Magical Moments in India: Finding Tigers in Ranthambore

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Getting from Chennai, where the Semester at Sea ship was docked, all the way up north to Ranthambore was not the easiest of trips. But if you have the opportunity—and more so, the time—it’s worth every plane, train and bus ride.

We rose at approximately stupid o’clock—that’s 3am (or 0300 if we’re following the ship’s insistence on military time) for those of you not in the know—then took a two-and-a-half-hour plane ride on Spicejet (I’m not even kidding; that’s the airline’s name) up to Delhi. After a city tour followed by a feast of curries, we drove another hour and change to the train station to board our six-hour train to Sawai Madhopur. (India tip: Like in Morocco, always book a first-class ticket if you want to be guaranteed a seat. The second and third-class train cars had people spilling out the windows, with approximately three people to every one seat sold.)

Once there, the station was alive with activity. I immediately spotted what I thought to be a cat scamper across the roof of the station—only it was hardly a feline, but rather a band of monkeys and baboons! And if I’ve learned anything in my travels it’s that baboons are not, in fact, nice guys. Give them a wide berth and steer clear.

Our hotel sent two safari vehicles to pick up the group at the station and transport us the last 20 minutes of our arduous journey, and we arrived just in time for dinner—which we greedily consumed after the traditional welcome of leis and smudges, of course.

After dinner, all the students hung out in the downstairs lounge for a long while, but this grandma was having none of it. I couldn’t wait to go to bed after a 16-hour travel day!

The next morning we got to “sleep in” until the golden hour of 5am, at which point we met for our first drive through Ranthambore National Park. Ranthambore was once the hunting grounds for the Maharajas of Jaipur and has that sort of regal feel to it with its towering fort and old colonial structures that blend in seamlessly with the park. While it’s rich with other wildlife, the majority of visitors come from every corner of the globe for one reason alone: to see a tiger in its natural habitat.

But many friends had gone before me and not had such luck—several drives over four days, or even a week, and not as much as a lone tiger in the distance—so I went in with low expectations, especially since just a few years back, the number of tigers in the park had dipped to as low as 20. Though it’s since nearly doubled again thanks to increased awareness and conservation efforts, seeing one of 36 tigers in a 392-square-kilometer span still is a shot in the dark.

I also didn’t know how unlike my previous safari experiences our game drives through Ranthambore would be. While on safari in South Africa last year, we drove through low brush and wide open spaces, Ranthambore was the polar opposite: We hardly ever were out under the beating sun, which was a blessing as it is hot in India in October. The foliage was thick and flourishing, offering ample cover, which also meant even without tigers we saw a bevy of other wildlife. As cliche as it sounds, many times I felt a bit like we were starring in a live version of The Jungle Book.


SVV and I had stayed behind that morning to wait on two of the students who hadn’t received the wake-up call, so our four-hour morning drive wound up being in the smaller vehicle of six, instead of with the rest of our group of 18. This meant we sped along a lot quicker, but wouldn’t you know our other group of 18 just happened to be the only vehicle in days to spot an actual tiger? In the final minutes of the drive, too, right before they headed back to the hotel for breakfast. Lucky dogs! I’m just a wee bit envious.

(tiger photos by SAS student Montana Wilson)

At least they all took some great photos, so the other six of us could pretend to our friends and family back home that we’d actually seen the splendid creature in the flesh.

Was I slightly bummed I didn’t see a tiger myself? Sure. But I’ve had plenty of cool travel experiences in my relatively young life, and I’m really happy the students were able to witness such a novelty. (Besides, all the more reason to come back in the future.) And tiger or not, I think Ranthambore is still a magnificent place and definitely a spot worth seeing. I mean, if it’s good enough for Katy Perry and my pal Russell Brand, it’s good enough for me.

COMMENTS
  • October 31, 2011

    Eeep! That’s a tiger! Yikes! (And also? Awesome.)

    xox

  • October 31, 2011

    The stretch on the bed looks needed, are the bottom of your feet as black as they appear to be? As a lover of flip-flops, I “get it”. 😉

    I’ve often thought I should have been a world traveler and photographer. But I don’t think I’d want to be smudged. Ew. I also have issues with strange foods. Hmmm…

    Happy travels to you.

    • October 31, 2011
      Kristin

      Ha, I hadn’t even noticed that but YES! Everything on–and in–me was black in India (especially when blowing my nose–ew!). But you’ve just got to roll with it =)

      The food there (and everywhere we’ve been) has been amazing–surprisingly I’ve yet to get sick while traveling in any of the countries (knock on wood…).

  • October 31, 2011

    Wow, this park is lush and so different than safari in SA. Where, yes you also want to watch out for those pesky baboons. A Tiger! I am impressed that you saw it through anyone’s eyes. India is on my list and working its way closer to the top all the time.
    But to have to get up So early. Really, can’t the wildlife sleep in a bit. 😉

    • October 31, 2011
      Kristin

      Seriously! I am so NOT a morning person, particularly when the “morning” starts at 4am.

  • October 31, 2011

    Incredible to witness this through your experience. Two things:

    1) Those wake up times are nutso.

    2) Baboons are scary. A bunch tried to break into our rental car in South Africa (with us in it!). Major therapy needed for that.

    • October 31, 2011
      Kristin

      I am so NOT a morning person. I think that automatically rules out safari guide or tracker as a possible career path.

      Also, one of my fellow staffers had baboons jump on her rental car at Cape Point and start trying to pull off the windshield wipers! Insane.

  • October 31, 2011

    I’m sorry, I’m still stuck on your feast of curry. That sounds…just delightful.

    Oh, and the tigers are cool, too.

    • October 31, 2011
      Kristin

      I seriously could have eaten all of India while there. I was afraid it would be a case of how the [insert random ethnic food here] was far better in America than in the actual country, but NOPE. It was even more delicious.

  • October 31, 2011

    Sounds like an awesome life experience, even if you had to rise at stupid o’clock 🙂 I’ve had my fair share of wildlife misses too. It makes the successes feel that much greater!

    • October 31, 2011
      Kristin

      That’s true–I like that glass-is-half-full mentality!

  • November 1, 2011

    I am guessing you are surviving on Red Bull (or whatever equivalent they have on the ship).

    • November 4, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s more like pure adrenaline! Come Dec. 13, I’m going to require a month-long nap =)

  • November 1, 2011

    Love the photo on the bed- hysterical.

    How’s Ella doing?

    • November 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Awww, Ella. She’s doing great–my mom sends us photos a few times a week, and she’s loving living with her (birth) mom and her (human) grandmother! Thanks for checking in on her–we miss her SO MUCH. =)

  • November 1, 2011

    Wow. To see a tiger that close would be amazing, but just to be there sounds amazing enough. I wonder if the tigers you didn’t see where quietly watching you…

    • November 4, 2011
      Kristin

      Oh, I’m sure they were! I got this eerie feeling that we were being watched the whole drive.

  • November 2, 2011

    That sounds like a crazy long day, but seeing a tiger would make it well worth it. Hope you can get back there and see one of your own in the not-too-distant future.

  • November 3, 2011
    Anu

    My parents took a 2 week tour through Rajasthan less than a year ago and absolutely loved it. There are so many beautiful places to visit in India but I think Rajasthan is one of the must-dos for a first-timer. If you ever decide to go back, let me know and I’d be more than happy to offer up some tips.

    Love, love, love the photos. They are such magnificent animals.

    • November 4, 2011
      Kristin

      I sort of wish we had skipped the Taj altogether–I was a bit underwhelmed by that experience–and spent the entire trip in Rajasthan. It’s exactly what you picture from India during the days of British colonialism!

  • November 3, 2011

    I was browsing around the Internet, searching for internship opportunities with travel-related companies today. I was on the Travel Channel’s website and accidentally clicked on a link that led me to an article you wrote called, “Spring Break: Last Minute”
    I was so excited to find one of your articles by complete chance! I even shouted, “Oh my gosh, I know her!” (Or, I feel like I do at least, haha)

    Sounds like you are having a blast on your adventure with SAS. I would LOVE to do that one day!!

    • November 4, 2011
      Kristin

      That’s so funny! I wrote that story AGES ago, too–back in early 2008, I think?

      Find any internships worth pursuing? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure most travel companies hire interns at least during the summertime!

  • November 4, 2011

    You got to sleep in until 5am, wow.

  • November 4, 2011

    What a surreal sounding experience! I am exhausted just reading about it, which I’m sure says much more about me than you. I’ve never heard about this area, and am glad to learn a bit about it! Please note that this is the first time I’ve just HAD to click on a Katy Perry and Russel Brand link! 🙂

  • November 4, 2011

    Wow!! Sooooo cool!!! I’m sorry you didn’t get to see a tiger, but what a neat experience anyway!!

  • November 4, 2011

    Wow, what gorgeous photos! I would die to see tigers in India. How funny about the baboons–I didn’t know they were so aggressive. Too bad they’re cute!

  • November 5, 2011
    Abi

    Seeing a tiger in Ranthambore was one of the most amazing moments I can remember…

  • November 7, 2011

    What an amazing adventure!! It looks like you were so close to the tiger!

  • November 13, 2011

    I had no clue they had things like this in India. I would kill to go on something like this. Travel has definitely made me a more patient person and dare I say it – I’m turning into a nature freak.

  • November 30, 2011

    Great post! I went to Ranthambore a couple of years ago and loved it. I didn’t see any tigers, but I saw a leopard, which is rare. I will have to go back to spot some tigers, though!

    • November 30, 2011
      Kristin

      That blows my mind that there are leopards there–I had no idea! I saw leopards in South Africa last year, and it was a big feat as they’re typically so shy.

  • May 23, 2018

    Aw!!!.. I think i was lucky enough to see the tigers in Ranthambore. It was not a wildlife but yes an adventurous tour for me. I was little bit scared but somehow i managed.

  • July 28, 2018

    Seeing a tiger safari in Ranthambore was one of the most amazing moments I can remember…

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