13 Things I Learned From My Tiger Safari In Ranthambore
13 Things I Learned From My Tiger Safari In Ranthambore
Ever wanted to see a tiger in the wild? They’re elusive creatures, and prefer to stay away from humans. But it’s possible to see them on a tiger safari, as long as you choose four things carefully—when you go, where you go, who you go with and what you do when you’re there. By Rashmi Deshpande
I admit it. Before I visited Ranthambore, I was a safari virgin. I had serendipitously come across wild animals on drives through jungles and seen them at nature parks, but I had never been on a tiger safari or seen one in the wild. Yes, shameful for a travel writer who’s been halfway around the world. But I finally went in May 2013. And I saw not one, but two tigers in Ranthambore. AND, a leopard! And no, it wasn’t “luck”. It was a combination of the weather, the place and our guide. Read on for tips on how to maximise your chances of spotting a tiger on a safari in India.
1. Go during the hottest/driest time of the year
The time when it’s most inconvenient for you, is the best time to spot tigers. Late April, all of May and early June, before the rains start, is when summer’s crackling heat draws out the tigers. Everything is dry and sparse, making them easier to spot. There are fewer waterholes and all the animals come there to get their fill. So do the tigers.
I went to Ranthambore at the height of summer, when temperatures soared upwards of 43 degrees. But I saw a tiger each time I went on a safari, which was thrice. And we even saw a leopard. Blame it on the weather, but if I hadn’t gone in May, I may have missed the chance to catch these gorgeous creatures.
2. Choose your safari company carefully
It’s very important to choose who you travel with. Base your choice on personal recommendations, not just on online reviews. Go with someone who is established enough to know what they’re doing, and doesn’t treat a safari as just another commercial venture.
Once you decide on a group tour or a private safari, ask the relevant questions—how big is the group you will travel with? What kind of vehicle will you be in? What zones will you visit? Tiger reserves are divided into administrative zones, which do not necessarily correspond to a tiger’s territory. Some zones see rare tiger activity, while others are known hangouts. Read up, or ask someone who’s been there, but if your guide is good, and well-connected, more than half your job is done. I’ve known some wildlife enthusiasts who’ve been on several safaris and never, ever seen a big cat. But all said and done, they did enjoy the safari.
3. Wear forest colours
Carry all the jungle coloured clothes you have—beiges, dark greens, tans, browns, so you don’t draw undue attention to yourself or put off the wild life. Make sure your accessories match your clothes—there’s no point in wearing forest-coloured clothes if your scarf is bright red!
4. Wear sunscreen (and a hat, and a scarf!)
The scorching Rajasthan heat WILL burn you if you leave any part of your skin exposed. So do what the desert people do—cover up from head to toe with light, loose, cotton, linen or khadi clothes. Keep your head covered and the back of your neck safe, in a scarf.
Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat and good, polarised sunglasses to cut the glare.
5. Straps on everything, including your glasses
The mud roads inside Ranthambore are quite bumpy and will jerk you around. It got so bad in one of our canters in Zone 2 that my co-passenger was thrown off his seat and landed in the one across the aisle! He injured his knee, but was happy his camera was safe.
So before you go, ensure that everything you plan to carry on the safari, has straps—your camera, your hat and even your sunglasses. You don’t want to break, lose or leave anything behind if it is jerked out of your hand on a bumpy ride or torn off by the wind.
6. Respect the wild and your fellow travellers
Any good guide will give you a list of instructions before you start your safari. The list should read something like…
Don’t talk loudly
Don’t stand up when the vehicle is moving
Never get out of the vehicle inside the forest
Do not mock the animals
Don’t feed the animals or birds
And so on…
Respect what your guide tells you to do and if you have the vantage point when you do spot wildlife, move over after a bit, so that other travellers get a chance to see them too.
7. Don’t buy water. Carry and refill your own bottle
Carry your own bottles when you are on a safari. Fill them up with water from your hotel so that you reduce the use of plastic. If you do not like the taste of the local water, contribute and buy a 20 litre can of mineral water that you can refill your bottles from. In the dry heat of Rajasthan, you’re going to need plenty of it!
8. Wear comfortable floaters / walking shoes
If you’re in a vehicle, you don’t really need shoes. A good pair of floaters should suffice. But if you’re out exploring Ranthambore fort, you’ll need something you are comfortable walking in. But remember that sandals or floaters leave your feet exposed to the sun, and to blood-thirsty insects!
9. Carry extra camera batteries and a memory card
The first day on the safari, one of my friends forgot to take hi camera battery. The second day, someone else left their memory card behind. Always carry a backup!
10. Don’t underestimate your camera phone
Talking about backups, your phone camera can be pretty handy. Camera pictures are better than no pictures at all! My Nokia Lumia 920 has one of the best phone cameras in the market (back in May 2013, anyway). I took several videos of Ranthambore’s landscape and of our tiger hunt. And whatever you do, back up your images every night!
11. Buy / beg / borrow a pair of binoculars
Cameras are all well and fine, but the joy of a safari is in everything the jungle has to offer. Buy or borrow a pair of good binoculars for your trip. They’re wonderful for bird watching and will come in handy when your guide points out to the almost impossible-to-spot birds and animals.
12. Carry medicines
Do you get sick on bumpy rides? Carry your meds! Are you sensitive to water? Carry your meds! Do you get affected by heat? Carry your meds! Are you hale and hearty and never fall ill? Carry your meds nevertheless! You never know when the water turns your tummy, or the sun gets too much for you. Carry a Paracetamol, oral rehydration salts and something to calm an upset tummy.
13. A tiger safari isn’t only about the tiger
A tiger safari is more than just about the tiger. It’s about the excitement of being out in the wild, seeing animals and birds in their natural habitat. Spotting a log of wood and realising that it’s a crocodile; seeing a pack of hyenas or wild dogs; catching a glimpse of the nocturnal leopard; spotting a rare eagle; watching a peacock do his thing to impress his mate; experiencing that “awww” moment when a chital nuzzles her calf, or realising that the neelgai is far larger and taller than you ever imagined!
And it’s more than the animals too. Ranthambore’s landscape is majestic and differs from zone to zone. The once mighty fort, the legends and stories behind it, the temples, the people…all of this adds up to the experience of a wonderful safari in Ranthambore.
The tiger, at the top of this apex, the most majestic beast in India, serves as a reminder of what could be lost if we don’t do our best to protect our natural heritage. Enjoy everything about Ranthambore, and most of all, enjoy the feeling of being out in the wild!