The state of Rajasthan in western India boasts of a colourful heritage and an equally diverse geography. From the rolling Aravalli Hills in the east to the endless dunes of the Thar Desert in the west, Rajasthan is a myriad of colours and sensations. One can creep silently through the thorn forests in the high hills, where the Chambal River reigns supreme, or wade knee deep in soft, golden sand amongst camels and nomadic tribes. And of course, the eastern part of this state is home to Ranthambhore National Park – the land of the tiger.

When I first set foot in Sawai Madhopur, the tourist town out of which the national park operates, I breathed in the sweaty smell of camel hide and gasoline. Cars and camels shared the street with bicycles and motorcycles. Pedestrians haggled for soggy vegetables in the sweltering heat. In other words, my first impression of Rajasthan was that of heat. Heat, and camels. And then, a few days later, I had my first taste of Ranthambhore’s magic.

Ranthambhore’s Tigerlands: A view of the fort and Padam Talav (P.C. P. Ranganathan)

Ranthambhore is characterized by rolling hills and roaring tigers. Approximately 70 tigers roam the dry deciduous forests here, and each is a king or queen in its own right. The world’s oldest tigress, Machli, reigned in this park before her death in 2016. The tigers of Ranthambhore are also genetically unique from other Bengal tigers due to geographic isolation; they are a subspecies classified as the arid-zone Bengal tiger, and are facing dire threats from urban and agricultural expansion in the regions around Ranthambhore and Sariska Tiger Reserves, the two major habitats for tigers west of the Aravallis.

Other than tigers, I have seen leopards, nilgai (blue bulls), sambar deer, chital (spotted deer), langurs, rhesus macaques, wild boar, mugger crocodiles, jackals, and striped hyenas in Ranthambhore. The park also contains sloth bears and caracals. Considering the hostile geography to the west of Ranthambhore, the national park is a haven for wildlife in an otherwise inhospitable region. Tigers, as the only big cat with an affinity for the water, can be seen cooling off in Padam Talav, the largest lake in Ranthambhore’s boundaries, as tourists packed into “Gypsies,” as the dark green safari jeeps are fondly called, frantically click photographs. Tourists can also explore the vast interiors of Ranthambhore Fort, built in the 10th Century, where leopards and tigers prowl in the rooms once occupied by royalty. Indeed, these royal cats have made the fort their home despite the constant influx of human visitors, as have other wildlife…

A langur sits on the edge of my jeep and contemplates life (P.C. P. Ranganathan)

Ranthambhore’s magic cannot be experienced without taking the time to get to know the landscape and its inhabitants – both human and otherwise. I spent two months in 2016 roaming these tiger hills, learning about the lives of the people who interacted on a daily basis with the big cats, and seeing the bond between humans and wildlife first-hand. I came away with a healthy respect for the people of Ranthambhore – for their dedication to the land, and for their ability to empathize with the wildlife that shared it with them. Like the tiger, they are adaptable and tolerant. And – importantly for conservation – they have adapted to being tolerant of the tiger.

A herd of spotted deer are unfazed as we walk by on our daily field visits (P.C. P. Ranganathan)

The best times to visit Ranthambhore are during the autumn months (September through December), when the weather cools post-monsoon and the park reopens. The park is shut during the monsoons to allow the ecosystem to recuperate. Come and experience the magic of Ranthambhore first-hand!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s