Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ranthambore National Park

The part of my India trip I was most looking forward to was the safari at Ranthambore National Park. Ranthambore used to be hunting grounds for the maharajahs and then became part of Project Tiger in the 70’s and was declared a national park in 1980. Ranthambore is most for their tiger population, but they also have deer, antelope, monkeys, crocodiles, a ton of insects and over 270 species of birds. However, for most the tiger is the main attraction and if you have limited time for a safari in India Ranthambore is usually the easiest and least expensive way to see a tiger in the wild.
Unfortunately I was still with On the Go Tours during my time in Ranthambore and they had booked the safaris and accommodations without giving us the details. Because the park is run by the government and is protected land only park ranger cars are allowed inside the park and there is a limited number that can go in each day for the safety of the animals. There are two kinds of cars: private open cars that can hold 6 people and large open canters that can hold 20. I was under the impression that I would be in the 6-person car, but unfortunately was in the 20-person canter. We went on three safaris and while we did see one tiger the rest of the time we hardly saw anything and it was not a very enjoyable experience on the canter. I tried to change to one of the jeeps, but they were all booked up months ago so if you are planning to go to Ranthambore I highly suggest booking ahead and booking the private car especially if you want to take photographs. My last trip on the canter they had oversold it and I didn’t even get a real seat and was stuck on a tiny unsafe bench riding sideways and when we went over a particularly large bump I fell and tweaked my shoulder (which is still hurting over a month later) so I really suggest booking the private cars!  I think if you plan the trip right Ranthambore can be an amazing experience.  Driving in Ranthambore reminded me of a scene straight out of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. You can view ruins of a 900-year-old fort surrounded by the jungle and sometimes if you’re lucky you can even spot tigers having a nap in the windows of the old hunting palace.
While a tiger sighting is never guaranteed Ranthambore has a high volume of tigers and it is one of the best places for a sighting. Because tigers are very endangered they are carefully monitored by the park staff to protect them from poachers and monitor their interaction with the villages still left inside the park. After almost three hours of searching on my second safari our guide spotted a pugmark (footprint) and heard a warning call of a peacock and suddenly we took off like a bullet and then came to a halting stop and waited. After about 5 minutes of waiting in silence we saw a beautiful three-year-old female tiger appear through the tall grass. She was collared with a radio-tracking monitor because she hasn’t chosen her territory yet and the park rangers monitor all the new territories. She was stunning and we got to watch her for about 15 minutes before she disappeared again into the jungle.
If you have more time for a tiger safari I would suggest visiting Bandhavgarh National Park of Kanha National Park located in central India. These two parks are a bit harder to get to, but are beautiful eco-reserves where they are leading the conservation movement in India to save the tigers. And Beyond, the company I went on safari with in Africa has lodges at both parks that are rated as some of the best places to see tigers in the world. After my somewhat disappointing experience at Ranthambore I tried to arrange a trip to the parks, but unfortunately the good routes for seeing tigers were all booked up (like Ranthambore they keep safari vehicle numbers very limited for the safety of the animals). I hope to get back someday to see the tigers there and would suggest booking early if you know this is something you want to do!

Tigers are extremely endangered and their numbers are dwindling fast. 2010 is the Chinese year of the Tiger and to ensure these animals remain in the wild the World Wildlife Fund has launched their Project Roar campaign and Save Tigers Now which hopes to double the number of wild tigers by 2022, the next year of the tiger. Check it out for more information about the tiger and to see how you can help. I was planning on posting about Ranthambore at the end of my time in India, but I thought it important to go a bit out of chronological order because on this coming Monday the 22nd through the 24th world leaders will gather in Russia for a summit to save the species. To encourage Secretary Clinton to attend click here.


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