Straight forward drive with a mix of good and bad roads with plenty of character and scenery
Planning for Bharatpur and Ranthambhor
The best time to visit is the winter months - from November to February. The temperature is pleasant and ideal for a safari into the sanctuary. If photography is a high priority with you, it would pay to visit during the summer months of April and May, but be warned it is very hot and the mercury can soar up to 48 degrees C.
The Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary doesn’t allow vehicles, so the only way to get around inside is on cycle or cycle-rickshaw. At Ranthambhor however, the only way to roam the sanctuary is in the forest department’s Gypsys or Canters. While seats on a Canter are easily available, the popular Gypsys are usually booked in advance. So if you’re keen on going on a Gypsy safari, contact the Project Tiger Office (or the Forest Department) at 07462-220223, and book in advance.
Do remember to pack in a good pair of binoculars, insect repellent and rolls of 400 ISO film. A bean-bag also helps for slow-shutter speed shots.
Get your car serviced and the suspension checked.
The roads from Dausa to Ranthambhor are absolutely horrible. Carry a spare tube if you’re running tubeless tyres.
The 150km run from Delhi to Mathura however is a pleasure. The double-laning ends when you leave NH 2 and get onto SH 33. The road from Mathura to Bharatpur is okay with the occasional bad stretch. On the 230km drive from Bharatpur to Ranthambhor, the road till Duasa is fantastic. Beyond that the roads take a turn for the worse. The entire drive after Duasa goes through rural Rajasthan and there are scenes straight out of storybooks. Little children will wave out to you and laugh in glee when you wave back.
As you approach Sawai Madhopur keep your eyes peeled for wild neelgais frolicking in the fields. You’ll see quite a few of them at full gallop in the mustard fields bordering the roads. Other wildlife you may chance upon on your drive to Ranthambhor are mongoose, wild boar, foxes and plenty of raucous monkeys.
Inside the sanctuaries
Do keep in mind that inside the game parks you are a guest. The place primarily belongs to the birds and animals that reside there. Given below are a few guidelines which, if followed, will give you an enchanting experience during your visit and ensure that generations to follow will experience the same.
Don’t litter - Plastic is a killer - small animals can choke to death on it. What’s more, it isn’t bio-degradable and harms the environment. Desist from bringing polythene bags into the parks.
Don’t smoke - Forest fires can wipe out entire forests. And cigarette smoke can scare away animals that would have shown themselves normally.
Talk softly and wear subtle colours - Silence is the key to getting good sightings. Wearing unobtrusive clothing that blends in with the surroundings keeps the animals at ease and in turn you get good sightings and photography opportunities.
Don’t tease the animals - This is an unhealthy practice. It’s also risky - not for the animals but for you, should you happen to tease a big cat like a tiger or a leopard. They can cease your existence with one swipe of their paw.
Don’t get out of your Jeep - In Ranthambhor, there is a revered rule that doesn’t allow visitors to step out of their vehicles. Follow that rule - it’s there to safeguard your life. Should you break it, the guide is fined.
Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . . Old William Blake certainly knew what he was talking about when he penned those unforgettable lines. Beholding a tiger in its natural habitat is an image that will burn itself into your brain and remain there. Royal and regal, this handsome feline knows that it is feared and respected in the jungle.
One of the smallest Project Tiger sanctuaries, Ranthambhor is a protected haven for the majestic cat. Ranthambhor, whose name comes from the massive 16th century fort that stands in the middle of the forest, is famous for its tiger sightings — as a matter of fact, of late it’s being said that if you go into the park five times you’d see a tiger at least thrice. Of course there are times when tigers are elusive, but there are plenty of other animals to delight the visitor. The most commonly seen include spotted deer, sambar, barking deer (or kakar), black-faced monkeys, neelgai and wild boar. Other animals that exist in the park but are elusive are wild cats, jackals, leopards and a solitary wild dog.
The District Forest Office (DFO) that runs the sanctuary is very strict about the number of Gypsys allowed into the park, so do book in advance to avoid disappointment. Visit Ranthambhor with the idea of enjoying the place on the whole. While on safari soak in the ambience - the distant hills and varied vegetation that abounds in the jungle. If you go with your heart set on only seeing tigers, you might not enjoy the place if they decide to remain camouflaged.
Out in the forest, keep your eyes peeled and ears open. Even when you think there’s not an animal in sight, rest assured that your every move is being watched and followed by many eyes. Listen for alarm calls emitted by birds and animals to help pinpoint the location of a predator.
The Ranthambhor tiger sanctuary is open from November to May (daily from 7am to 6.30pm). The Gypsys cost Rs 700 for a three-hour trip, plus a compulsory guide (Rs100) and entrance into the park is Rs 225 for a Gypsy. Everything included, one safari for upto five people will effectively cost Rs 1025. Please do tip the driver and the guide. A seat on the Canter (open truck) is Rs 150 per person.
The Ranthambhor fort is also worth seeing and you can take your own vehicle till the fort through the first gate of the sanctuary, but only from 6.30am to 6pm. Tread carefully, a tigress and her cubs have recently made the ramparts of the fort their home.
Bharatpur - a bird-watcher’s paradise
The Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur is an ornithologist’s dream come true. Cycling through the park at dawn, watching the sunrise and the birds start the day is an experience perhaps for more pleasing than even sighting a tiger. Do remember that Bharatpur is home to a single tiger and should you sight him, steer clear and don’t provoke him. The old fellow has been alone for many years and is, quite possibly, very frustrated.
Among the multitude of feathered beauties that visit and reside in the park are pelicans, grey bagtails, kingfishers, cormorants, snake birds, painted storks (pink tail feathers), black-necked storks, open bill storks, Indian saras cranes (red head, grey body), purple herons and spot bill ducks.
In the nesting season, the song and chatter of birds is so loud that it easily drowns out conversation. Dr Salim Ali, the grand old man of ornithology, was happiest here in the thick of the forest, amidst the birds he loved to study and enjoy.
You will also see antelopes, spotted deer and mongoose. There are pythons in the park too, but keep safe distance. They seem lazy but can be very fast when they want to as the author found out to his great discomfort.
Cycles are available on hire at the entrance of the sanctuary itself and cost Rs 20 a day (7am to 6pm). The guide supplied by the forest department costs Rs 35 per hour. Be sure to hire a guide who has done his homework, because his knowledge can make bird spotting a pleasure. Boating is also available in the park at Rs 75 for an hour for a small boat seating four tourists and Rs 150 for a larger one that can seat six.
Also try and visit Deeg and old Rajput stronghold a short drive from Bharatpur. Try to go there at dawn or dusk as the light adds a lot more ambience and character to the this magnificent stone structure.
Lots of choice to suit all budgets. Right from the value for money RTDC at Bharatpur to the sinfully extravagant Oberoi Vanyavilas at Ranthambore
Bharatpur Forest Lodge Inside Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary
Very pleasant place inside the park, but do take care of your belongings as the monkeys are kleptomaniacs! The rooms have private balconies overlooking the forest.
Rates: Single room (Rs 1900), double room (Rs 2700)
The Birders Inn
Bird Sanctuary Road,
Pleasant place with a super garden restaurant that serves awesome ‘tandoori’ chicken and chilled beer. Booking in advance is advisable as this place is very popular with tourists.
Rates: Single room (Rs 750), double (Rs 950), meals excluded.
Hotel Sun Bird
Dr Salim Ali Road
Near Bird Sanctuary
The hotel is fraying around the edges but the friendly management goes out of its way to make you comfortable.
The rates are slightly less than the Birders Inn.
The Sawai Madhopur Lodge (Taj Group)
Bookings can be made at:
Delhi: 011-23322333, 91-11-23310750 (fax), firstname.lastname@example.org
Mumbai: 022-22022626, 91-22-2872719 (fax), email@example.com
Complete luxury and Taj service. They usually have various package offers going which include a two-day three-night stay, a welcome drink and a safari in the park in a Canter.
Vanyavilas (an Oberoi resort)
Sawai Madhopur 322001
Fax: 91-7462-223990, 23988
The crème de la crème at an astounding rate of only Rs 18,000 (plus taxes) a day, this is the grandest hotel in Ranthambhor, tastefully done with a cigar and reading room, a dining square with dancers performing daily and unique 585 sq ft tents. You can dine here too after paying a Rs 1500 cover charge per person.
Hotel Jhoomer Baori (RTDC)
Ph: 07462-20334, 20495
This was a former hunting lodge and the rooms have lovely views. They organise campfires and traditional programmes.
Rates: Deluxe room (Rs 750), super deluxe (Rs 950) and suite (Rs 1150).
Hotel Vinayak (RTDC)
Pleasant place with informed staff and a lovely souvenir shop. The Gujarati chef makes the most refreshing tea in all of eastern Rajasthan.
Rates: Rooms (Rs 650 with Rs 100 for an extra bed).