Rajasthan Stories - Day 3: Ranthambhore

Spotting the ultimate beast in its natural surroundings was one of the items on my bucket list for long. Ranthambhore figured in the Rajasthan itinerary precisely to fulfill this desire only. One of the well known tiger sanctuaries nestled in the valley where the Aravallis meet the Vindhyas, I had read many a stories about travelers encountering these fearless beasts there. So if I say that I woke up with stripes in my brain and mind, it is definitely not an understatement. Though the sanctuary is a few kilometers from Sawai Madhopur, the forest office from where the safari tickets are issued is just outside the town. Charged with anticipation, we woke up quite early and reached the forest office at 5:30 in the morning and met Rajesh, the contact arranged by Rakesh Jain.

Ranthambhore sanctuary is divided into different zones for the purpose of tiger safari and only a limited number of vehicles - gypsies & canters - are available in each zone. Private vehicles are not allowed inside the reserve, thank goodness for that! Some of the zones, for example 1 and 2, are considered the best ones for spotting the striped beast and hence there is a rush to get tickets for these. Though the tickets are supposed to get allotted in random, if you know the right people you can get tickets to the right zones. We did not get tickets for the gypsies, but we did get them for zone 1 with the help of Rajesh. The morning tea tasted much better after securing the tickets and by 6:15 we started with 12 others in the canter. Rajendar had reached the forest office early enough to ensure that we get the tickets.

The safari was like a card game, in spite of having the best hand we did not win the game.. his highness the striped beauty did not turn up! Perhaps he decided to have an extended nap; can't blame him considering the chill in the morning air. The 3 hour journey was through exciting terrains, and we spotted herds of Spotted Deer, Sambhars and Nilghai. There were quite a few early riser birds too - the Jungle Babblers, Lapwings, Cormorands, and a white owl. Like many other places in Rajasthan we found that the Tree Pies were quite fearless here also. Unlike their shy cousins down south, they flew around the low hanging branches which were literally inches away from our heads. We waited around the waterholes for quite a while, expecting a tiger to come out of the bushes to have a drink, but all we got to see were the crocodiles and an occasional herd of Sambhars.

Adding to the hurt some co passengers started telling their own tiger stories, how a tiger smiled at them the last time, how close it came the day before that they could smell its sweat, and so on. Though initially I felt like stuffing deer shit in their mouths, I realized I would have blabbered quite the same way if I had ever spotted a tiger! I would have dedicated one full paragraph in this post to describe how I had goosebumps when the tiger stared at me and all that. So I patiently listened to the stories. The driver told us that there are only 30 odd tigers in the sanctuary and spotting one is not an easy thing. Barring the tiger disappointment, the safari was enjoyable and by the time we got back we were damn hungry. We had to catch the 2:30 train to Jodhpur and we hardly had enough time to catch some brunch, vacate the room and rush to the station.

It is an eight hour journey by train from Sawai Madhopur to Jodhpur via Jaipur, Sambhar and Makrana. Sambhar salt lake looked beautiful as the setting sun cast its spell over its waters. We would have loved to get down at Sambhar to see the Flamingos but time constraints forced us to keep it for the next trip. In the train we met Mukesh, who was traveling back to his hometown near Makrana from Jaipur. Overhearing our exclamatory comments on Rajsathan and the people there, he decided to join in the conversation. He was an interesting chap who told us stories about the haunted town of Bhangarh, the marble industry of Makrana, shape shifting ghosts in his native village and so on. Had we agreed he would have taken us to his village to prove us that ghosts indeed exist and they are not just figments of imagination! It is always good to have local company during long journeys like these, as you get to know interesting aspects of places you pass through.

Finally we reached Jodhpur by 10:30 and found an interesting hotel 'Shanti Bhavan', right across the railway station. This was an old haweli of the local administrator which was converted into a hotel later. It had more than 50 rooms at three levels! We got a nice three-bed room with a huge balcony overlooking the busy street and the railway station at Rs.600 a night. It was a nice sight to watch the moon shining right above the clock tower of the station with a beer in hand! We had dinner at a nearby hotel named Kalinga and it was a rip off; but we hardly had any choice at that time of the night. With another exciting day in the offering, we soon retired to the room. To spot the striped beast in the jungle, still remains an item on my wish list!

Click here for more pictures!

Rajasthan Stories - Day 1: Jaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 2: Jaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 3: Ranthambhore
Rajasthan Stories - Day 4: Osian & Thar
Rajasthan Stories - Day 5: Mandore & Jodhpur

Rajasthan Stories - Day 6: Udaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 7: Ranakpur & Kumbalgarh
Rajasthan Stories - Day 8: The Taj Mahal

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