Latitude Adjustment note: Here’s the third and final post from our friends Sunny and Kevin Branson, who visited the headquarters of Wildlife SOS  on a Founders’ Trip to India earlier this year. (Don’t miss Part 1: The Elephants of India’s Wildlife SOS and Part 2: The Sloth Bears Of India’s Wildlife SOS.) Here, Sunny wraps up their visit to India with an unforgettable tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, complete with tips for visitors. 

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Tiger Safari! Ranthambore National Park

By Sunny BransonBlog-Monkey2-copy-1024x768 Guest Post: Tiger Safari in Ranthambore National Park India

While touring the Wildlife SOS elephant facilities and bear sanctuary, we had spent two nights in Delhi at the Claridges hotel and four nights in Agra at the Courtyard by Marriott. It was time to head to Ranthambore for the final stage in our trip.

One of the remarkable things about India is seeing places where wildlife and humans co-exist with relative acceptance of each other. There are gray langurs and rhesus macaques everywhere, and while there are definitely human-wildlife conflicts, people seem to tolerate a high level of wildlife interaction in their daily lives.

We saw a shop owner in Agra hand a banana to a macaque sitting on his windowsill as if it were the most natural part of his day. As much as I wish all wildlife had safe, wild, natural habitat, it’s really inspiring to see places where there’s at least respect given to wild animals that have been forced to share space with humans.

Next Stop: Ranthambore

From Agra, we were heading into wild India. We had an hour-and-a-half drive to Bharatpur, where we enjoyed a pedal rickshaw ride through Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary.

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A majestic hawk at the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
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. . . and a kingfisher

Then we were off to the Bharatpur Railway Station to take the three-hour train ride to Sawai Madhopur, the railhead for Ranthambore. In Ranthambore, we checked into Fort Nahargarh. Nestled at the foothills of the Aravalli ranges, Nahargarh is built like a traditional Hindu palace complete with a formal Mughal garden. It was a perfect (and luxurious) base for exploring Ranthambore. 

Our tiger safari in Ranthambore was conducted in an open air jeep, which was great for enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. In February it’s cold in the mornings, so we donned jackets, hats, and gloves.

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All bundled up and ready for the safari

 

Ranthambore National Park was declared a protected forest in 1972 and is one of India’s first wildlife sanctuaries to have come under Project Tiger. The dedicated efforts to conserving the forests and protecting the tigers has been a wonderful conservation success story as tiger populations are slowly growing.

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The entrances of the park swarm with black-faced langurs. They are everywhere! It’s a little bit frightening because they are quick and aggressive. (Wes Larson photo)
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“Whatever you do, don’t look a black-faced langur in the eye.” My husband 🙂

The Quest to See Tigers

The goal of our safari was to catch a glimpse of a tiger, India’s national animal. We had four opportunities to do so: four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon over two days. The tigers are elusive, but most everyone in our group saw one over the two days. I wasn’t one of them. I was actually okay with that because it meant the tigers had plenty of space to avoid the safari jeeps.

While sighting a tiger might be the ultimate thrill, the overall safari experience is something to be treasured. We saw an amazing variety of wildlife: a  family of mongoose, a couple of spotted owls, loads of spotted deer, peacocks and hens, turtles, a crocodile, many antelope and an amazing variety of birds. And look at that sky!

 

Wes Larson, a wildlife biologist who was on our trip, took the pictures below.
He said, “Seeing a tiger in the wild was transformative for me. They’ve always occupied an almost mythological place in my heart and there was a good chunk of my life where seeing a wild one felt like an impossibility. But I managed to see two tigers in one morning in Ranthambore National Park after days of searching. I’m so grateful that opportunities like this still exist. It’s made my life infinitely more full. Anyone that could exploit or abuse an animal like this has a deeply fundamental flaw.”

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Part of our group saw this tiger, a three year old male.
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Tigers are the ultimate predators, and seeing a wild one in person was a dream come true for so many.
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Wes told this tiger a funny joke.

My Top 5 Tips

As promised, here are my Top 5 Tips for a Tiger Safari in Ranthambore that you won’t find in the guide books!

  1. Ladies, wear a sports bra. (OK, guys, you can skip this one!) Jeep safaris are bumpy and it’s not comfortable being jostled about.
  2. Don’t wear makeup. I wouldn’t normally wear makeup for a nature outing, but I woke looking extra tired, so thought a little mascara might help. Three words: Open. Air. Jeep. My eyes were watering and smeared within minutes. (I know … rookie move!)
  3. Hide your food. For a multi-hour tour, you might need snacks, but the langurs, macaques, and even some of the birds will go after your food aggressively. Wait until your guide tells you it’s safe before taking food out of your bag.
  4. Don’t wear perfumed products. They will attract bugs. Plus your safari companions would rather smell nature.
  5. “Go” before the safari. Many toilets in the park are simple holes in the ground. On one tour, we were in a zone where there wasn’t a bathroom available at all. And there’s no privacy for squatting.

Summary

Ranthambore National Park is a really extraordinary place. I would definitely go back. If you have your heart set on seeing a wild tiger, it may be worthwhile to stay longer than two days – the more safaris you go on, the higher the chance of spotting a tiger. For me, the experience was complete without a tiger sighting.

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Kartick and Geeta, Wildlife SOS Founders

As a whole, the Wildlife SOS Founders’ Trip was the experience of a lifetime. You could tell extensive planning and organization went into it. The founders, Kartick and Geeta, were active participants, which was really special and appreciated by the group. We enjoyed Kartick’s childlike wonder, and he clearly enjoyed the social aspect of the guests. And Geeta is a lovely presence. She has a calm, Zen-like manner – that is, until you ride with her on a jeep safari, where she can be quite intense. They were so much fun!  

These two are so grateful for everyone who supports Wildlife SOS, whether it’s an artist donating to a fundraiser, a monthly supporter, or the guests paying for this trip. They make it clear that you are helping them realize their dream of protecting and conserving India’s natural heritage, forests, and biodiversity.

 

The other WSOS team members were also incredibly valuable. Not only were they great travel companions, but super helpful – they arranged doctors for some, special meals, shop stops, and special souvenir requests.

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Shout-out to Shirina Sawhney, Kip Peterson, and Mahima Sharma of Wildlife SOS, who made sure we wanted for nothing!

Bottom line: I don’t know when Wildlife SOS will be able to stage the next Founders’ Trip, but when they do, I’d highly recommend this trip. Even for those not necessarily passionate about animal welfare, it’s a great adventure. I focused on the animal sanctuaries in these three blogs, but there was so much more! We had a rickshaw drive through old Delhi, a visit to the Taj Mahal, and visits to other palaces, monuments, and temples. Also, I didn’t go much into the different hotels and restaurants, but it’s worth noting that the hotels were first class as were the meals provided.

If you want to stay abreast of what Wildlife SOS is doing and when the next Founders’ Trip is scheduled, you can sign up for their newsletter at www.wildlifesos.org (hit the “subscribe” button on the right). Or, follow them on Facebook @wildlifesosindia. 

Thanks again to Susan and John for letting me share this experience on their blog!

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28 Comments

  1. Wonderful post and exactly the armchair trek I needed during this week of sorrow and outrage in the United States. If your an American and you’re reading this–DO SOMETHING, even if its only voting on November 3, 2020.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hear, hear. Let’s make Nov. 3 a day of reckoning.

    • Sunny Branson Reply

      Thank you for reading! It was my pleasure to share this experience and I hope others will sign up for the next Wildlife SOS Founders’ Trip (whenever that ends up taking place).

  2. What magnificent creatures and great to read how their numbers are increasing…a wonderful experience and one I would love to experience…Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome. We’re grateful to Sunny and Kevin for giving us a bit of escape in these troubling days. Stay well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Our pleasure, Kelly! Thanks for reading.

  3. Fabulous post and incredible photos. Tigers really are the most amazing animals aren’t they? Stunningly impressive.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      They are, Jonno! We hope we get to see one in the wild someday. Hope you and yours are well!

  4. I love hearing about others’ experiences at Ranthambore…it was one of the highlights of my north India travels…I still vividly remember staring into the eyes of one of those tigers.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Wow – what a fantastic experience, one I’m sure you’ll never forget. We hope we get to visit Ranthambore someday. Sunny and Kevin are huge inspiration!

    • Sunny Branson Reply

      You were one of the lucky ones! I expected their colors to be more subdued in the wild (silly me). I was surprised that they are as vibrantly colored as in the movies.

      • I’m so grateful I was able to see one of the tigers. And I agree with you about their vibrant colors! I was also mesmerized by how well they camouflaged.

  5. It’s great to see the other side of India. Thank you for sharing John and Susan! It’s great to know that this organization is taking care of the wildlife sanctuary. What beautiful creatures! One can only hope to visit one day.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much for visiting, and for your comment! We also hope to see these Wildlife SOS sites for ourselves someday 🙂

  6. Ranthambore looks amazing! I do wish to go there some day. The safaris are incredible with ample wildlife viewing opportunities. Thanks for tips! They’re so practice.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you for visiting – glad you enjoyed the post! We hope to get there someday as well. Cheers!

  7. Nice reading about this park as it will be part of our itinerary when we eventually make it to India. I’ve read good comments about the bird sanctuary too.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Can’t wait to read your blog posts from your India visit! Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Sunny Branson Reply

      Hey Caroline, I didn’t write much about the bird sanctuary, but we really loved it. We took pedal rickshaws for a ride through the mostly shady sanctuary roads. The rickshaw pullers at Bharatpur are skilled spotters and were able to identify myriad species of birds for us. It was really remarkable. My husband and I are not small people. I told our drive, “You are very strong.” He just smiled and said, “I know.” 🙂

  8. It’s fantastic to see other parts of India that you don’t really hear about. We want to make this part of our travel plans when we visit. Great post.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks for visiting! We also hope to see these sites in India someday. So grateful to Sunny and Kevin for making them come alive for us!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Yes, so much color and wonder in the Indian national parks! Thanks for reading.

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