RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK-MEMORIES ETCHED IN WILDERNESS
We have all grown up hearing the famous quote from William Blake “Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright/In the forests of the night/what immortal hand or eye ! could frame the fearful symmetry.” The mere thought of seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat instills a feeling of awe and grandeur unparalled by any other wondrous sight of nature. With these mixed feelings we decided to visit the grandiose Ranthambore National Park about 130Km from Jaipur because I believe that the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page
Jaipur to Ranthambore by road( October to june)
We set off by car (leave by breakfast to catch the afternoon safari) taking the more hospitable road via the MI road (the central road of Jaipur which separates the old city from the new) straight to Dausa. The road from Jaipur to Dausa is a world class sixlane highway where you can whiz past the 65 km in about an hour in a comfortable pace, the stretch has lots of watering holes, petrol pumps and a colorful Rajasthan countryside. The type of clothing you are going to carry is determined according to the time of the year you are planning to visit- while a thin T-shirt would suffice during the hot summer months, it gets really chilly during the winter months when you have to carry real warm clothing, carry your sunscreens, a wide straw hat, binoculars and camera with a zoom lens because animals give me more pleasure through the viewfinder of a camera than they ever did in the crosshairs of a gunsight,and after I've finished "shooting," my unharmed victims are still around for others to enjoy . It is best to visit the park as soon as it opens in October because soon after the rains the park is teeming with wildlife and plenty of water holes and therefore the chances of sighting a tiger increases fourfold.
Just before you enter Dausa a small road on the right side leads you thru the town to a place called Lalsot-ask directions inside Dausa , because it’s a little confusing. The road to Lalsot is a normal single lane freeway well maintained , the country side is a mix of lovely bucolic wilderness of typical Rajashan countryside and it would take about two hours to traverse the remaining 70km. This road will take you straight to the town of Sawai Madhopur and Ranthambore which are twin cities.
As soon as you enter the town of Swaimadhosingh you cross a huge flyover transecting the city ,take the first left turn as soon as you cross the flyover ,suddenly you are into tiger country of Ranthambore. The RTDC tourist centre is on the right side and a host of hotels of different hues, budget and shapes line the left side of the road.
The main aim as soon as you enter Ranthambore is to make a beeline for the evening safari (starts at 1400hours) ticket at the RTDC centre as only government approved vehicles can enter the park
The tourist centre was in its characteristic turmoil with tourist vying over each other to get a safari ticket, the omnipresent middleman and touts hovering around you ,and by the time you come out victorious your patience starts running thin( I hope the government makes the booking online to mitigate the sufferings of common man and especially the foreign tourists who are innocent victims of the touts fleecing them away ruthlessly )-the safari can be enjoyed on either open maruti jeeps of six seater capacity or canters of twenty seater capacity (Rs375-420/-per head) and the best part was they call you to the canter/jeeps as “char Indian/teen foreigner’ as if carrying a choice of fodder for the tigers at the park. Apparently the park is divided into four zones with each supposed to have 10 tigers and it is up to your luck and lottery as to which zone you would be allotted. It is also preferable to book a canter as it gives an elevated and wide angle view of the safari. Secondly the safari takes place twice a day , one during early morning hours(5:30-6:00AM) and second during the afternoon from 02:30-3:00PM) for an average duration of four hours.
As soon as we got our evening safari tickets we walked into a budget hotel just opposite the RTDC. Do not book online as you get much better deals by on ground bargaining. The rent for the decent hotels range from Rs800/ (roadside single rooms) to Rs 2000/ (individual cottages) complete with a small swimming pool, bar, AC,broadband connection and breakfast thrown in for free.Try to stay as near to RTDC centre as possible to facilitate pickup by the safari vehicles. Initially the vehicles used to pick one up from the hotels but now it is mandatory to board at the RTDC centre where you bought your ticket.
Safari (Oct to Jul)
The canter with the guide set out exactly at 1400 hours and we were a mixture of motley crowd of twenty on the trip ranging from an elderly American couple, NRI Indians and young students from a Jaipur college.
As you enter the park the towering Ranthambore fort seats at the entrance as a mute spectator (a visit to the Lord Ganesha temple is a must), a sense of mystique, trepidation and apprehension albeit a little chill which was more because of the cool environs embraces you. The park is built alongside a mountain range which looks like a huge savannah dotted with large water bodies, old dilapidated hunting lodges bearing a testimony of the carnage carried out on the humans and the wild life by the so called royalty. The four hour drive was an experience in itself. It was rejuvenating, exhilarating out of the world experience where we came about hordes of wildlife in their natural habitat roaming around fearlessly and included langurs, Jackals, Black bucks,Chinkara, Civets and Common mongoose. The park also has a large number of marsh crocodiles bathing about lazily in the sun besides the tiny rivulets which crisscross the park.Not only that it also has a veritable collection of flora and fauna, a botanist’s delight but a huge collection of the winged variety the Graylag Goose, Woodpeckers, Indian Gray Hornbills, Common Kingfishers,Flamingos, Ibis, Pelicans, Storks, Pittas, Shrikes, Treepies to name a few making the park a birdwatchers delight. As our canter crisscrossed the landscape driving deep into the belly of the park,the sight which awaited us would be etched in memory till we meet our maker. As our canter was passing a small rivulet the guide suddenly beckoned us to keep our trap shut and the canter stopped to a halt-it was as if the whole world had come to a sandstill, the gazelles stopped on their tracks paralysed with fever and reverence, the langurs quietly scuttled away and for a moment even the birds stopped chattering-two tiger cubs slowly moved down the hillside along with their mother to have a bathe and an evening drink from the waterhole,after having feasted on a gazelle, for a moment time stood still we even forgot to lift our cameras as the two tiger cubs made their way to the waterhole looking around in disdain with the attitude of true royal blood on their evening walk. The long golden rays of the setting sun reflected off their beautiful chequered skin giving a golden hue and they sat down inside the water hole in true royal style when a silent prayer sprang to my lips –‘May your world ever stay beautiful, your actions majestic, your nature merciful and your kingdom bountiful” . As the darkness begin to creep in the sudden revving of the canter engine broke our reverie and despite our yearning to stay back we had to make our way out of the park to our hotel room.
Before we left Rantambore we collected a memorabilia of tiger engraved T-shirts and caps to keep the moments alive because just as we do not remember days, we remember moments.
We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form. ~William Ralph Inge, Outspoken Essays, 1922