A Tigerless Tiger Safari in Ranthambore National Park, India
There comes a time in every child’s life when they need to hear the bubble bursting truths of the world. They eventually find out that Santa isn’t real, that they are not special and unique snow flakes, and, if their parents are smart, they’ll be told that tiger sightings are not guaranteed on safari in India. My parents never taught me that little life lesson — I had to find out the hard way while sitting at the back of a canter (a big truck / jeep thing) in Ranthambore National Park, which is apparently one of the best places to see tigers in Rajasthan.
Now, I could have kept you in suspense for the majority of this post, waiting to reveal the anti-climax that only a tigerless tiger safari (or an episode of Game of Thrones where nobody dies) can provide, but then you’d just get annoyed at me.
As a wise person once said, we should start our stories at the beginning, not where they get good, so let’s pick this story up on the rickshaw ride to the hotel that Gia had organised for us…
We were heading towards a hotel on the outskirts of Sawai Madhopur, the gateway city to Rathambore National Park. Our auto rickshaw driver (like a tuk tuk) navigated his way through a cow traffic jam in the middle of town and eventually pointed out the hotel in the distance. It was a mirage of opulence amid an arid wasteland.
We arrived at the hotel, Nahargarh Ranthambore, and checked into our giant room. It’s the kind of hotel celebrities stay at when they visit places like this. What exactly had Gia told them? Were they expecting rock star writers with millions of screaming fans?
After a relaxing night in the lap of luxury, we woke up at 4.30 am to search for tigers…
A tigerless tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park
After an early morning cup of tea and some biscuits, we hopped on a canter full of Indian tourists and headed for the entrance to Ranthambore National Park. We were bound for zone 4 (there are 10 zones and it’s a lottery which one you’ll get to visit), which I had heard is often frequented by tigers. After a short and very bumpy ride we suddenly stopped. The guide excitedly peered into the trees and the eyes of all the tourists soon followed. Rumour has it there was a tiger somewhere in there, but none of us spotted it.
After that initial excitement we rumbled on through the national park. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the trees but you could just feel that we weren’t going to see a tiger. We did see quite a lot of deer, a few monkeys (which the driver sped straight past), lots of birds, a crocodile which looked like it was about to attack an unsuspecting bird and a huge snake in a tree (which the driver also didn’t stop for). The guide and driver were very tiger focused and didn’t seem to care about anything else, which would have been fine if we’d actually seen tigers.
Back to the hotel
Our trip to Ranthambore might have felt like a waste of time if it wasn’t for our awesome hotel. We spent so much time lounging around our (almost) private palace, eating tasty buffet meals and taking lots of photos of arches and facades. It’s one of the best hotels I’ve ever seen, let alone slept in, and it’s not even that expensive (by western standards anyway). Make sure you go for the full board option as the hotel is a long way from other restaurants.
Further reading: Check out Gia’s review of Nahargarh Ranthambore over at Mismatched Passports
Our attempt to see tigers in Ranthambore National Park didn’t quite go to plan, but if you do things a little differently you should have more luck. Here are some tips:
- Go just before the monsoon season: The best time to see tigers in Ranthambore National Park is during the hot, dry season (April until early June). We caught the start of the rains which meant the tigers didn’t have to travel as far to get water, making them harder to spot.
- Go on more than one safari: You might have to go on a few safaris before you see a tiger. We decided not to do more as we had a strong feeling we still wouldn’t spot any tigers. I’d imagine if you go in the right season and are open to doing a few safaris you’ll have a very good chance of seeing a tiger.
- Try and book a gypsy (a type of vehicle, not a person): Gypsies can hold 4 people and are much more nimble and quiet than the lumbering canters. We tried to book a gypsy but there weren’t 2 seats available, meaning we’d have to pay for all 4 seats. The safari cost us 1800 INR each (it would have been slightly cheaper if we had have booked it at the government booking centre) and the gypsy would have cost 2400 INR each (plus the cost of the empty seats).
From Ranthambore we caught a train / bus to Bundi, a laid back little city with an amazing palace. Stay tuned for that post, which will be coming to you in a few days (also, check out my previous post on Jaipur, our introduction to the architectural wonders of Rajasthan).
Have you seen a tiger in the wild? Where was it? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Nahargarh Ranthambore, all thoughts and opinions are my own.