People ask me why we visit Tiger safaris in India so many times especially since the sighting of a tiger is not guaranteed ,while a visit to the zoo certainly guarantees the spotting of a tiger!! The emotions you experience through a safari – eagerness, anticipation, frustration, desperation and finally the adrenaline rush on spotting a tiger in all his royalty on his home turf is priceless!!
All the tiger reserves in India have a very meticulous online booking system. For the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (RTR), the bookings can be made at http://www.rajasthanwildlife.rajasthan.gov.in/booking.do . The bookings need to be made well in advance ( 2-3 months). The earlier you book the better routes you will get to choose. The RTR is divided into 10 zones and 4 gypsies and 3 canters are allowed entry into each zone each day which is why advance booking is a must. Although there are tigers in all zones, the popular zones are 2-6.
Ranthambore national park is easily accessible by train and by road. For train bookings the station is Sawai Madhopur and for those coming by road it is on the highway which leads to Kota, Rajasthan.
We boarded our train at Delhi and reached Sawai madhopur in 5 hours. After a comfortable train journey we checked into Vatika Resort-a serene and a well maintained property with courteous staff. There are many resorts to choose from and all of them are equally good and priced in the same range.
We had made advance bookings for 4 safaris in zones 4,5 and 2 safaris on zone 2. The safari timings vary depending upon the season and the same can be found on the website.
Day 1 Safari 1: We were ready by 6:00 am and the gypsy picked us up and off we were into the Ranthambore jungle. 20 minutes into the drive and we spotted a Rock Python , curled up in a tree trunk.
A little more into the jungle and we spotted different variety of deer – the spotted deer & the Sambar , Nilghai or bluebull and a million peacocks.
But there was no trace of a tiger. Just when our spirits were sinking , our guide spotted a huge male tiger sleeping in the shade. He was Star male or T28 ( all tigers are named and given numbers). There he was enjoying his afternoon siesta oblivious to the 30 pairs of peering eyes. He had camouflaged himself so well that it would take an expert to spot him.
However , we were satisfied on catching just a glimpse of the majestic beast and returned to the resort and hopeful about the 3 remaining safaris.
Safari 2 on day 1 was a dud, we didnt spot a single tiger and we returned disappointed.
Day 2 Safari 1 : We were all geared up for this one. We had a promising zone, a great guide and an agile driver. And we set off yet again in search of a tiger. 3 hours into the safari and we had literally searched nook and corner of the assigned zone and still no signs of a tiger. We were dejected, depressed and even promised ourselves not to go for safaris anymore and then we heard from our guide that he sensed some tiger movement in the vicinity. Our hopes started building up again!!! The driver took us to the spot where the tiger was present. And all eyes were focused in the same direction and there he was standing strong and tall – Pacman a 4 yr old male tiger.
He walked across and came and stood in the middle of the road, face filled with irritation -glared at the ‘humans’ and went and settled himself in the bushes. A satisfied sighting and we were on cloud 9!!!
Day 2 and the last safari was a dud too. We returned to the same spot where we had seen Pacman in the morning, however he wasn’t there. With the satisfaction of having seen him at such close quarters at least once, we returned home feeling thankful.
Off the 14 safaris that we have visited in India, I rate this sighting among the top 3!!