The peacock is the national bird of India, and this gorgeous species is present in huge numbers at Ranthambhore. Around almost every bend on each of our safaris, we'd come across small groups of peacocks roaming and enjoying the park's natural beauty and freedom.
National bird or not, I suspect that more than a few of these peacocks meets its end on the dinner plate of a leopard or tiger. But again, as my animal-loving daughter would remind all fo us, it's "nature's way".
Sadly, I didn't see a single situation in which a male peacock had fully displayed his plumage. I guess Ranthambhore is an area that doesn't encourage such avian vanity, what with so many tigers and leopards roaming around with knives and forks. :)
There were huge populations of deer in Ranthambhore, and I guess it makes sense. Without being macabre, if you're a park supporting a healthy population of tigers and leopards, there has to be something "on the buffet", so to speak. What better menu item for tigers and leopards than a massive and healthy population of deer?
The deer in the park are quite used to humans and will allow you to get very close before nature takes over and they flee. This offers many wonderful opportunities for photographs that would be impossible in other wild settings.
I'd almost like to make this tip a memorial to Steve Irwin, Australia's famolus "Crocodile Hunter". On a 2005 trip to his Australia Zoo, Mr. Irwin and his family were so very accomodating and kind to our family, and to my very special animal-loving daughter. So, suffice to say, we remember you Steve and we still think about you, mate.
Ranthambhore is home to many reptilian species, including a healthy population of crocodiles. Needless to say, they're generally hanging around the marshier areas, and they feed on the various smaller mammals, reptiles and birds in the area, along with fish and water-dwelling species. The photo below was taken on the body of water just across from the abandoned temples area that is frequented by the tigers. (see my separate "Temples of the Tiger" tip)
Everyone associates Ranthambhore with the mighty bengal tiger, and with good reason. However, the tiger is not the only big cat in residence. There is also a healthy population of leopards. And, if you have a terrific guide (or perhaps 20/10 vision yourself), you might get lucky and see one.
Tiger sightings can be a bit dicey, but with a trip or two through the park, you have a good chance of seeing one. And, when you see the Tiger, it's not unusual to get an UP CLOSE look. The tiger we saw was only 40 meters or so in front of us. It's a different story with the leopard.
Leopards are quite shy and they tend to be well-hidden during daylight hours. I still am amazed that our guides "spotted" (intended humor) two leopards early into one of our safaris. AFTER the guides had made eye contact, it still took me about ten more minutes to finally find the leopards - and I had the added help of a 300 mm telephoto lens and binoculars. The initial spotting of the leopards by our guide was accomplished with the naked eye. He told us that he "just noticed some movement". THAT's why having a real pro for a guide makes all the difference.
The photo I attach down below is certainly not a great shot of leopards. But given the rarity of seeing them in daylight hours, and the difficulty that we had even seeing them, I am proud to post photographic evidence and pride in the accomplishment here on VT.
I'm aware that it'll seem to be both a superfluous and redundant tip, but Tiger Hunting - at least for a look and a photo - is absolute a must-do in Sawai Madhopur/Ranthambhore. There's a reason that touts are selling t-shirts and hats all over town with tigers emblazoned all over them.
In truth, there isn't much that YOU can do to enhance your chances of finding a tiger, other than to schedule multiple safari rides (3 hours each) through the park. The more chances you take, the better your statistical probability of seeing one of these beauties in the wild. I can't say for certain, but I am told and have read that the guides that work the "gypsies" (the small jeeps) are generally more qualified and experienced, but that's an unfair slam against the canter crews - some of whom may be excellent. But, it makes sense that traveling in a smaller vehicle might increase your chances of finding the elusive tiger.
My advice is to simple be ready to go. Have your camera ready to go and keep your eyes wide open. You never know what you're going to see in Ranthambhore, and wouldn't it be a hoot if YOU saw a tiger before it caught the attention of your naturalist guide? (Unlikely, but possible)
Located just abeam of the town of Sawai Madhopur, and approximately 160 miles south of Jaipur lies one of India and Rajasthan's treasures, the world-renowned Ranthambhore National Park. This stunningly beautiful territory was, as are many present-day preserves in India, once a royal hunting retreat. In fact, what is presently Ranthambhore has been created by the merging of several smaller territories and properties over the last century.
Today's Ranthambhore consists of some 1400 square kilometers, including marshlands, craggy rocks and mountains, grassy plains and semi-tropical abodes. Dotted among the glorious natural beauty are many abandoned (by humans anyway) temples and covered structures, evoking memories and analogies to Kipling's classing JUNGLE BOOK. In addition to the abandoned temples, be sure to enjoy the view of the ruined 9th century fort, which is perched on a rocky precipice, some 150 meters above the Ranthambhore Information Center area. You can actually visit the fort, you'll be taking a moderate little hike up to the summit. Wear sensible shoes and bring your camera.... lots of nice views.
Visiting Ranthambhore is the reason many - and probably most - visitors to Sawai Madhopur are here. The park is managed by the Indian government, and access is somewhat restricted and quite regulated. The only options for "safaris" in Ranthambhore are via jeep (they call them gypsies) and a larger 20-person vehicle they call canters. There are three main sections of the park, and each "safari" is generally limited to one section and lasts for three hours. You have no say in which section of the park you visit, and really cannot plan in advance so that you visit all three. It's totally a luck of the draw thing. For more information on visiting the park/transportation, please see my "GYPSY OR CANTER, WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE?" Sawai Mahopur transportation tip.
Without a doubt, Ranthambhore equals tigers to its visitors. However, tiger sightings are never a guarantee. It is absolutely possible to visit the park numerous times without a tiger sighting. That being said, it's said that you have at least a 30% chance of seeing a big cat on any given safari. And, I was surprised to see how up close these sighting can actually be. OUR tiger sighting gave us a peek at a male Bengal tiger ONLY 40 meters away. Needless to say, staying in the jeep or canter is a MUST. :)
There are other rare and beautiful animals resident at Ranthambhore. For example, we actually had a look at a couple of leopards hiding in the underbrush. They were some 300 meters away, and were quite difficult to initially spot. But, we had terrific and patient guides - they made sure we got a good look. Under my packing tip for Sawai Madhopur, I posted a photo I took of the leopards. Realize that leopards are very very shy, and that we were a good distance away. Sure, we came to Ranthambhore looking to see a tiger, and we'd have been disappointed to not see one. But, for what it's worth, our guides were ten times more excited to have found these leopards than the tigers. Apparently finding them is quite a coup. So, our first safari through Ranthambhore was special.... we saw a tiger AND two leopards.
There are also crocodiles, all sorts of deer, other mammals, birds, reptiles, snakes, etc. It's a very special place to visit if you truly admire the diversity of nature, and love viewing it in the wild.
If you go to India, and you're in this part of the country, add Sawai Madhopur and Ranthambhore to the itinerary. It fits very nicely into almost any "golden triangle" tour plan.
This craft centre was really worth the visit. It has been established to give the lower-caste local women an outlet for the beautiful hand made clothes, bags , bedspreads and other textile crafts that they produce. They get a decent share of the profits, and it provides them with much needed financial assitance. We bought clothing there, (Richard still wears his favourite shirt) and I bought handbags, a wall hanging, and various bits and pieces. The craft centre is situated in a leafy glen, with the women sitting quietly outside, doing the hand sewing. They were colorfully dressed, and shyly covered their smiling faces when I approached, asking if I could photograph them. Needless to say, they obliged.
The pictures show the tiger having a drink in the lake, then rubbing the mud off in the grass (he'd been keeping cool in the mud), before walking past our jeeps. It was amazing - we were so pleased to see this, particularly given we had seen nothing in the morning but evening we see the Tiger.
Until very recently, this was a hunting preserve under the ownership of the Rajput leadership in Jaipur. This was of course long after the fortress became ruins, so the period during the late nineteenth to mid-twenty centuries, provided an opportunity for royalty to get away from the din of the city. Along the jeep trails are various lodges and other buildings from this period.
The park derives it's name from the famous fortress where an entire Radjput army, with women and children, were once besieged and slaughtered by Mogul forces. The fortress has been a place where tigers roam, and may not be open for visitors at the time of arrival. However, the entrance steps to the fortress are right near the ranger station, and the walls can be seen from various places in the park.
Tigers will actually go after whatever opportunity they find for meat, including monkeys, peacocks, peahens, and so on. These animals are not easy prey to catch, but happenstance can provide a quick meal during times of desperation. Kingfisher, monkeys, and wort hogs, were plentiful.
My best still shoots were naturally of the landscape which is surprisingly varied. Early in the morning, a mist from the lake shrouded the trails in beautiful hues, whereas later in the afternoon the almost parched upper trails made me want to reach for the water bottle quite often. It was in a narrow canyon jeep trail where we came across the lone female tigeress.
The lake tends to dry out during part of the year when the monsoons are not watering it. So, the animals wade well into the lake, feeding on the rich supply of floating grasses and other flora. This feeding by cloven animals in particular provides an opportunity for both tigers and crocodiles, who will often contend with each other over a carcass. The lake has many scenic advantages, and there is a Rajput era hunting lodge that has a pleasant view across the lake, can be seen from the jeep trail.
Since tigers need plenty of raw meat, the entire ecosystem needs to be rich in game of all sorts. The lake in the park is home to the tiger's greater competition for meat--freshwater crocodiles. The lake is so rich in hydroponically growing plants that the cloven hoof animals love to wade into the lake to feed. However, both tigers and crocodiles are known to hunt these animals during such feeding. the park is host to spotted deer, the Indian Sambar, and the Bluebull. Sorry for the limited number of stills here. I mostly used the video camera for wildlife image capturing, and I haven't taken time to screen capture any particular images from that tape. But, these few stills will provide a rough idea of what to expect.
Tigers are elusive within the semi-arid backdrop landscape of tall grasses and rocky terrain. Plus, park rules restrict jeeps or buses to designated trails, making it quite possible that during any given jeep run, morning or afternoon, the one-day visitor will not see a tiger. Our agent reserved a jeep, with driver and wildlife guide, three months in advance, noting that booking our own izusu sidekick would be the better bet than the open air bus. To complicate matters, on the morning of our tiger observation, my wife fell ill and decided to have me go alone. I dutifully dragged both video and still cameras, and a pair of binoculars, into the jeep alone, and since the video is generally the better method for recording animal behavior, I have only a few still photos available for VT visitors. Early in the morning, the vehicles meet at a ranger station just inside the park entrance, where trails are divided among the parties. Our morning route was good, and the indispensible wildlife guide immediately pointed out a leopard climbing along a ridge. We rounded the lake, observing peacocks and hens and spotted deer. After three hours, we found a lone female tiger. Playful as a house cat, other jeeps soon joined us, and an aggressive Aussie tourist leaped into my jeep and bumped me as I was filming. After the Aussie was ordered to leave, the jeep driver was a little to jerky in his driving habits as I tried to steady my camera again. After less than fifteen minutes, the tiger retreated into the tall grass and up into some rocks. Despite awkward moments in this obviously crowded ecozone, I celebrated my success back at the hotel. A fellow hotel patron complained that after riding in the bus for a week, he still hadn't spotted one tiger. In the afternoon, I again went alone, and this time we rounded past the lagoon, watching crocodiles, now warming themselves on the beach, and we also spotted plenty of larger Blue Bulls and were amused by wild boar. On the edge of the park, we passed villagers harvesting firewood.