After an 18 hour train ride from Bombay in an Air Con 2-Tier sleeper, I
arrived in Sawai Madhupur, a town in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is
most famous for the nearby Rathambhore National Park, home of around 30
tigers. The hotel I stayed at, the Rathambhore Bagh (www.rathambhore.com)
had a driver pick me up at the station for the short drive to the hotel. It
was already fairly late when I arrived, so after catching up on my email, I
sat around the campfire behind the hotel and chatted with other guests as
they returned from their tiger safaris and waited for dinner.
The hotel makes all the arrangements for visiting Ranthambhore National
Park. Park regulations provide for two game drives per day, each lasting
about 3 hours. By jeep, called "gypsy" here, they are US$17 per person with
4-5 people per vehicle. The second, much less expensive option, is to go by
"canter", a 20 passenger open truck. The number of vehicles in the park are
restricted, and to disperse the crowd, there are 7 routes through the park.
Your driver is required to stick to the assigned route. Our guide told us
we have a 30% chance of spotting a tiger, and since I had 3 game drives
planned, I figured I had a good chance of getting my tiger.
My first full day started at 6 am with a wake up knock on the door. I was
picked up by jeep at 6:45 for the morning game drive. I shared the jeep w/a
family of 3 from Spain (Barcelona) who were very easy to get along with.
The park is dry forest and there is good visibility without much tall grass
of undergrowth. In the center of the park is a huge fort perched on a rocky
outcropping. There's lots of tiger food running around...2 types of deer
(sambura and spotted), antelope and gazelle, as well as wild boar, but no
tiger. We were back at the hotel for late breakfast at 10 am. I'd have much
perferred more time in the park but that's not an option here.
After breakfast, I walked from the hotel into town. Along the Ranthambhore
Road, where most of the hotels are, there are a number of curio shops, but
the people are quite plesant and for the most part, tourists are not
harassed. Near the railroad station, when some kids were gathering around
me, a local man made like he was going to swat one of them and they took
off. I guess the people here know who provides their livelihood. I took a
horse cart back to the hotel where lunch was served at 1 pm.
Pick up for the afternoon game drive is at 1:45. I liked this guide and
driver better, but still no tiger. The next morning, my drive went to a
different area of the park where people had seen tigers over the previous
two days, but as I failed to make an offering to the tiger god, all I got
was tiger tracks. I'm told that if you really want to see the tigers, the
best time to come is in March, when most of the water in the park has dried
up and the animals are dependant on the few permanent water holes and there
is less foliage.