Guide to Ranthambore: The Home of Royal Bengal Tigers
I and four of my good friends, all nature lovers, had been procrastinating about a trip to Ranthambore for quite some time, and then the pandemic happened. With nothing to do during the lockdown, we fine-tuned our plan, and as soon the restrictions were lifted, we ran for our motorcycles and headed out at the first opportunity for a 3-day trip to Ranthambore, the home of Royal Bengal Tigers.
The Royal Bengal Tiger is a majestic beast that is endemic to India and some parts of South-east Asia and while you can see it in captivity across the world, nothing beats the experience of watching the king of the forest in its natural habitat. There are many places in India to get up close with the Royal Bengal Tiger but the Ranthambore National Park is perhaps the most recommended and rightly so. With the previous experience of being at the Jim Corbett National Park, I had high expectations from Ranthambore and I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed. Here is everything I learned on my motorcycle trip that might help you too.
Pure luck and patience: That’s the key to spot a tiger
The Ranthambore National Park is more popular for spotting tigers than the Jim Corbett National Park because of a relatively large number of tigers here. Private vehicles are not allowed so you will have to book a jeep or a canter. Jeeps are good for up to 6 people; Canters are larger and seat up to 20. Jeeps are also better for frequent stoppages. Having been on single-day trips to Ranthambore before, we realized that we had to stay longer to improve our chances of catching a glimpse of the elusive majestic beasts. So, we decided to extend the trip to 3 days
It’s better to be accompanied by a guide/expert
While many people prefer to travel without a guide or an expert when they reach the national park, it is highly advisable to have one simply because during the peak hours you might suddenly be crowded by several safari jeeps and canters jostling for the same space. Without a guide it becomes really difficult to negotiate for space, and you might be forced to make unhappy compromises. The presence of a guide is also quite valuable especially if you are travelling from outside India and you do not know the local language.
Brush up your haggling skills
Like with all tourist spots in Asia, haggling is a basic necessity if you don’t want to be robbed blind! One of our friends, a guy with a big soul and a bigger wallet, ended up paying several times over the usual price while buying a few mementos. Later, we got the same stuff for much less when the best haggler in our group rolled his sleeves up! You have to understand that tourists are a major source of income for the people here, and like the tigers inside the park, they will pounce for your money if given a chance.
Know your forest zones
There are 10 zones in the Ranthambore National forest and the better you know about all of those zones the better chance you have of spotting a tiger. A common understanding is that Zones 1 to 5 have more tigers than Zones 6-10. Although sightings have been reported in all the zones, find out from tourist forums and local experts which zone has been a hotspot recently. We took three safaris on three different days and had two sightings, one on the first day and the other on the third day, both in zone 6.
Consider the Full or Half Day Safari (if you have the budget)
Like I said earlier, we were on a 3-day trip and on the third day we decided to pool our money and go for a full-day safari which cost us Rs48000, which isn’t cheap by any means, but it also give us the opportunity of being the entire day in the park, and we got to enter 15 minutes before everyone else. We saw a number of wild animals and wild birds most of which we had never seen before. And then obviously there was the second sighting for us just before sunset when we were returning back. It was costlier, but the day-long experience in the jungle was worth every penny. If you are travelling from outside India, you will need to pay Rs65000 ($882) for a fall-day safari, and Rs37500 ($510) for a half-day safari. Like us, if you have friends to share the fare with, your wallet will feel much less light by the end of the day!
In a nutshell
Ranthambore is a great spot to see India’s national animal. The best way to plan a visit to the park is to have a 5-6 day trip from Delhi touching Neemrana, Alwar (Sariska Tiger Reserve) Jaipur, Ranthambore and then Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary before tracing your way back to Delhi, or you could take a different route via Ajmer-Jodhpur-Bikaner, which approximately will be 1500-1600 kilometers, but quite do-able thanks to the good roads, and plenty of eateries along the way.
Adorned in India’s National Emblem and monikered the National Animal of India, seeing the fabled yellow-striped beast was a long dream for me that came true when five nature lovers got together after the pandemic on a 400 km motorcycle ride from Delhi to Ranthambore National Park. Here is what we what we learnt on the trip.