Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Ranthambore National Park: Information & Tips

Published in December 2016, in www.natureinfocus.com, a nature and wildlife-specific website

Ranthambore National Park is a part of the larger Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, the only forest reserve in Rajasthan that is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. This erstwhile hunting-ground of royal families was one of the first nine tiger reserves set up under ‘Project Tiger’ in 1973.

Tucked between the Aravallis and the Vindhyas, Ranthambore’s dry deciduous forests boast an impressive biodiversity of flora and fauna. The terrain is largely hilly, characterised by plateaus, vertical cliffs, seasonal and perennial streams cutting through the rock, and water-bodies.

Ranthambore National Park is unique thanks to the presence of its fort, built in the 10th century, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. The fort and its surroundings also house temples, monuments and ruins, making it one of the few national parks where pilgrims and visitors can access these areas by foot.

Travelled in: January 2016

Cormorants basking in the afternoon sun, in a unique Ranthambore habitat of a seasonal stream running alongside a rocky cliff.

Getting there:
  • Air: Jaipur International Airport (160-170 kms, 3.5 hrs) is the nearest airport. Delhi’s IGI Airport (370-380 kms, 7 to 7.5 hrs) offers more flight options than Jaipur.
  • Rail: Sawai Madhopur (3-12 kms / 5-20 min from hotels) is well-connected by trains from Delhi, Mumbai and other cities in Rajasthan.
  • Road: Ranthambore is at a comfortable driving distance from popular tourist destinations like Jaipur, Ajmer and Agra (ranging from 3.5 to 5 hrs). It is also possible to drive to Ranthambore from Delhi / NCR (up to 8 hrs).
The drive to Ranthambore is very scenic in winters, with mustard fields dotting the route.
Wildlife themed murals painted inside Sawai Madhopur station.

Climate and best time to visit:
  • Summer: April - June are the hottest months, with day temperatures over 40 degrees. During summers, big cats and other mammals are often spotted at water-bodies.
  • Winter: Nov – Feb are the coolest months, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 20 degrees during the day. Morning safaris can feel much colder. This season is also the best for bird-watching enthusiasts.
  • March and October are pleasant, transitional months. Visiting during these months is advantageous due to fewer crowds.
  • The park is shut from 1st July to 30th September.
A tiger sits in a shaded spot by a water-body, surrounded by the park’s characteristic rolling hills.

Most hotels are clustered near Sawai Madhopur, to the west of Ranthambore National Park, along the arterial Ranthambore Road. Another cluster of hotels (mostly high-end, though) is located along the same road, in villages to the north of the national park. Most visitors prefer hotels in close proximity to Sawai Madhopur, as it offers easy access to tourist facilities.

High-end: Oberoi Vanyavilas, Khem Vilas, Vivanta by Taj (INR. 23,000 – 50,000 for a double room + complimentary breakfast)
Mid-range: Ranthambore Bagh, Kipling Lodge (INR. 4000 – 14,000 for a double room + complimentary breakfast)
Budget: Ranthambore Tiger Home, Hotel Green View Ranthambore, Hotel Green Valley (INR. 1200 – 2500 for a double room + complimentary breakfast)

Accommodation in well-furnished luxury tents is common in many mid-range and high-end hotels. 

Good to know:
  • Sawai Madhopur is the nearest town offering all tourist facilities (ATMs, petrol bunks, pharmacies, and convenience stores) and a hospital.
  • Most mid-range and high-end hotels also arrange for a doctor on call.
  • All major mobile phone networks provide good coverage in the region, including basic data connectivity.
  • There are no functional bathrooms within the national park (only designated ‘stop / rest areas’). Use bathrooms in hotels.
What to pack:
  • During summer, carry loose cotton clothes, a hat / cap, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion.
  • During winter, carry layered warm clothing, a jacket, woollen cap, muffler, and gloves. Wear closed footwear with socks to stay warm.
  • Camera gear.
  • Binoculars, especially if you are an avid bird-watcher.
  • Bird-watching field guide.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • A torch for emergencies.
  • Emergency medication and prescription medicines.
Tips for photographers:
  • Ranthambore National Park has 10 zones, with some more popular than the others; try having safaris allocated across different zones, as many zones vary in topography. This is difficult unless you book 3-4 months in advance, and isn’t guaranteed even then.
  • Book safaris at least three or four months in advance, as they fill up quickly. Early booking also allows you to select zones of your choice.
  • Since each zone of Ranthambore has a different landscape, some that even include ruins of monuments, carry a wide-angle lens (between 10mm & 24mm), which allows you to capture panoramas. This lens is also useful to compose a photograph with an animal in its habitat.
  • You could also carry your kit lens (between 18mm & 70mm) to capture interesting photographs of pilgrims walking through the forest to access the many temples within.
  • A telephoto lens of at least 300mm focal length is essential.
  • For heavy lenses, carry a bean-bag to rest your camera on.
  • Tripods are quite useless on safaris, as Gypsies don’t accommodate them.
One of Ranthambore’s wetland areas, taking on a reddish-pink hue in winter.

Sambar walking through the grasslands, drinking water at small collection pools.
Some of the safari paths are so narrow that vehicles have to wait many minutes (or even hours, rarely) for animals to descend down the steep slope, before moving ahead.

What to do in between safaris:
  • Visit the Ranthambore Fort directly after the morning safari (carry a packed breakfast from your hotel), or after breakfast at your hotel (returning before the afternoon safari). The fort can only be accessed via a slightly tiring climb, but it makes up for it by offering panoramic views of Ranthambore National Park. Set aside at least two or three hours for the entire trip (including the climb, time spent at the fort and monuments, and the descent).
  • There is a Ganesh Temple near the fort’s main gate, which is especially lively on Wednesdays.
  • The region around Ranthambore National Park has a few lakes and areas for bird-watching, and the season is particularly excellent from November to February. These need to be visited in lieu of safaris though, as early mornings and late afternoons are the best times.
Don’t Miss:
  • After the morning safari, do not miss feasting on piping hot kachoris (onion or dal), served with chutneys or a gravy, and masala chai. These roadside stalls are located at the main intersection of Ranthambore Road and the road that turns towards the national park.
  • Sawai Madhopur Railway Station has been beautifully painted, with murals on its walls and ceilings depicting nature and wildlife. It is open to the public. People can walk into the outer zones of the station and see the murals there, without any ticket. The platforms also have murals, for which purchasing a platform ticket is advised before going in.
  • Shop at Dastkar Kendra, run by an NGO working with local women to promote local arts, crafts and clothing. Profits from sales directly benefit the women. It is located just off Ranthambore Road, closer to the northern cluster of hotels at Sherpur-Khilchipur. You could also shop at local markets in Sawai Madhopur.
  • Rajasthani folk music and dance performances are arranged on some evenings by mid-range and high-end hotels, for their guests.
  • Visits to nearby villages can be arranged by most hotels, for a flavour of rural Rajasthan.
Fresh kachoris and tea being made at one of the many stalls on the way to Ranthambore National Park’s main entrance.

Wildlife themed murals painted inside Sawai Madhopur station.

Budget per person:
  • Jeep safari prices range from approx. Rs. 7000 to Rs. 10,000 per Gypsy, per safari (if booked through your hotel, including their ‘service charge’). Gypsies can seat two to four photographers (comfortably, depending on amount of gear) and six non-photographers. A Gypsy can also be booked for private use, or for lesser than its full capacity of six passengers, by paying its full rate.
  • Canter safaris are more economical, costing anywhere from Rs. 800 to Rs. 1200 per person (if booked through your hotel, including their ‘service charge’). A Canter accommodates up to 20 people.
  • Theoretically, it is possible to book safaris online at official government prices that are lower than the rates charged by hotels. However, the website rarely works. 
A safari canter at a lake.

A jeep safari

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