No Indian nature reserve can guarantee a tiger sighting, but at RANTHAMBORE NATIONAL PARK the odds are probably better than anywhere else: the park itself is relatively small, and the resident tigers are famously unperturbed by humans, hunting in broad daylight and rarely shying from cameras or jeep-loads of tourists. Combine the big cats’ bravado with the park’s proximity to the Delhi–Agra–Jaipur “Golden Triangle”, and you’ll understand why Ranthambore attracts the number of visitors it does.
Ranthambore National Park is one of India’s most popular, with more than eighty thousand visitors a year, and can get ridiculously busy throughout the cool winter months, especially around Diwali and New Year. The summer months from April to June are a lot quieter, but obviously very hot. There are currently around 35 adult tigers in the park, plus healthy populations of chital, nilgai, jackals, leopards, jungle cats and a wide array of birds. The original core section of the national park has recently been extended with the addition of three new buffer zones, designed to provide space for the park’s ever-expanding number of tigers. You’re also allowed to get out of your vehicle and walk in these areas (which you’re not allowed to do in the main park), although in general they’re not so good for tiger-spotting.
Note that the core section of Ranthambore is closed annually from 1 July to 30 September with the exception of the three buffer zones, which remain open year round. The best time to visit is during the dry season (Oct–March), when the lack of water entices the larger animals out to the lakeside. During and immediately after the monsoons they’re more likely to remain in the forest. More information can be gleaned from Project Tiger’s excellent booklet, The Ultimate Ranthambore Guide, on sale in local souvenir shops.
Visiting the park
Visiting the park
Rules about visiting Ranthambore seem to change every couple of years, so don’t be surprised if the following information has become obsolete by the time you arrive. At present, the number of vehicles allowed into the park is strictly controlled, with a maximum of around fifteen six-seater jeeps (also known as “Gypsys”) and 25 Canters (open-top buses seating twenty people) being allowed in during each morning and afternoon session. Obviously, most visitors prefer the much smaller and quieter jeeps, although demand usually outstrips supply, and a lot of people find themselves having to make do with a place on a Canter instead. It’s worth emphasizing that your chances of seeing a tiger are the same whether you’re in a Canter or a jeep – travelling by jeep may feel more like a “real” safari, but tours run daily every morning and afternoon, and last around three hours. Departure times vary slightly depending on sunrise, leaving between 6.30am and 7am and between 2.30pm and 3pm. Dress in layers: early mornings can be surprisingly cold.
If you want to go in a jeep it’s best to book ahead, although you might get lucky, especially from around April through to June, when visitor numbers fall significantly. Your chances drop considerably closer to Diwali, New Year and around any other public holiday.