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.
Tiger Safari! Ranthambore National Park
By Sunny Branson
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
- Ladies, wear a sports bra. (OK, guys, you can skip this one!) Jeep safaris are bumpy and it’s not comfortable being jostled about.
- 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!)
- 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.
- Don’t wear perfumed products. They will attract bugs. Plus your safari companions would rather smell nature.
- “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.
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.
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.
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!