Ranthambore National Park is a fascinating blend of history and nature. Inside the park is a formidable fort that was built in the 10th century and coveted by many rulers due to its strategic position between north and central India.
The park itself is situated at the joining of the Vindhya Plateau and the Aravalli Hills, and is characterized by rocky plains and steep cliffs. It supports a diverse range of flora and fauna, including around 30 tigers.
In India’s desert state of Rajasthan, 450 kilometers (280 miles) south west of Delhi and 185 kilometers (115 miles) from Jaipur. The main gate and fort are a couple of miles inside the park.
How to Get to There
The closest airport is in Jaipur, four hours traveling time by road. Alternatively the closest railway station is at Sawai Madhopur, 11 kilometers (7 miles) away. It’s easily reachable by train from Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.
Tours to Ranthambore
This 14 day Tigers, Temples & Wildlife Adventure small group tour offered by G Adventures includes visits to both Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh (another top park for seeing tigers in India). It starts from and returns to Delhi. Ranthambore is also included on the itinerary of Indian Railways' new Tiger Express Tourist Train.
When to Visit
The most animals are seen during the hot months of March through to June, when they come out in search of water.
However, it’s more comfortable to visit during the preceding cooler months. Be sure to bring warm clothes if visiting during winter.
The park is open from sunrise until sunset. Safaris run for two and a half hours from 7 a.m. and again from 2 p.m. The core zones 1-5 close from July 1 to October 1 due to the monsoon rain.
The park has 10 zones (the tenth one was opened in January 2014 to try and lessen the tourist pressure on the park). Zones 1-5 are in the core area, while the remaining 6-10 are in the surrounding buffer area. Tiger sightings in the buffer zones are rarer than in the core zones, although they have improved a lot in recent years as the tiger population has spread out across the zones.
The Rajasthan Forest Department offers safari seats in a canter (open-topped truck seating 20) or a gypsy (open-topped jeep seating six). Canter safaris are not available in zones 7-10.
The safari costs are different for foreigners an Indians, and are made up of a number of components including park entry fee, vehicle hire, and guide fees. The current rates (effective July 23, 2017), in total, are approximately as follows:
- Gypsy Safari Fee: 897 rupees per person for Indians. 1,637 rupees per person for foreigners. Children under five years old are free. There are discounts for Indian students.
- Canter Safari Fee: 562 rupees per person for Indians. 1,302 rupees per person for foreigners.
This includes vehicle and guide charges of 497 rupees in a gypsy, and 386 rupees in a canter, for both Indians and foreigners.
It's preferable to take a gypsy than a canter -- it's much more comfortable, plus there are fewer people, and the gypsy can navigate better and go faster. Private vehicles are allowed inside the park but are only permitted to go up to Ranthambore Fort and the Ganesh temple.
How to Book Safaris
The safaris are bookable on-line here (Rajasthan government website) 90 days in advance. User instructions can be downloaded here. It's a painful and convoluted process though, particularly for foreigners whose cards may not be accepted. When booking online you have the option from choosing a safari in the core zones or other zones. Unfortunately, seats go very fast in the core zones as hotels and agents make most of the bookings.
Alternatively, you can go to the booking office (relocated to Shilpgram from near the Taj Sawai Madhopur Lodge hotel as of October 1, 2017) a couple of hours before the safari starts.
Be prepared for huge and aggressive crowds though.
The easiest, although not the most cost effective, way of going on a safari is to let a local travel agent or your hotel take care of the arrangements. This is highly recommended if you're a foreigner. Plus, the added advantage is that the jeep will come and pick you up at your hotel. If you book online, you'll have to make your own way to the pick-up point.
Hotel Green View is a decent albeit basic budget option that offers safaris.
In October 2016, forest officials introduced a tatkal option for last-minute safari bookings. Bookings can be made one day in advance, at the booking office, by paying a higher rate. Around 10-20 jeeps have been set aside for this purpose. The tatkal fee is 10,000 rupees per jeep (seating up to six people). Guests will also have to pay the usual park entry fee, vehicle fee, and guide fee. This is charged per jeep, even if there is less than six people.
Half and Full Day Safaris
Nature lovers, who want to remain in the park longer that the standard safaris permit, may be interested in taking an exclusive half or full day safari. This is a new option that's been added. Bookings need to be made in person at the booking office, or through a local travel agent. Be prepared to pay a lot for the privilege. It's very expensive, due to the additional surcharges.
For a full-day safari, this amounts to about 44,000 rupees per vehicle for foreigners, and 33,000 rupees for Indians. For a half-day safari, the total surcharge is about 22,000 rupees per vehicle for foreigners and 15,500 rupees per vehicle for Indians. In addition to this, the usual entry, vehicle and guide charges are payable.
This national park is very popular (and crowded) due to its proximity to Delhi and the fact that tigers are relatively easy to spot here. Traffic into the park is highly regulated the number of vehicles allowed to enter is restricted. Some zones, particularly zones two and three (which have lakes), are better than others for seeing tigers. Zones can only be selected through online booking. Otherwise, forest officials will allocate the zone before your safari. The zone can be changed but only by paying a substantial fee if your request is accepted.
The fort is really interesting, so do take some time to explore it and the Ganesh temple. If you don't have your own vehicle to reach it, vehicles (cars, jeeps and gypsies) can be easily hired from Ranthambore Circle and Sawai Madhopur.