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Published: February 16th 2017
My flight out of India was on the 4th of February. I had time for one last stop. Initially I had planned on Ranthambore National Park, just to add tiger even though I thought the park might be so touristy as to be a horrible experience. I'd seen a tiger only once in the wild, at a great distance at Kaziranga in Assam in 2014, and I'd have quite liked to see one properly. Then in Gujarat someone mentioned the Sariska Tiger Reserve to me as a good place. I couldn't find out much due to a chronic lack of internet almost everywhere I went, but I did happen to notice in Vivek Menon's field guide to Indian mammals that a photo of a chousingha (four-horned antelope) had been taken at Sariska. That photo sealed the deal, and I decided to go to Sariska instead of Ranthambore. While at Keoladeo one of the guides told me the closest town for accommodation and buses is called Alwar.
From Bharatpur I took a bus to Alwar, three hours away. Close to the bus stand I found a hotel called the Galaxy Guest House which amazingly had WIFI. The rooms were 1200 rupees
but they gave me one for 1000 instead. Not as cheap as I would have liked (it's about NZ$20) but it was in the right place and only for two nights. When I checked in I was told that they had no restaurant, only coffee and tea - later I found out they did have food (as room service) which was lucky as finding somewhere to eat in the area proved extremely difficult.
The guide at Keoladeo had said I would need to get a taxi or tuktuk to the park from Alwar, which could have been pricey as it is a distance of 35km. When I arrived at the Alwar bus stand the first thing I did was to go into the office and ask about a bus. It turns out that the park HQ is directly next to the main road between Alwar and Jaipur, and buses do that route every twenty minutes. And from Alwar the hour-long journey only costs 35 rupees. Nice and simple.
After checking into the hotel and finding some food, I decided to bus out to the park to check on what information I needed for tomorrow. It was only an
hour and I wasn't doing anything else, and I figured I'd rather find out times and costs for myself than rely on second-hand information from anyone in town (none of whom would know the foreigner prices anyway). It was just as well I made the "trial run", so to speak, because I stood at the wrong platform waiting for the bus for almost an hour before finally being directed to the right spot by one of the drivers. What was most annoying about it was when each bus arrived at that spot I would lean into the office and say "that bus?" and the guy would say something like "no but just keep waiting"!
There were rhesus macaques all along the way to the park - you couldn't go more than a couple of minutes without seeing them along road. There were also Southern Plains langurs at one point.
Once at the park I found out that there are two entry periods, as is usual in the jeep-safari parks, but the time-slots are remarkably narrow. The morning entry is between 6.30 and 7.30am, and in the afternoon between I think it was 2.30 and 3.30pm or something like
that. The safaris last about four hours, but they are quite pricey if by oneself - although by no means as expensive as at many of the national parks. The foreigner price is 570 rupees for entry (locals 105 rupees). Then the jeep is 2100 rupees, the guide 300 rupees, and the jeep entry fee 250 rupees (even though it is the park's jeep! Just another way to squeeze money out of the visitors' pockets - at least there's no camera fee).
Although I was within the entry period for that afternoon I wasn't too keen on paying 3220 rupees for my visit (about NZ$65) unless absolutely necessary, so figured I'd go in if someone else turned up and let me share their jeep, but otherwise I'd come back in the morning and try then. I did find out while waiting that chousingha are actually very rare in the park, which wasn't great news, and that there are only fourteen tigers in the reserve. The tigers had actually died out in Sariska by 2004 and have been reintroduced from Ranthambore since 2008.
No other visitors arrived - the rangers said hardly anyone comes during the week, only at
the weekends does it get a little busy - so I caught a bus back to Alwar, where it took me an hour
to find a working ATM. The ATM situation is when I start getting really
frustrated about India! But on the plus side, I found that the daily withdrawal limit had gone up to 10,000 rupees, a few days before I was due to leave the country. It took another half-hour before finding somewhere to eat that wasn't just the fried rubbish they sell round the bus stand.
The buses to the park start running really early, something like 4.20am, and so I got out there easily before the ticket counter opened at 6am. I waited until 7am in case anyone else arrived (it doesn't get light until then anyway) but nobody did so I took a jeep alone. Just inside the gates we saw a black-naped hare which seemed like a good start. I've seen these elsewhere but the subspecies in this part of India has a brown nape rather than black, so looks a little weird. However the rest of the safari was uneventful. I might even say it was a waste of money but
I only use that phrase because all the mammals (and the few birds) which we saw were common species which I had seen at several other locations, species like nilgai, spotted deer, sambar, wild pigs, and langurs. If I had just arrived in India they would all be really cool to see, but alas that was not the case. And of course, tiger and chousingha were what I had my sights on. It is a really nice park to drive around in though, and very peaceful without other visitors.
When we got back to the HQ there were Southern Plains langurs all over the place, so I managed to get some photos of them at least. Then the guide sprung on me that striped hyaenas and Indian crested porcupines could be easily seen at night - and that they do night drives for them for the same cost as the day safaris!! This was a brilliant surprise because almost nowhere in India are night drives or spotlighting allowed in the parks. I just wish they had told me about this the previous afternoon when I was there. Two jeep rides at NZ$65 each made for a costly day/night on
my budget but I wasn't going to pass up hyaenas! I did have my reservations about how likely they would be, despite the guide saying they were very likely, but I figured that at least we would see porcupines.
That afternoon the jeep picked me up from the hotel in Alwar and we were off. The reserve is split into three zones and the one they go to at night is not the same as the day zone. It is quite close to Alwar in fact. It was a much more satisfying drive than the morning one. Sadly no hyaenas were seen, but there were six Indian crested porcupines, including three all together in one group, three black-naped hares, several sambar and chital, as well as a jungle nightjar and an eagle owl of some sort (probably Indian eagle owl, based on the habitat there). The guide did seem very certain we would see hyaenas so I think with a few night drives you'd probably get lucky. I would have paid to go out again if I had had the time to stay longer.
The next mornng I took a bus for four hours to Delhi where I
got a room at the Hotel Brij Palace for 650 rupees. Their WIFI worked perfectly which was a first for any of the places I stayed at in Delhi!
My flight to Bangkok was at 6.30pm the next day, so in the morning I visited the Delhi Zoo. Due to a bird flu scare the zoo had closed to the public in October, just a few days before I first arrived in Delhi, and had only reopened a couple of weeks ago. I was interested in seeing this zoo because it was regularly said to be the best (or the only good) zoo in India, and I also was interested in seeing how it looked after three months of closure. I found that it was indeed a pretty good zoo and well worth visiting, which is more than I can say for some other places I have seen.
It was a Saturday and yet there were still big school-groups everywhere. The zoo is large enough that it doesn't feel crowded though. I went round first using the outside loop-road - going the opposite way to the arrows on the map - and this took about two hours. Then
I spent another hour criss-crossing back and forth along the paths in the middle of the zoo, trying not to miss any of the enclosures. It is quite pleasant walking around the zoo in winter, because it is not too hot and the haze of pollution in the sky blocks the sun so no risk of getting burnt. I guess you choose between skin cancer and lung cancer in Delhi. Most of the photos I took look clouded because of all the smog.
I was impressed with the Delhi Zoo. I have only visited a few other Indian zoos but they were all pretty poor, and the zoo in neighbouring Sri Lanka (the Colombo Zoo) was downright atrocious. The Delhi Zoo is actually what I had expected the Mumbai Zoo to be like, but wasn't. It has mostly
good enclosures although as expected also a few of the older less-acceptable cages which haven't been upgraded or replaced yet, and usually there is excellent signage, or often double signage (i.e. a newer more-informative sign and one of the older signs). Even the trees around the zoo have name-plates to identify the species which isn't common in zoos.
animal at the zoo was the chousingha or four-horned antelope. I always seem to miss these at zoos which are supposed to have them. I thought I wasn't going to see them here either, after going round the whole zoo and not seeing any. I had seen a couple of arrowed signs pointing towards where they were supposed to be, but not found their enclosure. Finally, right at the end I did it. One chousingha. I couldn't see any others, so maybe they just have one left. It sort of looks like a cross between a gazelle and a muntjac. Very cool animal.
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