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Introducing Ranthambhore National Park

This famous national park, open from October to June, is the best place to spot wild tigers in Rajasthan. Comprising 1334 sq km of wild jungle scrub hemmed in by rocky ridges, at its centre is the amazing 10th- century Ranthambore Fort. Scattered around the fort are ancient temples and mosques, hunting pavilions, crocodile-filled lakes and vine covered chhatris. The park was a maharajas’ hunting ground until 1970 – a curious 15 years after it had become a sanctuary.

Project Tiger has been in charge of the tiger population since 1979, but the project’s difficulties were thrown into sharp relief when government officials were implicated in poaching in 2005. Getting an accurate figure on the number of tigers comes down to who you believe – the park probably has around 32 tigers, after the relocation of five tigers to Sariska Tiger Reserve.

Seeing a tiger is partly a matter of luck; you should plan on two or three safaris to improve your chances. But remember there’s plenty of other wildlife to see, including more than 300 species of birds. Other animals inhabiting Ranthambhore include the endangered caracal, also a member of the cat family, the leopard and the jungle cat; several members of the dog family, such as hyenas, foxes and jackals; the sloth bear; and varieties of deer, including the chital (spotted deer) and the sambar, India’s largest deer. There are also two species of antelope: the chinkara (Indian gazelle) and the nilgai (antelope). However, the park is also worth visiting for its scenery, particularly if you walk up to the fort.

Aside from during August’s Ganesh mela (fair), traffic into the park is restricted to organised safaris. Still, the remaining tigers are so used to being observed that they’re not scared away by jeeps and canters (open-topped trucks seating 20) and appear to be intrigued by visitors.

It’s 10km from the town of Sawai Madhopur to the first gate and another 3km to the main gate and Ranthambore Fort. Accommodation is stretched out along the road from the town to the park. The train station is in the heart of Sawai Madhopur, just south of the main bazaar. A large and colourful Jain festival, the Shri Mahavirji Fair is celebrated in the village of Chandangaon, within the Sawai Madhopur district.