Distance: 434 km SW of Delhi
When to go: Winter, from November to February, is the best time to visit. The park is closed from July to September
Tourist Office: Wildlife/ Forest Department Office l Chief Conservator of Forests/ DFO, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur
STD code: 07462
Air: Nearest airport is Jaipur
Rail: Nearest railhead is Sawai Madhopur
Road: Route from Delhi NH8 to Jaipur via Gurgaon, Dharuhera, Behror, Shahpura, Kot Putli, Chandwaji and Amer; NH12 to Tonk via Sanganer; NH116 to Sawai Madhopur via Uniara; SH to Ranthambore
Ranthambore is pure magic. The place is fraught with romance and intrigue – old ruins smothered by roots, herons sharing lakes with holy men and a million myths about Raja Hamir and the glory days of the impregnable fort.
A weekend at hand is all that is required to visit this magnificent abode of tigers. Leave the madness, chaos and grime of Delhi late in the evening, and arrive to the bright light, cold air and red brick of Sawai Madhopur Railway Station the next morning. Once through the main gate, dust and sand will give way to a canopy of trees and a leaf-dappled shade. You will be greeted by Ranthambore’s omnipresent langurs near the ticket counter.
Ranthambore is a popular holiday destination and in winter it is often chock-full of noisy tourists on an obsessive search for tigers. Driving through the reserve while waiting for audience with The King is an enriching experience as well as a humbling one. The trick to getting the most out of the park is distancing yourself from the madding crowd and being satisfied just breathing the cool jungle air. Suddenly then, everything about the experience becomes thrilling.
There is constant talk about having spotted a tiger or having tracked one, be it while watching cormorants dry their wings on a bare tree in the middle of Rajbag Lake, or having spotted a deer peeping through the window of a ruin far on the other bank. But if you are lucky you will see the mother tigress beginning her languid amble towards you, or making her way across a sliver of land in the water stopping just a stone’s throw from your parked vehicle, crouched down and drinking. You might also only see mere pugmarks. Spotting a tiger is, hence, contingent, primarily on your luck.
Things to see and do
Despite Ranthambore’s popularity with tourists, there is still something primal about being in and around this stretch of the wilds. While crowds of visitors may seem annoying at first, it is what makes the park not an artefact, but rather a very real place where ancient ruins, untamed nature and contemporary village life make layers of history almost tangible. Visit the fort early enough to witness the spectacular forest-fort panorama at sunrise.
The birdwatching here, especially around the lakes, is legendary and there are always large herds of cheetal, sambar and nilgai. It’s common to find feline pugmarks scattered in the sand around ancient dilapidated chhatris. Visitors can also spend endless afternoons crocodile-watching by a lake.
The highlight of the Ranthambore experience is the 31/2-hr jungle jeep safari for tiger spotting. As no private vehicles are permitted into the park, it would be wise to book a tourist jeep safari well in advance (at least 60 days), especially in the high season, with the Forest Department at Ranthambore or through your travel agent. Jeep movement along the trails is strictly monitored to ensure the least interference to animal movement in the park.
This ancient citadel is situated almost exactly at the meeting point of the Vindhya and the Aravalli hill ranges. The fort, after which the national park was named, is thought to have been built in 944 CE and is considered one of the strongest forts in the country. It was occupied by a Raja Hamir for many years until the siege by Allaudin Khalji’s army in 1301 CE forced the Rajput king to surrender. Stories of women reputed to have committed jauhar, or self-immolation, to prevent themselves falling into enemy hands are the stuff of local legend here.
It can be tiring walking up to the fort’s ramparts but the view of the park and its three lakes from the top is truly worth the effort.
Dedicated to Lord Ganesha, this temple is located inside the fort, within the precincts of the park, about 15 km from Sawai Madhopur. The Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, when devotees join in the singing of devotional songs, draw large crowds including tourists and locals to the temple.
Located at the foot of the fort, Jogi Mahal is also home to the country’s second largest banyan tree. The Forest Rest House (FRH) at Jogi Mahal offers stunning views of the Padam Talao, awash with water lilies. Tourists are no longer permitted to stay at this FRH since the Jogi Mahal complex is out of bounds for tourists.
Where to stay
Most of the hotels are scattered on the road that leads up to the park. Rates vary greatly on and off-season, and it is advisable to book in advance. You’ll have to depend on your hotel for food. Many have meals in their stay package.
Operated by the Oberoi chain, Vanya Vilas (Tel: 07462-223999; Tariff: INR 56,000; www.oberoihotels.com) on Ranthambore Road is super-lavish, with prices to match. The Aman-i-Khas Resort (Tel: 252052, 252223; Tariff: US$1,100; www.amanresorts.com), close to the park, is a group of luxury tents amid the jungle. The Sawai Madhopur Lodge (Tel: 220541; Tariff: INR 22,000-43,000; www.vivantabytaj.com) is run by the Vivanta by Taj Group of Hotels and has a restaurant, bar and swim-ming pool. Sher Bagh (Tel: 252119-20; Tariff: INR 35,700-70,000, with meals; www.sujanluxury.com) is located 3 km from the gate in Sherpur village. Run by polo player Jaisal Singh, this establishment offers 5-star comforts.
Tiger Den Resort (Tel: 252070, Cell: 07877796669; Tariff: INR 8,000-9,000; www.tigerdenresort.com) has a restaurant, a pool, a spa and souvenir shop. It offers jeep safaris and nature walks. Tiger Moon Resort (Tel: 252284; Tariff: INR 7,400) has cottages, four tents and a pool. RTDC’s Castle Jhoomar Baori (Tel: 220495; Tariff: INR 5,600-7,500, with meals; rtdc.rajasthan.gov.in), formerly a hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Jaipur, is located on top of a hill with a great view of the park. There are 14 rooms here and a restaurant. The Ranthambhore Bagh (Tel: 221728; Tariff: INR 5,941-6,467) has a convivial atmosphere with great home-cooked food and interesting guests from all over the world. Rooms with basic facilities are available, but the tented camp (with electricity and attached bath) is highly recommended.
RTDC’s Hotel Vinayak (Tel: 221333; Tariff: INR 2,500-4,900; rtdc.rajasthan.gov.in), located on Ranthambore Road, has 12 rooms and 10 tents. It also arranges safaris and houses the RTDC Tourist Information Centre (Tel: 220808), functional in the tourist season.
Where to eat
Food options are limited in the national park. Although there are local eateries around, having the major meals at your place of lodging is recommended.