Ranthambore - romancing the tigers
Ranthambore National Park is one of Asia’s top ranked National Parks and is perhaps one of the finest wilderness zones for wildlife viewing. Located strategically at the intersection of the Aravalli and Vindhya range of mountains, the park is well spread out over 392 sq.kms. In terms of species, Ranthambore is renowned for Tigers, Leopards, Sloth Bear, Hyenas, Indian Wild Boar, Chital, Nilgai, Langurs, Palm Civets and a plethora of bird species, which is inclusive of Woodpeckers, Graylag Goose, Indian Hornbills, Kingfishers, Egrets, Herons to name just a few.
Ranthambore was designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary way back in 1957 and the Govt. of India brought it under the ambit of “Project Tiger” in 1974. This is one of the most comprehensive Tiger Conservation strategies undertaken by the Indian government under the stewardship of the then Prime Minister of India - Smt. Indira Gandhi. Ranthambore came into the limelight in the mid 70s through the pioneering works of two conservationists – Fateh Singh and Valmik Thapar. They spent years and years in Ranthambore, researching the secretive behavior of the 50 odd tigers that prowled the Ranthambore forest. Together, they produced engrossing documentaries and television shows that were telecast worldwide eulogizing Ranthambore as one of the world’s best places for sighting the Tigers.
Ranthambore has attracted dignitaries and world-renowned personalities galore by its magical charm. High on the list of dignitaries visiting Ranthambore was the charismatic former President of USA, Bill Clinton, who was mesmerized by Ranthambore’s prized possessions – the Tigers.
Post Bill Clinton’s visit, Ranthambore has witnessed tremendous infrastructure improvements both in terms of wildlife and visitor management. Today, when you travel to Ranthambore along its desolate parklands, gravel roads and battle scarred forts, you are likely to be transported to an altogether different India, which is the great Indian wilderness escapade.
When deciding to travel to the jungles, most visitors are often nervous and apprehensive about the kind of accommodation that is available in the wilderness. But with India evolving as a global tourist destination, high end jungle hospitality is now a reality and Ranthambore boasts of some of the best luxury brands – The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Vivanta by Taj, Sher Vilas, Nahargarh etc., – where you can soak in luxury after the day’s thrilling wildlife safari.
The impressive Oberoi Vanyavilas Resort is without doubt a cut above the rest in terms of discreet luxury. Run by the renowned Oberoi hotel chain, Vanyavilas is located in close proximity to the National Park.
These tents are designed just like regal caravans that were used by the Maharajas of yore. The interiors are eye-catching by their intricately crafted tiger prints, rugs placed on the fine teak floor and the king-sized bed is a perfect way to unwind after the day’s adventure.
A 3 Night & 4 Day itinerary is perfect and you can rest assured of The Resort’s In-house naturalists who have Ranthambore’s terrain on the tip of their fingers.
For the benefit of tourists, Ranthambore National Park has 10 exclusive wildlife safari zones and each such zone has an earmarked carrying capacity so as to avoid overcrowding. And the best thing about embarking on a wildlife safari in Ranthambore is that there are tigers present in each zone.
Ranthambore comes alive with the sight of Sambhars and Nilgais grazing in the grasslands. The monkeys here are literally just too naughty. The peacocks of Ranthambore, are a breed apart and graceful.
But it is the Royal Bengal Tigers for which Ranthambore is most preferred by wildlife enthusiasts and is India’s Tiger Country. In the days of yore, Ranthambore used to be the hunting reserve of Rajasthan’s royalty. The reason why tigers thrive in Ranthambore is due to the dry deciduous forest cover and an abundance of prey base.
In terms of tiger density, Ranthambore is one of India’s high density National Parks (6.5 Kms/ Tiger and as per the 2016 tiger census, has 60 Royal Bengal Tigers). This is one of the best places for tiger sighting.
Unlike other tiger habitats, here in Ranthambore with its limited terrain, there is always a fight for supremacy amongst the tigers in terms of territory having the richest prey base, which according to wildlife conservationists is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
Mind you, the resident denizens of Ranthambore are amongst the most photographed individuals in the world and the Forest Department has given them names such as, Pacman, Arrowhead, Noor, Fateh, Surzan for the benefit of the tourists. The popularity of Ranthambore has increased manifold largely due to the excellent wildlife photography options, not just in terms of the
huge diversity of wildlife species, but also due to the high visibility on offer, courtesy the dry deciduous habitat. A typical wildlife safari in Ranthambore passes through dense “Dhok” forest and precipitous valleys and onto the flat plains which is home to a myriad of wildlife species. One of the most remarkable features of Ranthambore’s landscape are the shimmering lakes encircled by bushy acacia woods. These watering holes are ideal habitats for the avian species and a Mecca for bird watchers. The big cats too are known to rest along the banks of these lakes. Ranthambore is not just wildlife viewing. Here in the midst of haunting wilderness, there is an impregnable old fort, dating back to the 10th century and located at least 200 meters above sea level. Legend has it that the Chahuan Rajputs built this majestic fort in 944 AD. Nearby is the Jogi Mahal where India’s largest Banyan tree is located.
Ever imagined of a castle in the woods? Well, here in Ranthambore, a visit to the castle of Jhoomar Baori could be a very rewarding experience. In the days of yore it used to be the summer retreat of the Royal family of Jaipur, which has now been converted into a heritage hotel by Rajasthan Tourism.
The Pali Ghat Crocodile Sanctuary in the Chambal region is awesome and is a breeding centre. This one-of-its- kind crocodile sanctuary is located at the tri-junction of three states – Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Apart from crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins and a variety of turtles are scientifically reared. This is one of the best places for photographing crocodiles and dolphins. Many vantage locations are available and can be reached by boat.
Time permitting, a visit to the Rajiv Gandhi Natural History Museum, located at a distance of 9 Kms. from Sawai Madhopur can be a very enlightening experience. The museum’s in-house pottery shop and art gallery offer significant insight to the artistic pursuits of the local tribes. The well-stocked library has a repository of 10,000 books on nature and wildlife.
No trip to Ranthambore is ever complete without a visit to the neighboring Moghiya village, where the Moghiya tribes, which once associated themselves in poaching activities have over the span of a decade-long crusade by Tiger Watch (NGO), converted themselves into custodians of Ranthambore’s tigers. Today Tiger Watch’s anti-poaching program is perhaps one of the most successful covert anti-poaching initiatives undertaken in India’s wilderness domain.
Of particular significance is the Tiger Watch inspired Moghiya Handicraft Program, where the womenfolk have been able to upgrade their weaving skills through exposure to state-of-the-art weaving techniques. Their finished products range from baskets, tablemats, hand fans etc., most of which are sold to visitors.
Legendary tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar’s Ranthambore Foundation’s works too are commendable. For instance, he set up the Ranthambore School of Art, which encourages local artists to engage in artistic pursuits and today visitors to Ranthambore are stupefied by the amazing art works that are on display by the locals who use basic oil, charcoal and watercolor to create such masterpieces.
All in all, a visit to Ranthambore offers a peek into India’s furtive Tiger Country. Are you up for the wild escapade?