About Ranthambore National Park
The forest gets its name from the 1000-year-old fort existing inside the park, built by the Chauhan Dynasty. “Rann” is an Indian word used to describe the battlefields that surrounded the fort, “Stambh is the pillar shaped hill on which the fort was built and “bhavar” signifies the whirlpool-shaped seasonal stream that flowed around the fort. Rann- stambh- bhavar became Ranthambore. The last owners of the fort were the Royal family of Jaipur, who in the 18th century, owing to the depleting necessity of the fort, converted the area into their private hunting grounds. As a hunting ground it saw its fair share of tiger hunting celebrities, including British Monarchs, global dignitaries and more.
The initiative of Tiger conservation in India is owed to our late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who was a conservationist before it was fashionable to be one. Mrs. Gandhi identified that this magnificent animal was in serious danger of extinction and therefore in 1972 set up Project TIGER- an organization aimed at preserving the Bengal Tiger in its natural habitat. By 1973 Project Tiger had 9 forests, which were officially declared “tiger reserves”. Ranthambore National Park was among the first. Once it was declared a tiger reserve human activity inside the park was limited, hunting was banned and villages were relocated, to allow the land to replenish itself, so as to become a thriving environment for tigers to live in and breed. Tiger tourism was only started in 1980 to create awareness for tiger conservation. In 1983 and 1984 the 2 neighboring areas of Sawai Mansingh sanctuary and Keladevi sanctuary, were added to The Rantambore National Park Reserve. The current park area along with its 2 sanctuaries is 1334 sq. km. and holds a population of more than 50 tigers.
Tourism in Ranthambore National Park
Project Tiger has 42 tiger reserves in India today. Ranthambore is neither the largest nor the most populous, however it is undoubtedly the most popular with tourists. The reason for its popularity is the unique vegetation in the area, which provides the opportunity for maximum tiger sightings. The dry deciduous forest has trees that adapt to droughts by shedding all their leaves, making it easier to see the tigers. Scientists and filmmakers have used this to their advantage and have chosen it as a site to study tiger patterns and behaviors, for their research and documentaries. The forest department of Ranthambore has a good management system, conducive to ecologically responsible tourism, which randomly assigns tourism zones to visitors on a daily basis. Jungle drives are allowed only twice daily in 3-hour windows. All vehicles in the park are government owned and controlled. Currently the park has 9 zones/ routes for tourists to explore. Of the critical tiger habitat (core area- Ranthambore national park and Sawai Mansingh sanctuary) only 20% is accessible to tourism.
The growth of tourism due to the tigers has helped the rural city of Sawai Madhopur, in which the park is located, by providing employment to the locals. The people of this once impoverished part of rural Rajasthan not only owe their livelihoods to the tiger but also their basic amenities and facilities which were supplied by the government in order to sustain tourism in the area. Local hotels, tourist & safari vehicle service centers, safari agencies etc all employ locals as staff, guides and drivers. The farmers are also at a great advantage as their produce is sold to hotels and establishments in the area. Funds raised through donations by tourists help support some fantastic NGO efforts in the area. Organizations like Dastakar (works to teach woodcutters, cattle grazers etc the art of making local handicrafts to reduce their dependency on the forest), Tiger watch (rehabilitates convicted poachers1 by using them as intelligence officers to catch other poachers. Tiger watch has caught more than 70 poachers so far) and Dhonk (rehabilitates poachers wives and children by providing education and teaching handicraft making to reduce their dependency on a life of poaching), all depend on tourist donations and awareness caused by tiger tourism to push forward their cause.
The main attraction of Ranthambore is of course the “true” King of the jungle himself. Although it may seem that looking for 50 tigers, in 1334 sq km of park area of which only 20% is accessible, is like looking for a needle in a very large haystack, Ranthambore tigers face a crunch for space and sighting them in the summer months is fairly easy. This has allowed for interesting observations on tiger behavior, making some of Ranthambore’s tigers world famous.
Ranthambore is home to T-16 or as the locals call her Machli (meaning fish), the most photographed tiger in the world! She was known as the queen of Ranthambore and is nearly 18 years old today, making her the oldest wild tiger alive. Machli’s mother had fish shaped markings on her face and a National Geographic filmmaker gave her the name Machli 2 while filming her mom and her, for a documentary. The award winning documentary (The Tiger Queen) became world famous and Machli 2 became just Machli. She is also one of the few known tigers to have attacked and killed crocodiles while hunting. She has currently lost all her teeth, but is a symbol of Ranthambore and is therefore supported and fed by the forest department, who give her live bait. She was given the Life Time Service Award by TOFT, for her contribution to Tiger awareness and tourism.
Another famous resident is T- 24, named Ustad (meaning “the smart one”). At 11 + feet and 270 kg he is the park’s biggest male. He is somewhat of an infamous rock star displaying dominant, territorial behavior. Although he has killed 3 people in the last 3 years he isn’t officially a man-eater, as he is not known to attack if unprovoked.
T-25 or Dollar (so named due to the dollar sign like marking on his right flank), made scientific headlines when he was found displaying unobserved tiger behavior. In the first such incident ever recorded, he adopted his 2 cubs after the death of their mother, his mate T-5. This is the only known instance of a male tiger raising his cubs in the wild, while teaching them how to hunt and survive.
BBC’s “Broken tail” won the best documentary film award in 2011 at the Jackon Hole wildlife film festival (known as the Oscars of nature films) and was based on the fascinating and eventually tragic journey of Broken Tail (Machli’s son), from Ranthambore National park to Ramgarh forest. Colin Stafford-Johnson, the filmmaker, spent almost 600 days filming Broken Tail and his family for some of the finest tiger footage ever captured. But then, without warning, Broken Tail abandoned his sanctuary and went on the run – surviving in farmland and scrub for months on end, until eventually he was killed by a train almost 200 kilometres from home. He was barely three years old at the time.
Practical tips & getting there:
- Closest airport Jaipur International Airport (3 hours drive)
- Recommended hotel The Oberoi Vanyavillas (five star luxury hotel)
- Book safaris well in advance (atleast 90 days recommended)
- Weather is best from Nov-Feb,which is the cool and pleasant winter. Summers are hot and try but are the best time to spot the striped superstar.
- Bird watchers bring your binoculars; Ranthambore has some excellent observation opportunities.
- Carry Mosquito repellent and sunblock (if you go in summer)
1Poachers: Sadly, many of the poachers in modern day Ranthambore belong to the Moghia Tribe, who used to be esteemed Tiger trackers for the Maharajas when the latter went hunting. After hunting was banned, these poor tribesmen and their families lost their means of sustenance and with no education or rehabilitation opportunities, they resorted to poaching. Organizations like Dhonk and Dastkar strive to rehabilitate these men and their families.
-A special thank you to Pranad Patil, resident naturalist at Vanvyavilas Resort, without whos invaluable knowledge and time this article would have been incomplete.