The Ranthambhore Fort, occupied for years by Raja Hamir, has lent its name to the Tiger Reserve. A Hindu battlement, it has seen a series of Muslim rulers try unsuccessfully to lay siege to it, including Allaudin Khilji in 1301.The army of the Moghul Emperor Akbar camped here (1558-1569) and the Akbar Namah records the menu that the generals were served when they had a meal under the famous banyan tree that visitors can still see at the base of the ramparts.
A walk up to the fort reveals legends in stone of brave warriors and tales of johar (ritual suicide) committed by more than a thousand women who mistakenly presumed their men folk had been vanquished by Khilji's forces.Pilgrims still visit a Ganesh temple here with the same fervour as did their ancestors. The famous battis kambha chhattri (32-pillar canopy) was built by Raja Hamir to mark the 32nd year of his father's reign, and stands as an example of filial devotion.
The park area itself was once the hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur and many tiger shoots took place here including an infamous visit in the early sixties when a tiger was set up to be shot by Queen Elizabeth II.The Ranthambhore Park earned Sanctuary status in 1958 and when Project Tiger was launched in 1973, it really began to receive the protection it deserved. Placed under the care of the now-famous Fateh Singh Rathore, by the 80s the park had earned itself the distinction of being one of the world's best-known tiger forests.
The first real signs of ecological renewal were the scores of once-dry pools, streams and rivulets that began running full of water all year long. This helped native plants to re-establish themselves. A major side-benefit of Ranthambhore's return to health was the ground water recharge service performed by the forest, which helped restock wells in surrounding villages.Villagers in the fort still believe that when the ramparts had to be built higher, the mortar was mixed using blood from brave and fallen warriors. The fact is that many who died on the walls were buried where they fell.
After passing bare hills and sparse fields, the forest envelopes you on all sides. Five minutes into the gate, as you crest a rise on a shady road, the incredible Ranthambhore Fort looms large ahead and is every bit as impressive as the brochures promise. The park itself sprawls languidly across 824 sq. km. of contiguous, dry-deciduous forests where the rolling Vindhya and craggy Aravalli Hills meet. This is one of the last few habitats capable of supporting viable populations of Panthera tigris, the Royal Bengal Tiger.
It is exactly because of the activities of the creatures of the park that Ranthambhore is so rich in natural wealth. Wild fruit seeds dropped by bats, sloth bear and birds and grass seeds caught on the coats of foraging mammals only to be deposited elsewhere, in different parts of the forest, have resulted in a profusion of plant life. Wild animals are the finest gardeners of such Edens. At the eastern limits of the Aravalli the rolling hills are covered with forest flora typical of dry deciduous habitat, with dhok trees dominating the landscape. Ber, sal, pipal and banyan, the odd mango grove and scattered palm trees are among the other species that support Ranthambhore's impressive insect and birdlife.
Ranthambhore, is one of the best places to sight the striped water god, the royal Bengal tiger Panthera tigris in India. With luck and patience, you could see the leopard, jungle cat, caracal, sloth bear, hyena, Indian fox and jackal. But remember that cats are secretive by nature and the hyena and jackal are not present in large numbers and are consequently difficult to spot.
Nevertheless, no trip to the forest goes unrewarded. You might see a lone sambar stag or female deer suckling a fawn, or large sambar congregations at dusk and dawn, often with their heads fully submerged in the water as they pull out succulent grasses from the beds of the three shallow freshwater lakes around which most of Ranthambhore's wildlife is concentrated. Chital herds are found in almost all areas of the park. Nilgai antelope walk about unafraid in photographing distance (close to your vehicle). Wild pig particularly love the lakeshore and can be seen rooting about in search of nutritious tubers that grow underwater.
Troupes of common langur monkeys, young ones in tow, will keep you entertained for hours with their antics, but beware... they have been known to urinate on unsuspecting tourists who pause too long under their canopy perches! There are several roosting colonies of the giant fruit bat in the forest and guides will point these out to you. The reptiles of Ranthambhore including marsh crocodiles or muggers (easily seen basking in the early hours of day in winter), soft-shelled turtles, common monitor and (less frequently seen) Asian rock pythons, common cobras, rat snakes, whip snakes and water-dwelling checkered keelbacks.
Always expect the unexpected. Even when the jungle seems still and 'un-happening', excitement lurks. You can be sure for instance that hidden tigers and leopards are watching you from the safety of tall grasses.
Ranthambhore is undoubtedly one of India's finest bird habitats attracting visitors from across the globe. Species recorded here (ask for a check list from the office of the Field Director) include the Crested Serpent Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Great Indian Horned Owl, Grey Francolin, Painted Francolin, Common Sandgrouse, Quail, Red Spurfowl, Common Peafowl, Rufous Treepie, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Painted Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Spoonbill, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, White-rumped Vulture, Long-billed Vulture, King Vulture, Scavenger Vulture, White-throated Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Spotted Dove, Ring Dove, Greater Coucal, and the Black-rumped Flameback.
The three lakes that are so central to the megafauna are also ideal spots to see waders and waterfowl like Snipe, Coot, Little Grebe, Black-tailed Godwit, sandpipers and Cotton Pygmy Goose. Large and Median Egrets can sometimes be seen hitching a ride on the backs of half-submerged sambar, picking ticks off their backs. Grassland and scrub birds like quail and francolins scurry away from vehicles as they traverse muddy forest tracts and shrikes can be seen sitting on tall grass stalks waiting to catch flying insects.
Nests of raptors such as Black-shouldered Kites, Bonelli's Eagles and Crested Serpent Eagles can be spotted in tall trees, which also serve as excellent look out posts from where these 'tigers of the sky' are able to survey their aerial kingdom. Birds recognise no physical boundaries and visit villages on the fringes of the park, which make for excellent birding spots in the hours between the morning and evening forest rounds (11 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.).
The three lakes – Padam Talao, Raj Talao and Milak Talao are ideal spots to see waders and waterfowl including snipes, grebes, godwits, sandpipers, geese and ducks. Large and Median Egrets can sometimes be seen hitching a ride on the backs of half-submerged sambar deer, picking parasites of their backs.
Early morning and evening drives through Lakarda, Semli and Bakaula often provide the most exciting experiences with hyenas, sloth bears, leopards or tigers. As you make your way out of the park, be sure to look up at the silhouette of the Ranthambhore Fort, within whose walls, residents say, leopard sightings are frequent. And if you dwadle soon after leaving from the Jogi Mahal exit gate at sundown you might chance upon a ratel, Indian hare, common palm civet or Indian porcupine. And even if you don't see it, you might hear the Eurasian Eagle Owl or the Brown Fish Owl.
Winters (November-February) are cold. Be prepared with headgear, warm socks, sweaters, and windcheaters for the windchill factor. Inappropriately clad, one can be miserable in an open jeep. The early morning trip is the most exhilarating and the coldest. Daytime temperatures are comfortable in the shade (maybe a light sweater) but in the sun, a tee shirt should do fine.
If you are planning your trip in summer, stay indoors in the day and drink plenty of water. Remember to always protect the head from the sun's direct rays. It is always a good idea to do as locals do - and they use their turbans against the heat and the cold!
Carry a simple first aid kit as you would anywhere. There are really no opportunities for snake or scorpion bites.
Walking inside Ranthambhore park is forbidden and all wildlife viewing is by vehicle only. Drives can be dusty and bumpy, so take care to carry protection for expensive cameras.
Field Director, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan – 322 001. Tel.: 07462-220479.
Tiger Watch, Maa Farms, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan – 322 001. Mumbai office: Tel.: 022-24716441/24716447. Field Office (Ranthambhore): Tel.: 9414031666/9001507777.
Typical of deserts, days are hot and dry, while nights can be bitterly cold in winter. Summers are oppressive and locals generally avoid venturing out during the hottest time of day. The average rainfall is 800 mm., which falls during the short monsoon months and renders the park difficult to navigate. Summer: Max: 470C, Min: 200C. Winter: Max: 220C, Min: 40C.
The park is open from October to June. Post monsoon, the park is closed, as the roads are not navigable till late September. The months between November and February are the most popular for visitors, after which it is too hot for all but the most enthusiastic.
Nevertheless, tiger sightings are particularly good in the hotter months particularly around the perennial waterbodies.
Accommodation (Rates must be verified and bookings are best made in advance. Off-season discounts may apply.)
Ranthambore Bagh, located just outside the reserve, offers accommodation to suit every kind of traveller – from luxurios modern day camps to rooms with basic facilities and tents in the wilderness. Tel.: 91-7462-221728.
Hotel Vinayak, RSTDC Eight rooms are available in this budget accommodation. Mobile: 09414415783; Tel.: 07462-221333/07462-221169; Fax: 07462-221169; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel Castle (Jhoomer Baori) Forest Lodge RSTDC, formerly a hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Situated atop a hill it offers a birds eye view of the area around the park. There are 12 rooms here, and rates are about Rs. 500 per day. Mobile: 09829030884; Tel.: 07462-220495; Fax: 07462-224701; E-mail: email@example.com
Indian Adventures, Tiger Moon Resort: 16 cottages are spread around a campus offering hot and cold water, clean sheets, two guided tours into the park, campfire nights, trekking and tracking excursions and a choice of three kinds of cuisine, all included in the room rate of about Rs 2100 twin sharing. The resort has well-furnished interiors, sloping tiled roofs, a central dining hall, wildlife library and pool. For bookings, contact: 257, S.V. Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai – 400050 India. Tel.: 022-26408742/26433622 Fax no.:26458401. Tiger Moon Resort (Ranthambhore National Park), Village Sherpur, Khelchipur, District: Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan – 322001. Tel./Fax: 07462-252042.
Vivanta by Taj: Here you can luxuriate in five-star comfort after dusty and tiring forest outings. It is clean with room service and five star comforts including a restaurant, bar and travel services. Tel.: 07462-220541.
By Air: Jaipur is the closest airport, 132 km. away by road. From Jaipur rent a car and drive to Ranthambhore.
By Rail: Sawai Madhopur is the railway station about 14 km. away by road from the forest.
By Road: Sawai Madhopur is well connected by road to Delhi, Jaipur, Tonk, Agra and Bharatpur.
Vehicles: The best way to move around is by jeep or open-topped Cantors (mini buses). Drives can be dusty and bumpy, so take care to carry protection for expensive electronic equipment.
Jeep Rentals: Chauffeur-driven four wheel drives are available for rental on a daily or per-round, per-person basis (around Rs. 1,000 for four persons). Arrangements should be made a few hours in advance and most often your lodge manager will be able to help you. Renting a private vehicle has the advantage of allowing you to stop for pictures, or just to take in the ambience of a particularly peaceful spot. For serious birdwatchers there is probably nothing more aggravating than 20 or 30 talkative tourists in the Canter! Even private vehicles, however, are instructed to run on pre-charted courses, for which permission/instruction is given at the time of entry. Inducing drivers to take liberties with routings can have unfortunate results for them as heavy fines may be imposed or further permissions revoked for breaking park rules.
Tipping: Most drivers are locals who double up as reasonable guides familiar with the forest and the habits of its denizens. Many are excellent birdwatchers and make good birding companions, happily sharing their knowledge of flora and fauna. They do look forward to tips, particularly if they have managed to "show" you a tiger.
Park timings: Always double check timings as the park management may change them from time to time. It is wise (no matter how cold it is) never to miss your morning round in the forest between 6 and 9 a.m., as this is often the most rewarding. The evening round, between 3-5.30 p.m. is normally less rushed and all vehicles must leave the park by sundown.
Park fees: There is an entrance fee to the park, calculated per-person as well as per-vehicle. Still and movie cameras must be paid for separately. Foreign nationals pay a higher fee than Indians.