Holiday after such a long time; was it exciting? Did it feel fresh? Absolutely and in fact it was more than that. In these difficult times we all are looking for things which can give us a bliss of fresh breath. So as soon as I heard of an impromptu holiday plan, there I jumped to join with 5 other friends. I was heading to Ranthambore for the very first time.
For many, it came as a surprise that this was my first trip there. To let you know, I’m an avid travel and have covered almost 50% of India. I hope to share more stories in future about my earlier adventures. So, it was an obvious reaction that Ranthambore had not been ticked on my list.
An early morning start at 5 am, it felt so good. Traveling after so long has its own advantages. The drive felt like a blessing. It was 7 hours journey from Delhi but the excitement of holiday was so much that I was ready to drive twice the time. Passing by small villages, looking at local life, driving on empty roads, it all felt as if I have just come out of a Jail 😉
Ranthambore, home to the majestic Tigers. It is the largest national park in North India and offers excellent tiger sightings due to the dry and deciduous forest which provides unrestricted views till far. As of now there are more than 60 tigers in the park and the population is increasing which is a good sign for wildlife enthusiast. Other than Tigers, Leopards, Hyena’s and sloth bears are also the inhabitant of this park.
And there we were, checked in at a nice cosy boutique hotel ‘Ranthambore Heritage Haveli’. It is perfectly located and with the given times, we got a great deal. We decided to keep the day easy. After lunch and a little rest, we headed for our first visit – ‘Ranthambore Fort’. Within the park gates, stands a majestic 10th century fort. Only remains of this hill fort can be visited now but it provides magnificent views of the national park from the top. The Fort also has the very popular and auspicious ‘Trinetra Ganesh Temple’. The temple holds special place for many devotees from nearby towns as well as within Rajasthan and you will always find the temple busy with visitors. With the spectacular arial view of the national park, you can sit hours watching the landscape and flora. And if you are lucky, you might get some fauna sightseeing, even a Tiger sighting is possible.
We return and kept the evening relaxed. We had an early morning start the next day and, the whole group was meeting after ages. So there was a lot to talk, over bonfire and some drinks.
The next morning, starting at 0530 am from our hotel, we headed to explore Ranthambore National Park. The park has specific timing and one can visit the Park twice a day, once in the morning between 0600 to 0930 am and second time in the afternoon between 2.30 to 6 pm. The park has been divided into 10 different zones so that the traffic can be split equally amongst these different routes and this helps avoiding overcrowding in one zone. It is a must to hire the government approved Jeeps (or canter) and safari’s need to be pre-booked. Only 90 Jeeps & 50 canters are allowed inside the park for a particular safari. Hence it is very important to book the safari’s in advance. The Zones are allocated randomly, you cannot pick chose your preferred one. For the first safari, we were allocated Zone 6.
I was thrilled to experience wildlife and most importantly, sighting a tiger. The evening earlier we heard that there was Tiger sighting in Zone 6 in the afternoon safari. This made our assumption even more strong. I was confident that we’ll be lucky. As we started the safari, just 15 minutes into and our accompanying park naturalist (assigned by park authorities, mandatory) spotted Pugmarks. They were huge and visible, and the naturalist remarked that the Tiger (or Tigress) might have passed by not so long ago. This was exciting and adventurous. We kept going, time and again we had promising clues, but none feel into pieces. And after 3 hours continuous tracking, we weren’t lucky. Disappointed, we headed back to our hotel. Post lunch we were again full of enthusiasm, passing confidence to each other that we’ll be lucky the second time. We headed to Zone 2 this time. We spotted Cheetal, Spotted Deer, Sambar, crocodile, tortoise, mongoose, wild boar and many fascinating birds. It was nice but didn’t feel complete as again we couldn’t sight Tiger.
We were now worried, we only had 1 last safari left before heading home. We didn’t want to leave like this. We all came to spot a Tiger and were too nervous now that this wish may just fall thru.
The next morning, we again started our journey. The chilled breeze hitting our faces, but we were determined. 1 hour into the drive and still no luck. Just when I was starting to lose hope that our naturalist concluded that there is a strong Calling from Sambar at the other end. Other than spotting the Tiger thru pugmarks, naturalist also rely on animal calling. With the fear of surrounded by Tiger, many animals make loud calling alarming everyone around. We rushed to the spot, crossing our fingers and praying. We stopped and our naturalist asked for pin drop silence. I could feel it, a gut feeling, a sixth sense, a connection. 5 minutes passed, 10 minutes passed, 20 minutes passed, we waited calmly. Finally, one of the guy claimed ‘look, I think there is something’. I couldn’t believe, we had finally spotted a Tigress. Huge, gigantic, mesmerising, beautiful, it was everything. Slowly walking like the Queen of the jungle. Reflecting fear and calmness at the same time. One of the best experiences of my entire life. It felt so much fulfilling. She was a 2 years old Tigress named ‘Riddhi’. She moved around 10 minutes and I was there just watching full of exuberance. She finally went into the wild, leaving behind a memory of lifetime.
We headed back to our hotel and after breakfast drove back to our home. But this was something special. I’ve been at home since March 2020… 7 months and was already used to slow, boring and monotonous lifestyle. But this once in a lifetime experience injected energy, made me feel so free like that Tigress walking all alone in the Jungle, gave me strength that there is a lot to experience ahead in life and we all need to keep moving forward. There were many people like us who came to experience this wonderful national park. It showed that people are ready to move out, leaving behind the COVID stress and prepared to reenergize themselves. To all who have read this, it’s a must to visit Ranthambore.