Ranthambhore is a 515-square mile national park created from an original Maharajah kingdom dating from the 11th century. The forests were their hunting grounds dominated by a massive fort covering the entire top of a 700 ft high plateau. Only 20% of the park is open to the public, strictly regulated; limited hours in the morning and afternoon, limits to vehicles assigned to specific zones. All people must ride with a driver and guide in either “gypsies” (jeeps) or “canters” (multi-rowed safari vehicles). The popularity of the park has skyrocketed. When we were here in 2007 (and did not see a Tiger), only 90 visitors were allowed in per day and there were only a handful of accommodations. Today it’s ten times as many visitors and lodging is everywhere.
People come to Ranthambhore to see a tiger. It’s one of the few places left in India and their population is on the increase inside this park. Drivers do all they are allowed to get their clients to spot a tiger and still there is no guarantee. Knowing this we have two mornings and two afternoons to see one. We arrived at the park gate at 7 am, bundled in blankets, warm coats, hats and gloves. The canter is open air and windy as it travels along. We saw lots of Spotted Deer, two beautiful Painted Spurfowl, Common Langurs plus a number of other good birds. Then the driver gets excited and we speed off to “the sighting”. Yes! A pair of Tigers amble along a nearby hill. They are powerful but elegant animals and are not bothered by the half dozen vehicles collected on the road. It’s 8:30 am on our first morning and we’ve had success.
More birds, more antelope, then as we leave the park at 10:30 a portion of a third lounging Tiger is glimpsed through tall grass. Three!
At 2:00 we’re back in the park on a different trail, getting the full skyline view of the Fort looming above us, the medieval ruins appropriately dark and silhouetted against the sky. Shorebirds, Mugger Crocodiles, one even swimming away with a freshly killed Langur. Then the frenzied rush of the vehicles to another Tiger sighting. By now the vehicles have tripled. At one point 20 vehicles were lined up as a beautiful female Tiger sauntered slowly over a hill, rested for a bit, continued down to a lake briefly walking within 15-20 feet of our vehicle. Utterly breathtaking. She was the female we saw lying in the grass late this morning. Her name is Arrowhead (markings) and she has two yearling cubs that were not with her. Her grandmother used to be seen inside some of the ruined structures of the park, looking out from empty windows; her image was made famous by a BBC documentary.
An incredible day, beyond words. Three tigers. What’s left to do tomorrow?