Ranthambore National Park and its Growing Breed of Tigers
Some years back there were billboard posters all over Mumbai and Delhi bemoaning the fact that the Indian tiger population was down to a mere 643. Well, I have good news. It’s on the way up! And Ranthambore National Park, located in the heartland of Rajasthan, is at the forefront of a concerted effort to keep this majestic beast roaming amongst us. Well, not too close.
Safarichic and “Glamping”
I stayed at Sher Bagh – part of the fabulous Sujan Luxury portfolio of properties around India. Sher Bagh is best reached by train from Delhi – a comfortable 3-hour ride. One of their jeeps picks you up at the station and from there it’s a 25 minutes ride to Ranthambore National Park, past the many other hotels that have sprung up, due to the renewed interest in the rising tiger population. We eventually turned off the main road and down a bumpy sandy track to be greeted by warm towels and hot tea. There were 12 tents, but not as we know them. Not only were they safarichic, but also so luxuriously canvaschic. It’s hard to believe that the whole structure is taken down in April ahead of the hot, dry season and the following monsoon. It’s a six-month season effectively, and February is one of the most pleasant months to visit. The days are warm and the evenings cool. This means that the game drive can be a tad chilly to begin with if you’re scheduled for the 7am start.
The Tiger Pursuit
We warmed up by the evening campfire and then had a delightful Indian buffet dinner on silver trays surrounding the fire. Then to bed in anticipation of an early start. “What are the chances of seeing a tiger?” is the most asked question by guests. I was told that the probability of spotting one was 80%. However the Ranthambore National Park reserve has some 65 cats, therefore visitors are only allowed access to 25% of the area; for this reason the chances of a tiger sighting are probably slimmer. Nethertheless, we set-off enthusiastically in a group, with the driver and the ranger. After an hour of aching eyes and possible moving images in the trees, our ranger pointed to a dot in the distance on the other side of the lake. Well, even with binoculars you couldn’t actually make anything out… until… movement. Yes, three cubs and a mother some 800 metres away!
The ranger suggested that we drive around to the other side of the lake, hoping to offer us the best chance of a closer sighting. Low and behold, there they were. No, not the tigers but a whole fleet of jeeps large and small including one huge mega bus full of miserable looking people who looked like they had done this ten times without success. Crikey, it was busy. Now what? Suddenly the mega bus turned into a pumping excitable mass of humanity all screaming “TIGER!” Yes, there they were – the elusive family of mum (named Krishna) and her three cubs, not small cuddly ones but almost fully grown one-year-old hunters. And they had us vehicles surrounded while any amount of devices from cameras to smartphones clicked and whirred away. All this distraction didn’t phase the family one bit. They just continued to make their way through the seething mass of traffic, heading towards the next lake with all of us in hot pursuit, jostling for position as drivers did their best to take their anxious passengers the closest of front row seats. After a short while, however, they were gone.
Ranthambore National Park shuts at 10.00am to give mum and cubs some quality time together without having the F1 starting grid to worry about. Time to head back to Sher Bagh for brunch and download those 500 tiger pictures: 400 of which were probably taken within the first five minutes. The rest of the day meandered nicely into dinner and another visit to the camp fire and the very quaffable Sula – the local wine. Not a bad drop. The tents are wonderfully comfortable with piping hot water, enormous shower heads, radiators (at this time of year) and hot water bottles. The only sound at night was the Delhi Mumbai Express Train rumbling through the Rajasthan evening, occasionally blaring its horn. Sadly no roar of tigers but plenty of lovely sounds from the assorted animal kingdom trying to keep its cover from possible predators.
Local Village Tour
We eschewed the idea of a second morning drive. Would we be luckier this time? We decided instead to let Ajay take us on a tour of the local village and a short but expensive trip into the handicraft shop. I say expensive. It’s not at all given what you can buy in India and what it does for the local community of mainly working women. What are the chaps up to? In the village everyone lives side by side; that means people and animals. Small boar-like piglets, dogs, cows, goats, water buffalo and goats: everyone roams around in the same community-minded spirit. And then there are the big baboon-esque monkeys that come flying over the wall aiming for the nearest food source – don’t mess with them!
It’s a wonderful feeling to return to such a luxurious place and to think back to the exhilarating experience of witnessing the day in the life of a tiger family in Ranthambore National Park. Better still to know that their future is in better shape than it was a decade ago.
And so another night by the camp fire telling and sharing tiger stories, Sula and fabulous food. Rajasthan is a truly incredible state and so important to India’s tourism industry because of Krishna and her cubs. Places like Sher Bagh are a privilege to visit and three nights is an absolute must, not two. On my wish list: clean up all the litter that is strewn along the roadside. Surely there are funds for this: there are certainly the people. Hotels such as Sher Bagh are as good as you can find anywhere in the world. India is a truly blessed country in this regard as her people are naturally kind and willing to serve. As anyone who has read the novel, Passage to India, tells you, the word “No” simply doesn’t exist.