Once the hunting grounds of the maharajas of Jaipur, and later of the British, this area, spread over an expanse of 392.5sq km, was declared the Sawai Madhopur Wildlife Sanctuary in 1955. In 1973, it was declared the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger. An area of 274.5sq km from within the Tiger Reserve was notified as the Ranthambhore National Park in 1980. With the launch of Project Tiger in 1973, the park began to be protected in earnest, and as the forest returned to health, aquifers in the area began to replenish, much to the benefit of surrounding villages. Even now, the difference in the ecology inside the park and out side it is staggering. The surrounding areas of Kaila Devi Sanctuary (674sq km), the Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary (127sq km) and the Kualji Close (7.58sq km) were consolidated and added to the park in the year 1992, increasing the expanse of the reserve to 1,174sq km.

Sanjay Sharma
A langur mother and her baby
A langur mother and her baby

The current official count of tigers at Ranthambhore stands at 26. Yet tiger sightings are common as the ani-mals have become fearless of humans. Even then, the tigers continue to fight a battle for survival as the problems of poaching and villagers grazing cattle in the park remain unresolved.

ORIENTATION

The entry point to the national park falls on the Ranthambhore Road, about 10km from the railway station at Sawai Madhopur. The road passes through the Missradara Gate to go to the Ranthambhore Fort, which lies within the precincts of the park. The Ranthambhore School of Art, where you can do some shopping, is on the road that leads to the entry gate of the park.

Park entry Indians ₹130; Foreigners ₹870 Timings 6.30–10.00am & 2.30– 5.30pm Vehicle fee Gypsy/ Canter ₹30 Safari fee ₹350 Guide fee ₹30 Photography free; Videography ₹60

Tip Park timings can vary from time to time, so confirm with the authorities before booking your trip

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

There is something primal about being in and around Ranthambhore. While truckloads of visitors may seem annoying at first, it is, if you can yourself see it that way, what makes the park not an artefact, but rather a real place where ancient ruins, wild nature and contemporary village life make layers of history almost tangible. Don’t miss the fort and wake up early to witness the forest at sunrise.

Courtesy Atul Browne/ Zion Holidays
A tiger relaxing on a trail, Ranthambhore National Park
A tiger relaxing on a trail, Ranthambhore National Park

Tiger Safaris

The highlight of your Ranthambhore experience is the 3.5-hour-long jungle jeep safari for tiger spotting. As no private vehicles are permitted into the park, book a tourist jeep safari well in advance (at least 60 days), especially in the high season. You can make a booking online at  the RTDC office at Hotel Vinayak (Tel: 07462-221333) in Ranthambhore or through your travel agent. Bookings were earlier handled by the Forest Department, but are now done by RTDC. Details such as these tend to change, so get an update when booking your tour. Two jungle safaris a day, which follow certain tourist trails (eight routes for Gypsies, six for Canters), are on offer currently. Jeep movement is monitored to ensure less interference to animal movement in the park. Only 20 Gypsies and 20 Canters are allowed at a time on the routes.

Ranthambhore Fort 

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. It was occupied by Raja Hamir for many years until the siege by Allauddin Khalji’s army in 1301 forced the Rajput king to surrender. It can be tiring to walk up to the ramparts, but the view of the park and its three lakes from the top is worth all the effort. Locals believe that the mortar used in constructing the magnificent fort was mixed with the blood of brave warriors!

Sanjay Sharma
Ranthambhore Fort atop a hill

Ganesh Temple

Dedicated to Lord Ganesh, this temple is located inside the Ranthambhore Fort, within the park precincts. The Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, wherein devotees join in the singing of devotional songs, draw large crowds. Entry to the fort itself is free to allow devotees easy access to the temple. They arrive on Wednesdays and on the chauth of every month.

Ranthambhore School of Art

Situated on the road that leads up to the park, the school is definitely worth a visit. Its wonderful wildlife paintings, many of which feature the tiger in its natural habitat, are created by local artists. The school contributes towards tiger conservation – a great reason to buy here rather than the slightly cheaper paintings you may find elsewhere around the park. Incidentally, close to the railway station is the market place from where you can buy traditional Rajasthani bangles made of glass and lac and knick-knacks for the house.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

There are a plethora of hotels to choose from. Rates vary throughout the year, and it is best to book in advance. Many of the hotels include meals in the accommodation package.

Run by the Oberoi chain, Vanya Vilas (Tel: 07462-223999; Tariff: ₹65,000) on Ranthambhore Road is lavish, with prices to match. The Vivanta by Taj (Tel: 220541; Tariff: ₹23,000– 43,000) is a heritage property run by the Taj Group of Hotels. The hotel also arranges safaris. The Aman-i-Khas Resort (Tel: 252052; Tariff: ₹1,05,000 with meals and safari) has luxurious tents and a spa.

The RTDC-run Castle Jhoomar Baori (Tel: 220495; Tariff: ₹5,600– 7,500), has great views of the park.

Ranthambhore Bagh (Tel: 224251; Tariff: ₹1,400–3,575) has a casual atmosphere and great food. Their tented camp is highly recommended.

GETTING THERE

Rail Nearest railhead: Sawai Madhopur station (15km/ 30mins) is on the Delhi- Mumbai line. Most hotels arrange pick-up/ drop from the station. Else, hire a taxi (₹300) or auto (₹100) to your hotel

Road The drive from Jaipur via Tonk and Sawai Madhopur to Ranthambhore is 10km longer than an alternative route via Kanota, Dausa and Lalsot, which is a bad road. Since private vehicles aren’t allowed in the park, it might be better to go by train instead to Sawai Madhopur

Tip If you fly to Jaipur, you can hire a car and drive to Ranthambhore, but a direct train from Delhi, Mumbai or Jaipur is advisable as it’s cheaper

FAST FACTS

When to go The park is closed during the monsoons and open from October to June. November to February is the best time to visit the park. March, April and May are oppressively hot because of the desert ‘loo’ – hot and dry winds that blow during the day. On the upside, the dry summer months allow for some fantastic animal sightings through the bare vegetation. Go there for the tigers

Tip All safaris into the park are now booked online at W rajasthanwildlife. rajasthan.gov.in/wildlife or through the RTDC office in Hotel Vinayak. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment

Wildlife/ Forest Dept Office

Chief Conservator of Forests/DFO, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Cell: 09414043161

Tourist offices

RTDC Tourist Information Centre, Hotel Vinayak, Sawai Madhopur, Tel: 07462-221333,

Tourist Information Counter, Railway Station, Sawai Madhopur, Tel: 220808

STD code 07462