The Eye of the Tiger

On the prowl for the elusive animal in Ranthambore National Park

By: By Christina Tse


India Ministry of Tourism


The nearest town to the park is Sawai Modhpur and it is accessible by the Delhi-Mumbai railway line. The nearest airport is Jaipur Airport, which is also linked by rail.

Where to Stay and Eat:

Oberoi Vanyavilas
The Oberoi Vanyavilas is a luxury jungle resort located just outside the gates of Ranthambore National Park. Accommodation here is comprised of 25 spacious luxury tents set within 20 acres of landscaped gardens.

On the premises are the Library Bar and the Dining Room and the Inner Courtyard. The Library Bar, which offers fine spirits, cigars and wildlife books, is a relaxing place to get away from the heat. The Dining Room and the Inner Courtyard serve Indian, Western and Thai cuisine, and most of the ingredients come directly from the kitchen’s gardens.

Commission: 10 percent

What to Do:
All activities here revolve around the national park and the natural landscape. Packages and safari bookings can be arranged directly through Ranthambore National Park as well as through the hotel. For shopping, arts and handicrafts can be purchased at the stalls and small communes of women’s cooperatives that line Ranthambore Road.

Oberoi Vanyavilas has two resident elephants available for rides, guided nature walks, and local art and cooking lessons. Additionally, the Oberoi Spa at the Oberoi Vanyavilas offers private suites and a variety of treatments incorporating Ayurvedic methods.

When to Go:
Ranthambore National Park is open from October through June. In the winter seasons, due to the daylight hours, safaris are held one hour later in the morning and one hour earlier in the evenings. The recommended months for tiger sightings are May and June when the landscape is dry, making it easier to spot the wildlife.

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Scroll down for more information on what to do and where to stay in near Ranthambore.

Bouncing up and down, trudging along the rocky road for the return trip into town, our jeep came to a halt as we heard the cries of a monkey.

“It’s a warning call,” said our driver. 

With just 20 minutes left on our safari and the sun beginning its descent, we were all struck silent, holding our breaths. We had been waiting for this. Our eyes either glued to the terrain or scanning the hills behind the trees in which the monkeys took refuge, we were looking for a flash of orange and black. We were looking for the tigress.

In Ranthambore, many say that tigers are so used to the sight of people they will hunt with humans present. // © 2009 Mandy Amanderson
In my quest to see a tiger in its natural habitat, my day had begun at 6:30 that morning. Arriving by train the evening before, I had only one day to spend in Ranthambore National Park. Twice-daily guided trips gave me two chances of seeing a tiger which, to a safari first-timer, seemed sufficient.
Ranthambore, in the state of Rajasthan, is known as one of the best places in India for tiger sightings. The wildlife sanctuary has been protected since 1974 and, of India’s 84 national parks, it claims to have the greatest tiger population at 35 cats total. Rumors swirl that the tigers are so used to the sight of people and vehicles that they will even hunt with humans present.

The morning safari began at sunrise to give us a chance to spot the tigers before they retreated from the midday heat. The crack-of-dawn hotel pickup made for some pretty sleepy passengers, but there was still enthusiasm among the six of us.

“Is this your first safari?” asked two gentlemen from Mumbai.

I told them yes, it was, and inquired the same.

“No, we were here four years ago, had six safaris, and didn’t see a tiger. We’ve booked five this time and hope we have better luck,” he said.

The British couple next to me told me they had seen a tiger on their safari the evening before, and that this was the last of their six expeditions.

It was then that I realized I might have been overly hopeful, only staying one day. No matter. Tiger or not, I would enjoy myself. I was already impressed with the scenic ride to the park entrance. The landscape is filled with rocky hills scattered with remnants of crumbled ruins and old temples. With the trees reduced to skeletons in the dry season, visibility stretches for miles. Overlooking the main gates from its hilltop position is the 10th-century fort for which the park is named.

The park is sectioned into five different zones, with several intertwining routes of unpaved tracks. Our guide informed us we were taking Zone 3 and that within this territory reside two male and two female tigers. Taking in the early-morning activity around us, our jeep was mostly quiet in observation. Spotted deer grazed at the edges of the roughly defined road, antelope rested in the shade of a handful of leafy trees, crocodiles drifted in the lakes that dot the terrain and cranes glided overhead. As the sun’s heat grew stronger, it was time to go and, sadly, there was no tiger sighting that morning.

Revived after a rest indoors, I was ready for the evening safari. Our new guide had already seen a tiger on his morning safari, and he reminded us of the nature of our pursuit.

“You know Ranthambore is about natural wildlife. Everything depends on luck, depends on chance,” he said.

Exploring Zone 1 this time, we were looking for a tigress and her two cubs in this territory. Just after passing under the cascading roots of a centuries-old banyan tree, we saw the first hopeful sign of our journey: paw prints. Our strategy was to stop near watering holes, hoping to catch the tigress spying on thirsty deer or having a refreshment herself.

Moving slowly through the pass, our guide signaled the driver to stop. Speaking in Hindi, he indicated to backtrack and veer off the path toward the hills. Standing still and looking directly at us through the trees was the black and white face of a sloth bear. Quickly bored with our presence, the young bear joined his sibling and the two slowly toddled their way back up the rocks. With only 10 in the park, our guide told us how lucky we were to have seen them.

“Tigers are easy. Sloth bears are very rare,” he said.

We continued on with renewed eagerness. Every sighting resulted in six cameras clicking, capturing the slow crawl of a foraging monitor lizard, the unblinking stare of a perched owl, the iridescent fan of a peacock’s feathers. The avid birdwatcher next to me pointed out dozens of species, confirming with the guide exotic names I had never heard before. Gradually, as the afternoon turned into evening, we accepted that we would not have our tiger sighting this time. Satisfied with the incredible animals we had already seen, we headed back.

Then, we heard the cackles of monkeys scampering up the trees. We stopped and our driver announced they were warning calls. Could it be the tigress? We waited in quiet anticipation. In the end, however, the race against the sunset determined we had to go, and we did not get our glimpse of stripes.

I still felt lucky, even if I just wasn’t tiger lucky … this time.