So. Sawai Madhopur. The gateway to the Ranthambore National Park which is where people flock to gawp at wildlife from some manner of vehicle in the hope that one of the creatures mincing through the undergrowth will be a tiger. I rocked up to Hotel Aditya and was informed by a ridiculously cheerful bloke wearing an apron that this was my home and would I like some lunch in the rooftop restaurant?
Why yes, yes I would. But something incredibly bland for fear of upsetting my digestive system again. As I stuffed an egg sandwich into my facehole I asked the fella how I would go about getting myself onto a safari in the morning. He said he’d arrange it all. Any problem, you come to him, because yep, this was my home.
I’d tried to book online before but the system wasn’t accepting my card and to be honest, the options at this stage weren’t great. I’d heard that zones 1 – 4 were the best as these were the oldest parts of the park, and the only options left at short notice was zone 8. Later that day I met Shaan, the manager of the hotel and the son of the cheerful bloke. He explained that whilst ideally you want to get onto a Gypsy which seats six and is much smaller and quieter than a canter, the zone you were in was most important. So I asked him to just do his best.
But anyway. Allow me to explain this canter business. It’s basically a fuck off great big noisy bugger of a vehicle that seats about 20 people who have an inability to shut the fuck up. I was wondering if the hoody and scarf I was rugged up in was necessary as I slowly roasted at 6.30am, waiting for my ride, but seriously, you’ll want it once this bad boy gets going. We pulled into the gate, the driver did the paperwork and off we went into zone 3.
Ok, so, what you want is for a tiger to casually stroll out in front of your vehicle wearing a top hat and brandishing a cane, do a little tiger dance to a 60’s show tune and drape itself over the bonnet of the vehicle for a Vogue-esque shoot before slinking back into the bushes to go and tear the throat out of a chital. Clearly that’s not gonna happen unless you’ve been on the bhang lassis for breakfast.
Basically, they listen out for warning calls from birds that tell us there’s a tiger in the area. They’re solitary, territorial creatures and looking for one is pretty much like trying to find a stripy needle in a massive, spiky, green haystack. We heard a few warning calls which resulted in them stopping the canter and waiting, and we even saw fresh pawprints, or pugmarks as they called them. At one point there were about three canters and a couple of Gypsys lined up at a spot where they thought we might be lucky, but nope. Nothing. Though to be fair, even without a tiger sighting, the park is a beautiful place. Once they’d ascertained that there were no tigers close by they just took us for a drive, stopping for photos of the chital (spotted deer) and the larger sambhar deer. So plenty of tiger food, just no actual tigers. We saw loads of birds including a kingfisher doing his thing, and a couple of crocodiles before heading back to the gate where we found out that they were in zone 3 that morning and we’d literally just missed them. Bollocks! Turns out they’d wandered over to zone 2. But the fact that our guide was really knowledgeable made the whole thing more than worthwhile.
Second time lucky though, yeah? In the afternoon I ended up in a Gypsy in zone 4. If you’re getting a Gypsy and you happen to be in possession of a couple of DD’s then perhaps consider strapping those puppies into a sports bra in order to stop them taking out the other tourists, the guide and three deer as you bounce over the dirt roads through the park. It didn’t even occur to me because it wasn’t a problem in the canter in the morning but I pretty much spent most of the evening tour trying to work out the most subtle way to keep my tits under control without grabbing onto them like a lonely old man testing the firmness of a nice, ripe honeydew in the fruit and veg aisle at ASDA.
These guys were on a mission. The family I was sharing with had already been on two safaris and we all just wanted to find a fucking tiger now, we’d had our fill of staring at deer and birds. They tore through zone 4, overtaking canters and Gypsys alike, slowing down when they heard an alarm call. When they found a pugmark they turned the vehicle around and followed it. They tore up the park, no one could have said these blokes didn’t try their best to find us an oversized, stripy feline, but it was to no avail. Turns out the buggers were all still hanging out in zone 2.
So yeah. I’m not gonna lie, it’s disappointing when you don’t get that tiger selfie to plaster all over Facebook ay. Some people are lucky enough to see a tiger sprawled out along the road just outside the park. Some people go on several safaris and have to make do with pugmarks and peacocks. That’s the thing with wildlife, you can’t chuck them a few rupees and a steak and bribe them to show up at a certain time. I think if you could that’d take away some of the magic, if that’s what you’re looking for you might as well go to a fucking zoo. I’ve been lucky with wildlife in the past and hey, I still have 5 months left in India. There’s still time to get a glimpse of these incredible animals in one of the National Parks.
Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India
Stayed at: Hotel Aditya