This was a short trip planned with a group of friends to visit the Ranthambore National Park. The park is a tiger reserve and we had great hopes of seeing a tiger in the wild (Spoiler: we did). We visited in February when the weather was relatively cool.
A little bit about how to book a safari at Ranthambore:
The whole national park is divided into several zones (1 to 10). Some zones are better than others for spotting tigers, the guides informed as that zones 1-4 are the best for this. You are only allowed to enter the national part in official jeeps or larger shared vehicles called canters. We were a group of 10 people and we booked jeeps.
The easiest way to book a safari here is through any of the various agents and travel websites online. There are a number of websites that pop up on google that seem like an official national park website, but they are actually just agents.
It is also possible to book the safari directly through the government website. The link to the government website is https://fmdss.forest.rajasthan.gov.in/ . The government website, however, is incredibly difficult to navigate. They have helpfully (?) provided a 16 page user manual on how to book a safari using their website. Booking with this route turns out to be a little cheaper but is possibly not worth the trouble.
One point to note is that in the cooler months (Nov- Mar), the safari slot for zones 1-4 get sold out months in advance, so it is best to make a booking early, even if going through a tour operator or agent. We booked our trip a month early through an agent and zones 1-5 were all sold out, so we ended up doing our safaris in zones 6 and 7. Although we did get a glimpse of a tiger, it was kind of disheartening to hear the forest guides telling us at the end of the day about all the tiger sightings people had in the first 4 zones!
So book your trip well in advance!
We had booked a 2 day trip that included 2 evening safaris and 1 day safari. I wish we had planned to stay longer because our chances of seeing a tiger would definitely have improved. I would definitely not recommend to just make a single day visit here- at least 3 days.
We stayed at Aranya Nature resort which basically had glamping style tents. They had a shared dining hall and the staff would light a bonfire at night.
We arrived via train from New Delhi to Sawai Madhopur. From the Sawai Madhopur station, we took auto-rickshaw's to our hotel and checked in. Lunch was served at the dining hall. Post lunch, the jeeps from the national park came to pick us up. Our group had booked 2 jeeps. We had a short stop at the national park gate to clear up some paperwork (all handled by the tour operator), and then we headed off into the forest.
The park was dry and extremely dusty, with little shrubs and grassy plains. I would recommend carrying some kind of face covering for all the dust, because most of us had sore throats the next day.
As we drove around the dusty road, our driver/forest guide got a call on his walkie talkie saying a tiger had been spotted in our zone! The cars rushed off to the place where it was seen and the poor tiger was basically surrounded by jeeps that had all lined up hoping to catch a glimpse of it. Despite the tiny area in which our guides were certain the tiger was in, the bush was so thick that we had to wait a good half hour (very silently!) until we finally managed to catch just a glimpse of the tiger as it was leaving.
This was the only time we got to see a tiger and we have only a single photo (of a tiger's behind) to prove we even saw it!
Once the tiger was gone for sure, the jeeps move on in an attempt to see more tigers and whatever other wildlife there was.
We had all come to see tigers, but I was surprised and quite happy with all the other animals I got to see!
The same evening, we actually spotted a leopard sitting at the top of a far off hill. We could barely make it out with naked eyes, but with binoculars or a good optical zoom camera it was unmistakeable. I would definitely recommend carrying both.
We also saw deer of different kind- Sambar, Chital and chinkara. These were fairly easy to spot and large in number.
The second day after breakfast we headed out again in hopes of seeing a tiger, but we unfortunately had no sightings. We had two trips into the park, one in the morning and one in the evening. We did see some tiger pug marks, but no tigers.
We did, however, see a sloth bear! And more deer mucking about in the pools, some peacocks and a lot of other birds.
We spend one more night at the resort and left the next morning by train.