total park area was 1334 Sq. Kms, however 80%!o(MISSING)f that was not open for public. Tourists were given access to the balance 20%!p(MISSING)ortion, divided into ten zones.
As wild life enthusiasts we were regular visitors of various jungles at Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, not very far from Bangalore. We still cherish our fantastic visit to Pench, Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves at Madhya Pradesh. Visiting forest was intoxication, difficult to ignore for long, once one tasted it.
Our introduction to Ranthambore national park was thru various wildlife TV channels like Discovery, National Geographic and famous biopic of tigers like Machli. Safari Booking
Safari tickets for Ranthambore national park were always in huge
demand, particularly in prominent sectors like Zone I, II & III. There are two options, namely thru Gypsy or thru Hood open Canter minibus. Tickets can be booked online based on availability, however booking sufficiently in advance is advisable. One can choose for a single seat also instead of booking the entire geep. Canter bus can be the next choice, since it is economical. Obviously gypsy has greater maneuverability in a jungle terrain, compared to Canter.
Although booked online around two and half months in advance, I had to be content with two gypsy bookings out of three, rest being “Canter Safari”. Cost of Gypsy safari was Rs. 1037 per person including Entry Fee, Vehicle Fee and Guide charges. Charges for Canter safari was Rs. 641 all inclusive, per head.
We booked tickets for consecutive three Safaris, hoping to spot the tiger at least once. Afternoon Safari
With lunch concluded we went back to hotel. We were excited to see our Safari geep which already arrived. There were six seats for tourists in Gypsy, apart from guide and driver. Each row could accommodate three tourists. Seats were tourist friendly, sufficiently inclined to observe the wild life
from any seat. We occupied the rear seats.
Our quest for the big cat commenced at last. We reached the entry gate in no time. Oh my god! At least twenty gypsys were already in the queue. Each one was waiting for gate to be opened.
That was the common entrance for Zone No. 1, 2 as well as other gates. Mad rush started immediately after gate opening at 2.30 PM. Our journey began thru a common road for Initial few kilometers with a water stream flowing on the left. High hills on the other side prevented sunlight to reach the road. With high winds in a speeding car, it was very chilly afternoon.
Guide briefed about the forest. There were around 60 tigers in the whole forest now. He informed that morning visitors at this Zone were not lucky. A tiger usually ruled over 50 to 60 Kms area, in which he would not allow any other competitor. Sighting tiger was a matter of luck.
Guide also explained that thousands of people who earn their livelihood as guides and drivers of daily safari here, all were local residents. Involvement of local people was key to
any conservation effort. This is particularly relevant in Karnataka forests like Bandipur and Nagarhole. I read from newspaper that last year’s massive wildfire which devastated a large portion of Bandipur Tiger Reserve was due to human carelessness, not due to natural reasons.
Gradually we entered Zone I area. Forest has a unique wild odour which could be felt when we enter in depth. It was early February, winter was still biting. Unlike summer, forest was reasonably green and less dusty. Gray Langur was very common sight almost everywhere. They were naughty, cute and always in playing mood.
Calls of spotted deer, Sambar deer groups, langur could be heard intermittently. We could see Nilgai, biggest antelope in Asia. Sound of deer can be deceiving, but a specific type of barking by Sambar and Langur, as well as behaviour of other animals would indicate the presence of tiger nearby. An well experienced guide could decipher and follow the calls. This was the usual norm for all Indian forests we visited, south or north.
Above all the sound of birds. They were the life of the jungle, so many heterogeneous species, spectacular combination of colours, always on the move, chattering
with each other creating live orchestra till the darkness covered the wild.
I stood up for a better view, but it was a challenge to remain stranded in a moving jeep passing bumpy uneven wild roads with sudden twists and turn. Even sitting was also not easy.
Our Safari timings were from 2.30 PM to 6 PM with break in between for answering nature’s call in a designated area equipped with toilets. When the vehicle stopped, we were greeted by flocks of birds. They were called Rofous Treepie (Harichacha), with black head and brown body, long tail, size of a crow. Unlike crow their calls were sweet. To our pleasant surprise, entire group came down to our geep without hesitation. They were ready to sit anywhere, even on our head, hand, top of the camera lense. It was a fantastic opportunity for photography.
Late evening the chance of sighting tiger would be higher. That was the time when they would come for evening drink. Our geep rushed from one waterhole to another in vein.
Driver brought us to a spectacular spot on the bank of a lake. Afternoon sun was melting and a dim light created
Concentrating on the target
a mesmerizing scenario. With glittering lake water in twilight we could see varieties of animals. They were in large numbers. Sambar, Spotted Deer, Neel Guy, Langur, even crocodiles, all relishing last meal of the day side by side in the green adjoining grassland. Their legs were hidden into the shallow water.
Oh! How many species of birds all around. Flocks of them returning to their nest, talking to each other. Very soon it would be dark, thus they looked to be very busy. Far away, Heron, King fisher fully concentrated on their prey. Entire place was so melodious, it was truly heaven.
Guide did his best to spot the tiger, but no luck.
By the time we began our return journey sun already disappeared from the horizon. Despite having reasonable preparation for combating cold, I was shivering in the gust of wind attack of the fast moving open jeep.
Evening snacks with pakora and tea were served hot.
We selected our hotel booking immediately after full moon day, to enjoy moonlight in the wild. But as night approached, it was so cold, we had to retreat inside the hotel room.
Dinner was served with
chicken curry, daal makhani, Gutta (made of flour) curry and hot fulka. All were nicely prepared and we liked it.
Hoping for the best next day,we went to bed exhausted. Day 2 - Morning Safari
Morning trip started from 6.30 AM up to 10 AM. But the Canter reached our hotel by 6 in the morning. Although disheartened yesterday, we were ready for the next show. But oh god! It was so cold that I was unable to move my fingers. Luckily hand gloves were being sold at the park entry gate. They were getting sold like hot cake. I purchased a pair to de freeze my fingers.
Today our booking was on Zone 2. This zone was more attractive for its huge lakes and green forests. Mighty Ranthambore Fort built on top of the surrounding hills covering large area was a fascinating sight and unique in Ranthambore. Probably no other national park in India holds such a huge fort in a forest area. Fort was in a dilapidated condition. A large portion was already consumed by the forest. In fact maintaining such a huge structure was a mammoth task. It was difficult to
Largest antelope in Asia
imagine such huge structures, miles of brick walls were buzzing with humanity few centuries ago.
Coming back to our safari. There was a huge banyan tree near the entry gate. Guide told that it was one of the largest in India. There was sighting yesterday in that zone, which increased our chance of our success.
We visited number of water spots, waited in vain. There was no call. Driver was quite an enthusiastic guy, enquiring from incoming vehicle about the sight, if any.
Compared to yesterday, we were in large number in Canter bus. There was noise always, loud expressions, shouting, clicking of mobiles, everything was happening. We were skeptical whether we could watch the big cat in this trip. But nature unearths its bounties when we least expect anything. That unpredictability of the wild attracts us to come back again and again.
Driver stopped the bus and enquired from the incoming vehicle driver. Suddenly he increased its speed. It was a mad rush. Driving a large vehicle in such an unfriendly terrain was really a difficult task. Most challenging was to keep ourselves intact in our seats. Everybody was busy to somehow hold themselves with
their belongings. My lense hood was detached from the camera, luckily it fell inside the bus. It was really an amazing journey worth remembering. Sighting of Noorie, the tigress
Our first sight with the tigress was from distance. She was Noorie (T-105). She was mostly covered in bushes, we could see her black and white stripes only. There were at least fifteen vehicles already. Everybody was competing with each other to have a glimpse. Driver attempted to station the vehicle for a clear view. But nobody was willing to leave their place. We left the area.
Guide decided to come back from other side. But the attempt was fruitless, she already left the area. We consoled ourselves that we could at least spot her and our return journey commenced. Suddenly one of the tourist on the right shouted “Look, here she is.”
She was sitting pretty under a big tree with her paws stretched on the left side. It was still very cold and she was enjoying the worm morning sunlight. She was the lady of Zone 2. Dreadfully beautiful, healthy, gently shaking her head occasionally. God must have taken more time to create
her, that is why they were so less in number. Truly majestic. She was the boss of her territory.
Watching a tiger in the open jungle was an unique and unforgettable experience, which we had in Nagarhole in Karnataka, Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh and of course right now.
When we noticed her, initially there was no vehicle around. Distance between her and our vehicle might be around hundred yards. But there was a deep trench in between and thus it was impossible to move further.
Driver leaned our bus as near to the trench as possible. There was a scramble. Everybody tried to push themselves thru the right window to have a better look. Many of the tourists stood on the seat. Meanwhile the news might have spread to other geeps. Scores of gypsys started arriving and in no time entire area became crowded. Noorie was un-nerved. She gazed on us from distance and ignored our presence.
At around 10.30 AM we returned to our hotel. Breakfast was complementary. Stomach was burning after a marathon trip. Lot of choices, apart from bread, butter, omlette and tea/coffee, there were Poha, Chowmein etc. We enjoyed the
Warmth of sungod in a chilly morning was a precious gift which I did not want to miss. On request, hotel staffs placed the chairs on the nice green lawn adjacent to the hotel building. I relished the soft sunlight with a look at today’s newspaper. Unfortunately, there was no time, we had to rush for the next program. Ranthambore Fort
Our last safari was in the afternoon at 2.30 PM. Time was not sufficient but we did not want to miss the opportunity to visit “Ranthambore Fort.” Route to the fort was same upto Zone I. Thereafter we had to leave the car and start climbing the stairs. We engaged a guide (Rs. 500) to explain its history.
It was believed that the fort was built during tenth century. It was ruled by the Rajput Chouhans upto the 13th
Century. This fort was associated with the Great Chouhan king, Rao Hammir who incidentally was the last ruler of that dynasty. During his prolonged war with Alauddin Khilji in 1300 AD which lasted for nearly a year, the fort was besieged for months. It was so fortified that Alaiddin’s army could not enter the fort,
until one of Raja Hammir’s commander betrayed the king and ultimately the king was defeated.
Ranthambore Fort was also associated with legendary war with Rajputs and Emperor Akbar, who later conquered it.
UNESCO declared the fort as World Heritage Site.
Guide took us to places of importance inside the fort area which was huge and not possible to cover within a short time. There were various palaces of Kings, queens and their associates, soldiers barracks mostly in ruins. Most remarkable was the place of “jawahar (mass suicide)” where thousands of rajput ladies self immolated themselves to protect their self respect, when news of their beloved king’s defeat was received. We also visited famous Trinetra Ganesh Temple inside the fort, which was also ancient and has a long history as old as the fort. A pond at the fort area was remarkable for its deep orange colour. Reason for such color was not known to the guide. Evening safari
When we returned to the hotel, gypsy for our next ride already arrived. We were late. Bath and lunch had to be skipped. Both guide and driver were in haste since they had to
pick up two more passengers from another hotel. Our gypsy booking was in Zone I again which we visited yesterday. An Italian aged couple was our companion.
Incidentally, I was told by the hotel manager that Sawai Madhopur was famous for growing high quality guava. They were big in size and really tasty. We purchased a few and consumed till the final day of our tour.
We narrated our morning successful expedition to them. They were excited. All of us prayed for a repeat. They were no sighting this morning in this zone also. Our guide was a middle-aged person and seemed to be experienced. Initially we tried water resources as usual, some of them we visited yesterday also. It did not click. Nevertheless we could witness many other species like Neel Guy, Sambar, spotted deers etc. A chameleon, fox and mongoose were worth mentioning.
Amongst birds most interesting was an owl in his nest with babies.
In fact Zone I was a paradise for bird watchers. Group of parrots were a common sight. They were naughty, always on the move. Apart from colourful kingfisher, herons, cormorants particularly near water sources, wagtail wondering groups, so many
Trinetra Ganesh Temple
Inside Ranthambore Fort Area
other birds, so many species.
Peacocks were in plenty and sometimes visible in groups. We watched two peacocks in belligerent mood to win over a peahen.
Unlike in South India there was no elephant here. Herds of Wild buffalos (Gaurs) were a common view in South Indian forests, but we could not locate here. But Neel Gais were not common in South Indian jungles, but we could locate here in all of our three safaris. They were very healthy, much bigger than Sambar deer.
Based on a tip from incoming car, guide brought us to a place near a nala. The water source, although not very wide but quite lengthy, was flowing along side the forest road. Some other group spotted a leopard nearby. There were calls from monkeys indicating presence of a big cat somewhere near. Guide showed us the leopard pugmark on the road.
Our vehicle passed the nala back and forth for nearly an hour. Once when it appeared something was appearing from the bushes, two more jeeps appeared suddenly. Lot of noise, shouting. We waited in vain. No luck. Leopard being a very shy animal, chance of spotting them was rare.
Dusk was approaching. Most of the vehicles already returned. Guide made last attempt, but time was running out. Driver was in a hurry, since there was provision of heavy penalty for overstaying. We had realised, today there was no leopard luck.
Our guide told a word at the end, which was worth remembering “ Out of your ten safari attempts, big cat will spot you may be eight times, your chance to see him may be only the balance two.”
Overall it was a day of mixed success. Evening snacks back to hotel was energizing. We thought of visiting the town and spent some time there. On the way to the railway station driver parked the car near a point called Hammirdev Circle. It was well populated with lot of shops on all sides. We randomly selected a road side shop for tasting some local snacks. Hot samosa was under preparation, but would be late. We chose three types of snacks from his shop for enjoying with hot tea, although not having enough appetite. Each one was tasty and very cheap. Gift shop inside the hotel
Intensity of cold was much less today, or we might
have been acquainted by then. A shop was placed at the remote corner opposite to the hotel reception desk, inside not easily visible. Casually entering the shop we were surprised to notice varieties of merchandise, collection of bangles, Jackets, women-ware, nice gift items, so many other items inside, from various parts of Rajasthan. If projected properly the shop could have been a major attraction for tourists visiting the hotel. It was a pleasure collecting many gift items to our choice from that shop.
Last but not the least was the dinner at the hotel. We requested for a fish preparation tonight for which there was a doubt. To our pleasant surprise that was served along with Egg curry. Fish was fresh but the name was not known to anybody. Regular dishes like daal, gutta curry were on the menu and of course hot phulka. Our initial reluctance of having full fledged dinner vanished automatically and every one enjoyed full course of dinner. Our best appreciation to the cook, serving people for taking so much care.
On the whole it was a dream journey at Ranthambore which will cherish in our memory for years to come.
we commenced our journey towards Jaipur.
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