Of all the awesome things I got to do in India, seeing a tiger in the wild was a surprise treat. As part of my Deccan Odyssey train trip through Rajasthan, I got to take a Ranthambhore tiger safari. It was, crowded, dusty, hot, and surprisingly special. Here’s why.
Getting to Ranthambhore National Park
Once a reserved hunting ground for Royals, Ranthambore National Park is now one of the best places to view wildlife in India. It is home to boars, bears, crocodiles, and, of course, Bangle tigers. Located in Northwest Rajasthan on the cusp of the the Thar Desert, getting to Ranthambore National Park is almost as much of a challenge as spotting a tiger there. The closest airport is 160 km away in Jaipur. From there it is a private car hire or train ride to the town of Sawai Madhopur which is 10 km from the parks gates.
Thankfully for me, this Ranthambhore tiger safari was part of my Indian Sojourn Journey. Getting to the park was a simple step from my private cabin to an open air bus.
Dusty Deer and Diesel Fumes
Thoughts of nature in India conjures up images of peacocks, coloruful elephants, and majestic tigers. Landing in Mumbai and becoming overwhelmed by the number of people, the thought of seeing wild anything felt like a fantasy.
Even as our Ranthambhore tiger safari rolled through the National Park entrance, I was skeptical. Packed into an open air bus and behind a convoy of the same, we choked on exhaust and dust all for the hopes of some wildlife. Our skin became caked in natural sunblock that was both welcome and unwanted. It was a far cry from our time roaming the Masai Mara with no other humans in sight, just a sea of wildlife.
We realized we were in for a long day and enthusiasm was waning.
Excitement lifted slightly when we stopped to admire some dust-covered dear. Spotting them is a task as everything is coated in reddish dirt. Still, in a valley of dirty trees and dusty air, wildlife is welcome. This moment was brief as the driver and guide had no time for deer. Seeing a tiger was the goal and their hope of healthy tips tied to that was setting like the dusty sun.
Ranthambhore Tiger Safari Jackpot
It wasn’t long till I was well past “over it.” I grew tired of listening to the lady behind me hack, snort, and spit. I wanted off this ride. As if sensing my frustration, the universe threw me a tiger bone. Seemingly out of nowhere, our driver decided to veer off from the beaten path, leaving the cloud of dust and other vehicles behind. I was thankful to just have a moment of semi-fresh air. As I took in a satisfying breath, the bus lurched to a stop as our guide shouted in a whispered hush, “tiger!”
That’s a BIG cat
As the bus maneuvered for better position, the annoyance of a dirty day filled with bumps and coughs disappeared. All that remained were a few tourists in the middle of nowhere India watching a freaking tiger laze about. Suddenly it was peaceful and surreal. We watched dumbfounded at what was essentually a massive house cat.
It felt like we were now in a private zoo. Gone were the dusty roads and dozens of buses. All that was left was us and a large tiger, who was now on the move.
Our surreal experience continued with the tiger now passing directly in front of us. She paused only to yawn, stretch, and pose for photos before cooling off in the river next to our bus. WTF.
It was awesome and almost too perfect, like it was a domestic cat and we were being played. If it was trickery then hats off. This cat posed like she was on an arranged Ranthambhore tiger safari photo shoot.
Is a Ranthambhore Tiger Safari Worth it?
There is said to be 62 tigers inside Ranthambore National Park. Additionally there is hundreds of visitors a day trying to spot one. I can honestly say that had we not spotted a tiger, this write up would’ve been a lot different. This comes across as entitled and privileged but had we gone through that dusty and bumpy hell just to see a couple dust covered deer I would’ve been pissed. Ironically, of the eight busloads of tourists from our train, we were the only ones to see a tiger.
Well, how do you like that? Lucky indeed.
Seeing a tiger in the wild is something I will never forget. Seeing a tiger in the wild in India is something I don’t think I will ever see again. The rare sighting makes it that much more special. That said, I think a Ranthambore tiger safari is only worth it if you are a gambler. Are you willing to wager a day of heat, dust, and bumpy roads for a rare sighting?
As if to solidify this thought, I received an interesting comment on an Instagram post I shared from my Ranthambhore tiger safari:
“did 6 safaris there and did not see any! Glad you got to see them!!!”
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One of the coolest things we did on our train trip from #Mumbai to #Delhi with @thedeccanodyssey was a safari through Ranthambore National Park. There our hot, bumpy, and dusty ride paid off as we watched in awe while a freaking tiger played like a giant cat then cooled off in a river. So. Very. Cool.
6 times?? At that point I would say go to a zoo.
What say you?
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This Ranthambore tiger safari in India was possible thanks to the Deccan Odyssey. As always the experience, opinions, and tiger sighting is my own.