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Old 27th February 2013, 23:11   #1
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Default Visit to Ranthambore, Sawai Madhopur

I wanted to share some experiences and photographs from my visit to Ranthambore a few months ago (post Diwali 2012). About three years ago, I decided that our family holidays (1-2 times a year) would be to an unexplored (by us) location in India. In 2011, we went to Pench National Park in MP and that's when I caught the photography bug. Ranthambore was to be the second national park that we visited, if I discount the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivili.

My original plan was to drive with my family to SWM from Mumbai in my Outlander, but three weeks before the trip, my driver had an accident with the vehicle. Off went the Outlander to the Mitsubishi service centre and stayed there for almost two months! (that's another story). Anyway, I had to make urgent flight bookings to Jaipur and back -- I wanted to do the train at least (August Kranti Rajdhani stops at SWM) but no luck with the tickets at such short notice.


Day 1: Mumbai to Jaipur
We flew by GoAir the day after Diwali, and the trip was largely uneventful. We stayed the night at The Fern - Ecotel which was near the airport and quite decent for the stop-over. Since we had the evening to kill, we took a taxi to Amber fort for the sound & light show. We chose the Hindi version at 7.30pm since it had Amitabh Bachchan as the voice-over; I must admit that the Hindi (including the poetry) was a bit tough to follow at times.

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Day 2: Jaipur to Sawai Madhopur
We left Jaipur by a pre-booked Innova (used www.carzonrent) and drove via NH12 and SH24. For the most part, the roads were OK and we covered abut 150km in just under 3 hours. Watch out for a forced lunch break by the taxi drivers - we stopped at a restaurant cum tourist shop that was extremely overpriced!

The first half of our stay was at the Oberoi Vanyavilas, thanks to a two-night stay voucher that I had. The resort is truly luxurious; the cottages were tent-like structures, with enough space for a family of four.

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Since we had reached post-lunch, we hadn't planned the afternoon safari drive. We walked around a bit, watched the forest all around, tried spotting various birds as they played hide & seek with us. A highlight of that evening was the time we spent in the swimming pool. It was quite cold by mid-November and I was worried that we would not be able to last long in the water but surprise, they had a heated pool! We spent almost two hour until dinner just playing around.

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Day 3: First Visit to Ranthambore National Park
We were scheduled to go on the morning Safari and had to wake up by 5.30am to be ready for the vehicle pick-up at 6.30am. Getting three women ready can be quite a task! Before I go any further, a few words about the Jungle Drive system in Rajasthan.

The jungle drives in the Rajasthan national parks are managed by the government forest department. (Unlike for instance the parks in MP, where the hotels can also send their vehicles into the park.) Booking for these drives is done online at http://www.rajasthanwildlife.in/Booking-page.htm from 90 days before. You can choose a 6-seater Gypsy or a 16/18 seater Canters. There is often a major rush for the gypsies over the canters, although the pricing is almost the same. On the day of the drive, the department allots the vehicle on a random basis, so you could be sharing the vehicle with other people from any of the various hotels there. Another thing to note is that they require photo ID details to be submitted while making the booking and the department is quite strict when it comes to checking documents, etc. There are also a few (I was told about 100) seats that are sold on a current booking basis, an hour or so before the drive begins. There is usually a major rush for this and you are better off getting the hotel to organise the tickets (at a premium) since they have the appropriate "queue management" systems.

So, off we went in our Gypsy for the first drive into Ranthambore National Park. We were accompanied by a guide who promised us a fair chance of spotting a tiger. Most people who go to the tiger reserves want to get glimpse of the elusive tiger, so the efforts of the driver/guide are centred around chasing tiger trails. Other animals or birds are offered as a 'consolation' prize; our guide, Kanhaiyalal ("call me Ken") was no different.

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The national park is divided into several zones and each vehicle gets allotted a zone (randomly) so that there is no crowding at any one location. We went towards Zone 5 that morning, into the dry deciduous forest. To cut a long story short, we did not spot a tiger though Ken was keen to point out some pug-marks. We did get spot lots of spotted deer and sambhar, and several species of birds, including the kingfisher.

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After about three hours in the forest, we were back at the Oberoi at about 10.30 am, hungry for breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by two elephants at the entrance: Mala and Lakshmi. The kids had fun playing with the tuskers and we even got a short ride inside the hotel.

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The rest of the day was spent lazing around since we hadn't booked a drive that afternoon. I spent a couple of hours with the in-house naturalist who took me on a bird-spotting walk around the hotel. Amongst the many birds that we saw, the green pigeon was very interesting. We also disturbed (only slightly) an owl that was catching its day-time nap.

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Day 4: From the Oberoi to the Taj
Again, we were up early for the safari, but this time my wife and younger daughter decided to give it a miss - it's too cold, they said. So, my elder one and I got into the 16-seater canter for the next expedition. Ten minutes after we entered the park, we were told that a tiger had been spotted about a kilometre ahead. Our driver went on an overdrive, crashing through the bushes and overhanging branches in pursuit. A few minutes later, a gypsy returning from that spot had a bunch of excited people - there were two tigers there, they shouted. That got our driver more excited; there was a babble from 14 passengers in the canter - finally, we'll see the tiger. Alas, it was not to be... by the time we reached that spot, the tiger had decided that it had waited long enough and went about on its way. The guide and driver speculated on where it might have gone, and we darted here and there but the jungle is so vast that the tiger remained well hidden from view.

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That morning, our two day stay at the Oberoi ended, and we moved to the Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge. The contrast between the two hotels was quite stark. While the Vanyavilas is designed as a modern, top-luxury resort, the Taj Sawai Madhopur is a heritage hotel, occupying an 80-year old hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Both hotels were great on customer service: the Oberoi very sophisticated and under-stated, the Taj very friendly and home-like.

After a wonderful (very-local) lunch, we went back to what this holiday was all about: lazing! Actually, there isn't much else to do in Sawai Madhopur. Yes, there are some temples and stuff, but not when you are with kids. The garden outside our room had a hammock and soon we were all dozing.

Day 5: Afternoon Drive
The lazing continued to the morning but then we (actually, my wife!) decided that we had to do some shopping. So went out and there were a few shops here and there that catered to tourists. Like any other such place, bargaining is a must. In fact, we observed a shop-keeper quoting a much higher amount for a dress to a foreigner than he did to us. And he asked us (in Hindi) not to tell them anything about the price because that was his opportunity to make some money!

Lunch was a sumptuous affair, aided by special rajma and bhindi (my daughters' special request). We would have wanted to go back to the lazing but we had booked an afternoon safari drive. As mentioned earlier, the problem with the random vehicle allocations is that you could have a different guide on each drive and be accompanied by many other strangers. On this drive, we had this large family of two sisters, their parents, husbands and kids; one of the sisters was extremely talkative. It was so extreme that when she saw a notice at the entrance suggesting that silence be maintained in the forest, she exclaimed, "I think the notice is for me only!" I am sure it was her noise that scared away the tigers because we did not see any even during our third drive. However, I was not too disappointed - I just loved the drive into the jungle, hearing nature's sounds (when that lady kept quiet) and seeing animals and birds in their natural habitat.

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Day 6: End of Journey
By the way, while we had successfully managed to miss meeting a tiger in spite of three trips to the park, many others had several sightings of the tigers. We were told that we were quite unlucky not to have seen one - Ranthambore is supposed to have one of the highest densities (and therefore probability of spotting) of tigers in India.

Well, I could not leave Sawai Madhopur without one last try. So I went to the current booking counter at 5.30am on our last day to get seats on any vehicle that was available. The hotel staff helped me get two seats on a canter (my wife & younger daughter said they'd rather see the photos of a tiger, if at all).

This last drive was the most exciting of the four. We were coasting along one of the zones and suddenly we heard a lot of "calls" (jungle noises alerting that a tiger was on the prowl). We reached a clearing where another canter and gypsy were getting ready to rush off. Apparently, a tigress had just killed a sambhar, and had been seen a few minutes earlier, dragging its prey into the bushes. All three vehicles rushed towards a water body which we were told was the natural direction for it to pass - its cubs were likely to be nearby. We waited, breathless -- I had my cameras ready to start clicking, one set to a wide-angle lens and the other zoomed all the way in to 500mm. Almost twenty minutes passed and there was no sign of the predator. Soon, some of the first time visitors started getting restless -- "if not a tiger, show us something else," they requested the guide. They were obviously on what they thought was a picnic… you cannot chase or spot a predator if you don't have infinite patience. The driver/guide had to cater to all the passengers and so off we moved -- having come so close to spotting the Indian national animal…

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As we exited Ranthambore National Park for the last time that week, I smiled wryly -- this was my 6th or 7th safari drive in two years and still no sign of a tiger. Yet, I had seen and learnt so much about Indian forests, animals and birds. And surely, there would be more opportunities.

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We left from the Taj lodge immediately after breakfast, on the return taxi to Jaipur. We slept through most of the way, reaching the airport just in time for our Indigo flight back to Mumbai.
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Old 28th February 2013, 10:20   #2
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A short and sweet travelogue. Beautiful photos Pallis.
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Old 28th February 2013, 11:03   #3
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A short and sweet travelogue. Beautiful photos Pallis.
Thanks Ashesh. More photos (birds) from Ranthambore are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/addepal...7632152379890/
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Old 28th February 2013, 11:09   #4
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Pallis, like in the Phantom comics, there is an old jungle saying - It is not you who sees the Tiger, it is the Tiger that sees you..!

Having said that, if it is any consolation then I suggest read my travelogue

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...all-again.html (Gurgaon - Ranthambhore - Jodhpur - Gurgaon: Big Cats call again..!)

I roamed the sanctuaries of the North (Dudhwa, Corbett, Rajaji, Chilla, Sariska, Ranthambhore etc.) for may years without any sighting at all. My wife had a favourite and standard phrase and I quote - " These forest guards have a tiger pug-mark stamp, with which they make pug-marks on trails. This is what the guides show to the unsuspecting tourists and say that the Tiger had passed through 1 hour earlier or so".

Only in 2011 when I visited Sariska again on a hunch, against all hope had my first Tiger sighting. 4 tigers in an 800 sq.km park was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But still had a sighting. The Tigress had pity on me and showed up..!

BTW, what camera gear were you using?

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Old 28th February 2013, 11:31   #5
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Originally Posted by gd1418 View Post
Pallis, like in the Phantom comics, there is an old jungle saying - It is not you who sees the Tiger, it is the Tiger that sees you..!
Haha, that sounds just about correct.


Quote:
I roamed the sanctuaries of the North (Dudhwa, Corbett, Rajaji, Chilla, Sariska, Ranthambhore etc.) for may years without any sighting at all. My wife had a favourite and standard phrase and I quote - " These forest guards have a tiger pug-mark stamp, with which they make pug-marks on trails. This is what the guides show to the unsuspecting tourists and say that the Tiger had passed through 1 hour earlier or so".
I think your wife is probably right; on almost every drive, the guides would point out the pug-marks and create some excitement for everybody. Started reading your thread - very interesting. The sloth bear photo was amazing; I've heard so much about it - you were lucky to sight it.

Quote:
BTW, what camera gear were you using?
Canon 550D primarily; I had just bought a new Canon 7D but since I was not fully familiar with it, I used it for a second lens. Most of the bird shots were with the Sigma 150-500. I use the Canon 70-300 sometimes but not much on this trip. As my primary go-to lens, I still have the 18-135 but now I want to replace it with something better. A recent (& expensive) hobby that began at Pench in 2011; my next trip is to Bhadra tiger reserve and Coorg this summer.
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Old 28th February 2013, 20:07   #6
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Well she wasn't; that she realised much much later and changed her opinion too when we started having regular sightings solely by tracking the pug-marks.

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I think your wife is probably right; on almost every drive, the guides would point out the pug-marks and create some excitement for everybody.
Thank you.. Sighting a Sloth is rarer than sighting a Tiger.

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Started reading your thread - very interesting. The sloth bear photo was amazing; I've heard so much about it - you were lucky to sight it.
18~135 is an amazing lens and an all-time, all-weather carry on lens. Suggest have a rethink on replacing it.

I too was in Pench in 2011 (Gurgaon - Jhansi - Khajuraho - Bandhavgarh - Pench - Kanha - Bhedaghat - Gurgaon).

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Canon 550D primarily; I had just bought a new Canon 7D but since I was not fully familiar with it, I used it for a second lens. Most of the bird shots were with the Sigma 150-500. I use the Canon 70-300 sometimes but not much on this trip. As my primary go-to lens, I still have the 18-135 but now I want to replace it with something better. A recent (& expensive) hobby that began at Pench in 2011; my next trip is to Bhadra tiger reserve and Coorg this summer.

Last edited by gd1418 : 28th February 2013 at 20:08.
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Old 20th March 2013, 21:52   #7
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Enjoyed reading your travelogue pallis. Beautiful pics too.

I am heading to Tadoba this month end and hoping to see may other wildlife forms besides the famed tiger! It helps though that Tadoba has the highest density of tigers and this is particularly a good time for such sightings.
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Old 21st March 2013, 00:23   #8
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Enjoyed reading your travelogue pallis. Beautiful pics too.
Thank you!

Quote:
It helps though that Tadoba has the highest density of tigers and this is particularly a good time for such sightings.
Best of luck for your trip. My last two wildlife trips were around Diwali, post-monsoon, so I didn't have so much luck with the animal sightings. I am counting on the summer season this May when I visit Karnataka: Bhadra and maybe even Kabini.


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18~135 is an amazing lens and an all-time, all-weather carry on lens. Suggest have a rethink on replacing it.
Agree,have been looking a lot but nothing comes close to the 18-135 being an all-purpose primary lens. My only grouse is its indoor / low light performance. Anyway, when I have money to spare, I will probably invest in the 70-300 L to replace my non-L version
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