Date arrived: 29th November 2023

Date Departed: 1st December 2023

Favourite sight: Tigers!

Average Cost: £83 PPPD - Very much a treat!

29th November 2023

Ranthambore is a national park, and is famously the best place to see Bengal Tigers in the wild in India. It was a real aspiration of mine to visit Ranthambore on this trip, and after spending some time exploring the various ways of arranging safari trips and accommodation here, we decided to contact a specialist. We reached out to a couple of organisations, and Cultural Safari Tours, a Ranthambore specialist, got back to us promptly and helpfully with some reasonable suggestions on how best to do this.

So... two weeks later we were met off the train at Sawai Madhopur station by a man with a sign with my name on it. (I don't know about anyone else, but I've only had that twice, and both times found it quite exciting!) The jeeep took us to the very nice Raj Palace hotel about a kilometre away, where the chap from the station saw that we were all checked in, and we were shown to our garden bungalow. 

Just for clarification, whilst this was a treat, it wasn't a bank breaker! Our £172 each package included:

*A Canter safari refers to the 20 seat open topped safari bus that you travel in, as oppose to a Jeep safari, which is in a smaller 6 seat jeep. Canter's are far more affordable - and also not booked up 3 months ahead, like jeeps are!

Our first day in Ranthambore had no safaris planned, so we had a relaxing afternoon, broken up with a short walk into the town centre to pick up a few bits of shopping we needed. As our package included lunch and dinner, we didn't really venture far from the hotel apart from that.

We did get some further contact from Cultural Safaris, making sure that we knew which Canter would be picking us up the next morning, who our guide would be, and what time we needed to be awake. Early!

30th November 2023

We woke up at 5:30 ready for our 6.30 safari pick up. Julie was, unfortunately, absolutely full of a head cold this morning, so had to really work to drag herself out of bed - but she did! Our Canter was waiting for us at the front of the hotel, and this was where we realised the real skill of our tour company. Because of the location of the hotel we were in, quite close to the town centre, we were the first pickup for each of the three safaris we did. This meant that we got our pick of seats on the Canter, which really added to the experience. 

The Canters have quite a few pick ups to do, which is where you lose out a bit over a jeep, as the first hour of the morning is spent driving around hotels picking up passengers, while the guide makes numerous phone calls and seems to swap pieces of paper (safari tickets we later learned) with other men at seemingly random tea shops by the side of the road. It seems like utter chaos, especially when you're half asleep and a bit chilly, riding in an open wagon when it's 12 degrees! It's not however, and eventually everyone seems to make their way to the gates of the park.

Ranthambore allows up to 140 vehicles into the park each day, and they are split across 10 zones, to control the traffic. Generally zones 1-5, accessed from the south of the park, are considered the best for tiger spotting, and our first safari was in Zone 3 - which is thought to be the best of the best. We were very grateful to Sudhir at Cultural Safaris for managing to arrange this!

The park layout and zones

Our first safari in zone 3 came on a crazily foggy and smoggy morning - and I immediately said to Julie "No tigers for us today then!" The guide also laid it on quite thick that they do what they can to find a tiger for us, but there's no guarantee, and the park doesn't radio track their animals, or even use radios for guides to talk to each other. It's down to looking for footprints, and listening for distress calls from other animals!

As well as the animals, zone 3 in particular has incredible scenery, with three lakes that make a great backdrop for the wildlife. It also has the old abandoned Ranthambore Fort on its border. The second largest fort in India (after Chattorgagh - see the Udaipur page), even the ruins on their hill look quite impressive!

Looking back at fellow Canter passengers, you can see how poor visibility was!

A natural gate made from a magnificent Banyan tree. The man-made gate behind echoes its shape

A small island reflects in the still waters of the lake. Here is the same picture a few hours later. Can you spot the croc?

Between the foggy smog, and the warnings of the guides, I was convinced this safari would be tiger-less - and thus was amazed when a sudden rush of movement from both our Canter, and a couple of nearby jeeps, was accompanied with hissed calls of "Tiger! She's coming through the grass!"

The excitment was palpable, as everybody scrabbled for a position in the canter - and our early boarding came in very useful! As we parked and people pointed, we at first saw nothing, untrained eyes looking out over a sea of long grass. Then - movement! A shake in the grass... geting closer... and then a flash of orange!

Before we knew it, the Tigress was emerging from the almost perfect camouflage of the long grass to walk right past us, and sit for a time, skylined on the crest. She then turned and walked straight towards us, before loping down the road, paying no attention to the group of vehichles parked up, and the excited clicking of camera shutters.

All-in we had almost ten minutes to observe this beautiful creature, and the mood in the canter was incrediblee! Jubilant, almost. With the poor light and my poor skill, I didn't get many great pictures, but managed to capture a few which give an idea of the experience. Click on any pic to open up the original file full screen (hopefully).

This all felt pretty amazing! To see a tiger straight away, and on our first safari, and so close up, was incredibly lucky.

As the tigress loped off into zone 2 and out of our reach, we spent another 2 hours exploring the park and saw a number of other deer, birds, and even a couple of crocodiles, but nothing quite matched our tiger! That said, we did spot a magnificent male Sambar Deer sat unconcernedly chewing the cud, which gave a preasonably good piccy.

As we returned to our accommodation, we finally rolled in to breakfast at about quarter to eleven - starving! Fortunately the hotel is used to this, and whilst we had the dregs of the buffet to choose from, we were also served fresh omelettes and toast :-)

Once we'd showered and cleaned up, we only had an hour or so before our afternoon Safari. Unsurprisingly, Julie opted to sit thatout and get some much needed sleep, as her head cold was getting pretty bad. This did mean though, as first man in the Canter, that I managed to bag the front seat right up next to the driver this afternoon, giving me an amazing view. Our driver was quite the character, and I imagine quite experienced.

The driver of our second safari - this time in the afternoon

Front seat view!

Looking back at the guide and canter passengers out in Zone 4

Our second safari was in Zone 4 of the park, which is also well rated for tiger sightings. Zone 4 has a couple of lakes as well, but not quite as many as 3, however it has absolutely loads of Sambar Deer and Spotted Deer. As these are the tigers' chief food source, that does give us a good chance!

We saw plenty of birds and deer on this run, but with no sign of a tiger, we parked up for a time to listen out for animal distress cries. Chatting with some of the other passengers, we were talking about our sighting that morning, and I spent a bit of time sharing some of the photographs I'd been lucky enough to take. I was starting to realise how special our sighting that morning had really been!

It was only as we were driving back towards the park exit that the sudden surge of excitement we'd experienced that morning struck once again! A tiger - in the road ahead! 

Scrabbling for a view of the big cat that was unselfconsiously holding up the traffic, I did manage to get a couple of pics, but really just saking up the excitement was the main buzz. The tiger was strolling down the forest track, followed by a jeep, and two canters by the time we arrived. That number soon increased until the queue was 6 or 7 vehicles long, and some of the smaller, more maneuverable jeeps went racing off through the trees to try and get a better view.

After a few minutes he peeled off the road, giving some of the other vehicles a better view, before heading off into Zone 5 - and again out of our view.

The big male is unconcernedly holding up traffic as safari-goers scrabble desperately for a view or a picture!

After all this last-minute excitement we were quite late back to the hotel! It just remained to enjoy the buffet dinner, and try to get an early night ahead of our second 5.30AM alarm tomorrow. Yuck!

1st December 2023

Times like 5.30AM shouldn't be seen - unless you're catching a plane. Or, as it happens, going on a tiger-sarafi in Ranthambore National Park!

This morning's safari was in Zone 2, and once again we managed to get the front seats in the Canter, putting us in prime position for... well, not that much today, to be honest. After the ususal organised chaos of ticket collection and making our way through to the actual park, we pushed through into Zone 2, which is a little bit further in and behind the fort. Zone 2 has a lot of forest and not a much water, and while we did manage to see a few deer and even a couple of wild boar, it was relatively slim picckings on this one. 

Still - no complaints from us - two tiger sightings from three safaris is well ahead of average!

We returneed to the hotel for breakfast, and then we were lucky enough to be able to keep our room beyond the ususal 12 o'clock check out - thanks once again to a helpful safari company. This was handy as our train wasn't until 4, and also made it a bit easier to grab a bite of lunch in the hotel as well.

The jeep for the staton picked us up at 3.15, and we enjoyed our last ride through Sawai Madhopur, where the representative from Cultural Safaris walked s through the station, and even made sure we were sat at the right spot on the platform for our train carriage! 10/10 for service from those guys.

The train arrived on time - and we left Ranthambore behind, heading t oour next destination - Bundi!