“You will find something far greater in the woods than you will find in books. Stones and trees will teach you that which you will never learn from masters…”
My trip to Ranthambore national park in Rajasthan, India (IUCN Category ll) was an experience which confirmed the above. Ranthambore National Park is one of the oldest and most renowned national parks in Northern India. The park is located in the Sawai Madhopur district of the state of Rajasthan. Being considered as a former hunting ground of the Kings of Jaipur, today the Park is a major wildlife tourist attraction spot, though plagued by ailments like poaching and habitat destruction.
Ranthambore National park is spread over an area of 1,334 sq km, along with its nearby sanctuaries – the Mansingh Sanctuary and the Kaila Devi Sanctuary which serve as vital buffer areas and provide corridors for animal movement. The park lies at the edge of a plateau, and is bound by the Banas and the Chambal Rivers. It is named after the historic Ranthambore fortress, which lies within the park. The core park covers an area of about 400 km². The park is famous for its tigers and is one of the best locations in India to see the majestic cat in its natural open habitat. Other wild animals include the leopard, blue bull, Indian wild dog, wild boar, sambar deer, hyena, sloth bear and spotted deer. It is also home to a wide variety of flora, birds and reptilian species. A good time to visit Ranthambore National park is in November and May. The nature of the dry deciduous forests makes sightings more common during this period.
A major attraction in the park is tracking the tiger on safari rides. Rides are carried out at two different times of the day. Each ride lasts about three hours. The core park area has been divided into several zones and the safari vehicles go on one of these zones. Other sites of interest include the majestic fort, built in the 10th-century, towering the park area. It stands at a height of 700 feet above the surrounding plain. Inside the fort, there are three red Karauli stone temples devoted to Hindu Gods – Ganesh, Shiva and Ramlalaji. Padam Talao is the largest of the all the lakes located inside the park, and the beautiful red sandstone Jogi Mahal is located at the very edge of this lake. A gigantic banyan tree, considered to be India’s second largest, is in the garden of the Jogi Mahal.
A visit to Ranthambore National Park is a delight for every wildlife and nature enthusiast. The time spent watching tigers walk around in utter fearlessness, down the golden meadows and thick bushes is priceless, and worthy of being explored at least once in a life. You can spend as many days tracking and feasting your eyes on the beautiful tigers and become completely absorbed in the tiger’s habitat, but time constraints enabled us to take only four game drives over three days. Each game drive to the park began with high expectations and ended, almost always, in unexpected encounters and stories for the travel diary. In the forest, as in life, when you want it most nothing shows up and when you least expect it, a surprise awaits you at the next turn…
The tranquil peace which encompasses you as soon as you enter the Park is enough reason for any wildlife adventure lover to keep coming back. And then when you hear stories of poaching, habitat destruction of cattle grazing and human-animal conflict it leaves you disturbed.
It disturbed me enough to visit Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore, former Field Director of the Park, a famous Tiger Conservationist, but foremost a wildlife lover. He runs an NGO- Tiger Watch in Sawai Madhopur located just five miles away from the Park entrance. He works with the government and local community to preserve the tiger habitat and save the cat from being poached. He explained that “Saving the tiger is of utmost importance as the tiger is an apex species. This means that if you save a predator species like the tiger who is on the top of a very large ecosystem you automatically save the entire eco system which supports the tiger. You are saving the land, water, flora, fauna and the delicate balance which naturally exists in nature.” Tiger Watch has played a key role in providing alternative means of livelihood to local hunting tribes. The organization takes responsibility for educating children by setting up free schools and medical care for them so that they are dissuaded from hunting for easy money. Some are being trained as tour guides in the park and others support and participate in the growing tourist industry of the region. They are made aware that the tiger, due to its innate charisma, draws people from all over the world to their region and the protection of the forest is only going to enhance their own quality of life and that of their future generations. As Mr. Rathore puts it, “In wilderness lies preservation of the world…”
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