Crumbling forts and temples lie strewn about in the dry deciduous forests of the Sariska Tiger Reserve... reminders of an animated past. It was here in the 17th century that Aurangzeb, the youngest of Emperor Shah Jehan's four sons, imprisoned his brother Dara Shikoh, in the famous Kankwadi Fort. Aurangzeb was fanatically devoted to Islam and took it upon himself to destroy several Hindu places of worship. Yet many temples still stand like sentinels of faith for a conquered people.
The imposing temple at Pandupole, believed to have been built by the Pandava brothers during their exile, is still visited by thousands of pilgrims each year, as is the Bharati temple. Others such as Neelkanth (6th-13th century) are in ruins though one of them still attracts Shiva worshipers. Tigers and leopards are sometimes sighted amidst the scores of deserted Hindu and Jain temples and outposts that dot the forest. These often serve as day-time refuge for owls, bats porcupines and civets. Nature has recolonised Sariska, thus ratifying Project Tiger's philosophy, that leaving nature strictly alone is the best way towards restoration of health of degraded habitats.
The wildlife of Sariska has actually enjoyed a long tradition of protection. In the days of the Raj, when Maharajas still ruled, their abode was set aside as a shikargah, or private hunting preserve, of the house of Alwar. The late Maharaja Jai Singh who completed his palace here in 1894, was an avid hunter and many tigers were cold-bloodedly despatched by him or his guests. But as a consequence the forest was mercifully saved from the plough and axe. When the privy purses were abolished, Sariska's worth was recognised by democratic India's new rulers. It was declared a Sanctuary in 1955 and a Project Tiger Reserve in 1979. It was declared a National Park in 1982 and now stretches over 866 sq. km. with a core area of 497 sq. km.
Cradled in the northern section of the rugged Aravalli Hills of Alwar, Rajasthan, the emerald forests of Sariska stand out amidst a dry and austere landscape. Justifiably called the Jewel of the Aravallis, apart from its legendary wildlife values, Sariska is a water reserve of unparalleled importance to the state. Very little rain (650 mm.) falls each year over the hills of Sariska, yet it has several perennial water sources that in turn support an impressive range of wildlife.
Sariska appears to the visitor like a wooded valley surrounded by barren mountains and sharp cliffs. Located around 107 km. from Jaipur this densely forested tiger reserve extending across an area of 866 sq. km. is covered by predominantly open, dry-deciduous vegetation that alternates with scrub and thorn. Just like Ranthambhore, the dry deciduous vegetation is ideal tiger habitat. Apart from Acacia and bamboo forests that grow along the dry, arid lower slopes and along its steeper valleys, Sariska is also clothed by dhok, salai, ber and tendu, jamun, arjun and bahera trees. Dhok is the principal tree species and covers about 90 per cent of the entire area. A variety of grasses and shrubs are also found. The beautiful Siliserh Lake runs along the edge of the reserve.
Once a tiger haven, Sariska holds the unfortunate distinction of becaming the first tiger reserve in India to lose all its wild tigers to poaching and forest degradation. In 2008, three tigers (two young females and one young male) were translocated from Ranthambhore to re-establish the tiger population of Sariska. Only time will tell whether this bold experiment was successful or not.
Sariska is a good place to sight leopards, hyenas, jungle cats and wild dogs. Wild dogs suddenly entered the area in the late eighties. Caracals have been reportedly seen but are rare. Chinkara (Indian gazelle), chital, sambar, nilgai, common langur, wild pig and rufous-tailed hare are the prey species of the large carnivores and can be seen good numbers.
Some of the other mammals that have been sighted are the small Indian civet, palm civet, giant fruit bat, porcupine, sloth bear and ratel. Checkered keelback, common cobra, marsh crocodile, common Monitor, Asian rock python, rat snake, soft-shelled turtle and whip snake are some of the reptilian inhabitants of Sariska.
While sitting at a hide, one can observe a lot of birdlife. Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle are the raptors of Sariska, frequenting the tall trees, nesting there, surveying the terrain from a vantage point and then moving in for the kill. They could be seen near waterbodies or forested areas. Other species include the Black-rumped Flameback, Great Indian Horned Owl, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Grey Francolin, Painted Stork, Ibis, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pied Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, quail, Red-wattled Lapwing, Ring Dove, Common Sandgrouse, Spoonbill, Spotted Dove, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Stone Curlew and Rufous Treepie.
Unfortunately most of the tourist traffic is centred solidly along the Sariska-Pandupole route. Though this is the most favoured habitat for wild animals, sightings are often disturbed by too much vehicular movement and by loud visitors. Lesser-frequented areas such as Binak, Narsati and Kankwadi almost invariably yield rewarding wildlife excursions and are certainly worth a visit in the company of an experienced guide. Villagers still report frequent sightings of a leopard, which seems to have taken up residence inside the Kankwadi fort.
The best way to see animals is to book a 'hide' near one of the many waterholes. Occupy the hide by the afternoon, much before the sun goes down. Deer come to drink in large numbers, maybe a panther or tiger might too. In Sariska, wildlife observation at the water holes is most fascinating in the summer months of April, May and June. The water levels fall and wildlife activities get restricted to the water holes, especially around Kalighati and Slopka. These waterholes are good places to visit, but permission must be taken from the Park Director. At Kalighati there are two 'hides', to watch wildlife unobserved, one on the ground and another that overlooks the waterhole. At Slopka there is one.
Sambar are seen best in Slopka, chital in Kundli, nilgai in Kalighati and Tarunda and chausingha in the Pandupole nullah.
Jackal, wild boar and langur can be seen at water holes throughout the day but the tiger generally appears around dusk or during the silence of the night.
Sariska has a big population of the common langur and rhesus monkey. In Talvriksh one can see hundreds of these monkeys at a time. Langurs can be seen in large numbers at Pandupole, Slopka and Kalighati as well.
Areas such as Binak, Narsati and Kankwadi are worth a visit in the company of an experienced guide.
An excursion to Silserh Lake on the edge of the forest is fun. There is a lot of traffic for it is just off the Alwar road, but the lake has crocodiles where crocodiles bask in the sun alongside a variety of waterfowl, that frequent most of Sariska's wetlands in winter. A small hotel overlooks the lake.
Tehla is another lake that deserves a special visit. Only 15 km. from Kalighati it harbours a variety of waterfowl in winter, including Greylag and Barheaded Geese, Mallards, Pintails, Redheaded Pochards, Pelicans, Darters and Shags.
At Kalighati, birdlife is rich and viewing excellent.
Quick visits to the Veterinary Care and Nature Interpretation Centres might be interesting.
Within the sanctuary lie temples, a fort and pavilions built by the Alwar Maharajas. A massive palace complex was built in 1902, with quarters for the nobility, stables and even a pavilion and a pool to swim in. It is not maintained well but the palace has been converted to a hotel.
Time would also be well spent visiting temples and forts such as Talvraksh, Bharathi, Neelkanth and the Kankwadi Fort (note the impressive stands of native date palms).
If you plan to spend the day in a hide take along food, water and a sleeping bag. The hides are well camouflaged and comfortable and are placed in a way to offer the best visibility to the wildlifer.
Charges for jeep hire to and from Alwar vary during local holidays and the Pandupole Fair week in August.
If you are staying at a budget facility it is better to carry your own sleeping bag and a torch.
Carrying one's own medicines is a must. No medical facility is available at Sariska, the closest is in Alwar which has a government hospital.
Money changing and post and telegraph facilities are available at Alwar.
Tourist Information Centre, Opp. Company Bagh, Alwar, Rajasthan. Tel: 0144-21868.
Field Director, Sariska Tiger Reserve, P.O. Thanagazi, District: Alwar, Rajasthan. Tel.: 0144-22903 (R) 20934.
Forest Reception Office, Jaipur Road, Sariska, Rajasthan. Tel.: 0144-41333.
Rajinder Singh, Tarun Bharat Sangh, Bhikampura-Kishori, Via Thanagazi, Dist. Alwar – 301002. Tel.: 01465-25043.
The summer months of April, May and June are very hot (between 240C and 370C), but offer more chances of seeing wildlife. In winter the temperature ranges between 110C and 310C.
The sanctuary can be visited year-around, except during July/August when the animals move to higher ground. But the best time to visit is between November and June. Bear in mind that the months of April, May and June are extremely hot though the sightings are good.
In winter (October to February) the park is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and in the rest of the year from 6.30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The morning and evening rounds for wildlife viewing are the best although you could easily spot the tiger even at noon.
Hotel Sariska Palace (the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja), Sariska, District: Alwar. The place is pleasant with a reading library and a restaurant. This is a heritage hotel with a swimming pool and a 'French' pavilion. Jeeps too are available for hire from here. Single: Rs. 2200; Double: Rs. 3200 Tel.: 0144-41322/41323. Mumbai Contact: 022-2047555/4965923.
Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) runs some hotels.
Hotel Tiger Den (RTDC) is inexpensive with a lovely green area. Dormitory facilities are also available. Tel.:0144-41342.
Hotel Lake Palace [RTDC] Siliserh. For reservations contact the Manager (Accommodation), RTDC, Central Reservations System, Hotel Swagatam Campus, Near Railway Station, Jaipur. Tel.: 0141-202761/203531/202586; Fax: 0141-201045 OR in Mumbai: RTDC, 230, Dr. D.N Road, Mumbai. Tel.: 022-2074162; Fax:022-2075603.
By Air: Jaipur (108 km.) is the nearest airport. It is well connected with Delhi, Kota, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Aurangabad, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
By Rail: Alwar (35 km.) is the most convenient railhead and all trains travelling between Delhi and Jaipur pass through. On the Shatabdi Express and the Pink City Express the trip from Delhi is only two and half hours.
By Road: Sariska lies on the old Delhi-Jaipur route. At Alwar, 37 km. away, jeeps and taxis are available on hire for shared/full hire/night stay basis for Sariska. Delhi, Jaipur and Alwar are well connected by ordinary/deluxe buses.
The best way to view the park is by jeep. These can be hired from the Forest Reception Office opposite the Hotel Sariska Palace at a cost of Rs. 500-600. Other vehicle entrance fees are as follows: Bus: Rs.200, Motorbikes/Two-wheelers: Rs.15, Tonga: Rs.20, Cycle Rickshaw: Rs.5.
A Forest Department Guide may be hired for Rs. 50 per hour.
There is an entry fee of Rs. 125 per vehicle. The entrance fee for Indians is Rs. 20 and Rs. 100 for foreigners. Indian Nationals may enter free on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Video camera fee is Rs. 200. For Professional Video and Movie cameras, it is Rs. 3000, and for feature films, Rs. 20,000.