All photos are copyright of Bradley Hamer. To enquire about purchasing any prints please contact [email protected]
Ranthambore National Park is one of the tiger reserves found within India. There are a handful within India with Jim Corbett National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park proving the most popular among locals (from our discussions at least). We had heard the north of the country statistically has better sighting:non sighting ratios, despite the south having a larger tiger population. But we decided on Ranthambore due to it having a pretty good reputation for tiger sightings, it’s close proximity to Jaipur and ease to get too. Plus the fact we followed a few Instagram photographers who painted personalities of the tigers there.
Ranthambore, as with all tiger reserves, is very popular and getting tickets is highly competitive. It’s advised to book 3 months in advance which we intended to do (they have newly allowed bookings up to 1 year in advance). Thinking back now I don’t know why less than a month before our arrival we still hadn’t booked tickets… This left us with the issue of the core zones being fully booked up for both gypsy (jeep) or canter (big unsightly bus). In the end we did the best with what was available and chose an evening Safari for zone 6 and a morning safari for zone 7. Both of these are in the ‘buffer zone’. All zones have tigers that have territories within them but the core zones have generally more sightings. There are 10 zones in ranthambore with 2-5 being the core zones and 1 and 6 being second best!
To see what tigers are found in which zone click here.
How to book tickets
We decided to book the tickets ourself rather than via a hotel as it is much cheaper. If you want the easy way simply book through your hotel and they will sort out everything for you.
Otherwise you will need to face the forest department’s online booking facility. It was highly frustrating as most online booking platforms are in India, but we saved a buck.
- Create an account on the Forest Department Website. You can use their help document for creating your account and finding your way around their website – found here.
- Follow the instructions for booking onto an online safari. Be patient, look through what zones are available and whether you want to pick canter or gypsy (paying extra for a Gypsy is highly recommended as they are much quieter and you’ll have a better chance of spotting wildlife). Find the dates and times you wish to book onto and enter the relevant details such as passport number and whether you will be taking a camera or not.
- Print out the confirmation and save it as a PDF. We never got emailed our confirmation but thankfully had saved the PDF after we paid and could use that. You need to print this out AND print out a photocopy of each person’s passport.
The page also times out regularly, so try to be quick otherwise you will need to re-enter ALL your details (huge blag).
Feel free to comment any questions you have regarding booking your tickets online and I’ll do my best to answer!
We arrived around midday in Sawai Madhopur and got an auto-rickshaw to our accommodation, Tiger Machan Resort.
Note: there is no budget accommodation options in Ranthambore (perhaps a gap in the market?)
Then at half past 1 we were driven to the ticket office to queue up at the online ticket booth. You have to hand the print out (your ticket confirmation + copy of your passport) to the counter and they will hand you back a different sheet with the jeep number and guide number you’ve been allocated. You can then take a browse through the shops until the loudspeaker starts blaring. At that point head over to counter 7, they will read your jeep number over the speaker system and your driver should come and meet you. They’ll wait for all 6 tickets and then off you go!
The entrance point to zone 6 and 7 is a short drive through the village. Then you’re on the hunt for the Bengal Tiger! There are tons of other species to look out for though. There are several species of deer in the park, we spotted the most common which are sambar deer, chital deer, chinkara (smallest) and nilgai antelope (biggest). Also look out for the bird life! There are hundreds of peacocks littered everywhere, the blue flash of Indian blue roller’s are prevalent and we also spotted the oriental honey buzzard.
Almost straight away our driver took us into a forested part. I can only assume they had seen the tiger in the region during the morning safari. There were 3 jeeps parked up apparently waiting for her to appear. We carried on driving though until we turned a corner and there she was! Beautiful majestic Noor lying in the middle of the stream, looking as chilled as I ever could have imagined. Noor has been there and done it and has been named the current Queen of Ranthambore. Her fourth successful litter have just gone off to find their own territories and she was spotted mating that very morning – hopefully more cubs on the way!
I felt so incredibly lucky to see a tiger and with such close proximity (less than 10 metres away). At this point Brad and I could sleep easy knowing we had been granted such a special experience and couldn’t wipe the smiles off of our faces!
We awoke at 4:15 am to leave at 4:30 am so we could pick up our tickets for the morning safari.
This time we were paired with a lovely family of 4 from Bangalore. They all had keen interests in wildlife and photography (with lenses as long as my arm) and so we bonded with them quite well, making our second safari even more enjoyable.
This time our driver was tracking the animals far more, stopping to point out tracks of bears and tiger in the sand. We got to watch the golden light rise across Ranthambore which was quite special and until the sun had risen it was quite chilly. Both Brad and I were actually cold for the first few hours of the morning (a first!).
We drove throughout the whole of zone 6 with no tiger, it wasn’t looking too promising. Then on our way out of the forest I spotted a sloth bear! These are rare sightings as they’re generally nocturnal and quite shy! It was amazing to see another of India’s key animal species (one that has suffered massively over the years through the ‘bear dancing’ industry). This one was very large and looked really healthy, it was a great addition to the safari.
Eventually we caught up with the other jeeps who had congregated in one section of the park as someone thought they had seen a tiger. It was another 45-60 minutes of speculation before we actually did see him. One of Ladli’s cubs (20 month old cub) was lying in the undergrowth perhaps 50 metres away. We could only see the tips of his ears hence why he had been so invisible!
Eventually this huge “baby” tiger wandered out from the undergrowth towards a lake just across the road. There he lay down and gave everyone what they wanted. An incredible view of a huge male tiger. He stayed with us for around half an hour before wandering off out of reach of the jeeps.
We were left dumbfounded in all honesty. Some people have been coming on safaris in Ranthambore for 20 years before seeing one tiger and we are here on just two safaris and we get a sighting each time. I’ll consider it payback for some of the bad luck we’ve had up to now! We felt and still do feel, very blessed.
- Pack a hat, water and either a camera or binoculars.
- In Ranthambore tipping is expected. We have had this nowhere else in India apart from here. Never feel like you have to tip but if you received a good service it’s up to your discretion. We personally felt it was a bit cheeky to tip the guide after we are forced to have one and pay for one. Ours also didn’t speak much English and didn’t add anything to the experience. We also found our hotel were pressurising us for tips. This definitely is not correct as the government implements 5% service tax on all food/accomodation and there are certainly a few more extra charges they chuck on there. Like I said before it’s only in Ranthambore we’ve found this. Probably because they usually get rich tourists that are more free with their money than we are!
- The drivers consider their job done once you’ve sighted a tiger (if you find one). They may then head towards the exit and take you back to your hotel. I certainly was not happy with this during our first Safari. I found out the next day that a second tiger was spotted in our zone after we had left – always demand you stay until your time is up! It’s what you’ve paid for and it’s not cheap! (I’m still kicking myself).
- For camera buffs you will be wanting to know what kit to bring along. Brad has advised that 400mm lens would be a minimum requirement in most cases. We had tiger sightings within 200mm range but I’m to believe this was a rare occasion.
- Try to get your hotel to arrange transfers to and from the train station/ticket office. They will probably charge a small fee but I can guarantee it will be much less hassle and probably cheaper than finding a taxi or rickshaw driver.
So there you have it! The absolute pinnacle of our journey so far. I feel so privileged to have seen some of these stunning creatures on their home territory. Although tigers are breeding successfully in some locations across India, they still face the possibility of extinction. Even now tigers are hunted and killed (illegally) as retaliation or to clear territries for human developments. I hope that with the continued conservation efforts and education around illegal hunting for things like Chinese medicines, these animals amongst others can be left in the wild to live a life free of persecution.