Budget Backpackers guide to Ranthambhore India
I have been to many National parks in this incredible country over the years, but this one is special and not just because of the tigers. The enigmatic landscapes draw your eyes as much as the wildlife. Pristine rolling rocky hills stretch off into the distance and are covered in a dry deciduous forest that is almost dripping in biodiversity. The park is punctuated by lakes and crowned by the glorious tenth-century fort. I think it is fair to say any traveller to this part of the world will not leave disappointed.
As an avid nature my lover myself, I have always wanted to come here, but it is common knowledge this is not a budget destination, and consequently, not many backpackers make it here.
It is, without a doubt, one of India’s premier national parks and one of the best places in the world to spot tigers. There is so much more than just tigers here though. It is home to many of the iconic animals of the Indian subcontinent.
In my Budget backpackers guide to Ranthambhore, I will be talking about how to make this place a little more affordable. It is possible to come here and not spend a small fortune with a little know-how, and that is what I am here for.
Many backpackers miss out on the countries wealth of natural wonders because foreigners have to pay so much for the privilege. Some national parks such as Sasin Gir there is not much choice but to suck it up and pay the extortionate costs.
However, Ranthambhore has a chink in its armour for the budget traveller. I want to share these tricks to help you be able to immerse yourself in the parks natural heritage without breaking the bank, so read on.
My guide to Ranthambhore National Park.
This World famous national park covers 1334 square kilometres and divided up into ten zones. It is considered one of the best places in the world for tiger sightings and I would agree. On three safaris I saw six tigers, and if that’s the point of you coming, you are unlikely to be disappointed. If spotting Tigers is your only aim it is best to book your safari in the core areas around the fort, and that is zones one to six. Sightings are overwhelmingly more frequent here, so do bear that in mind when you are making a booking.
Until relatively recently this stunning stretch of wilderness was the hunting grounds of the Mahrarjahs of Jaipur. Today It is an essential refuge for the endangered Indian Tiger. Numbers are recovering fast here as all those tourist bucks keep them safe from poachers.
There is a down-side to all this tiger conservation though. These majestic beasts need massive amounts of space for their range, and as the Indian government gets better at tiger conservation, the numbers inevitably increase. While that is obviously a good thing, unfortunately, the national park cannot get much bigger. It will naturally lead to conflicts as they struggle for territory and come into contact with people. This is the same story in national parks all over the world; only tigers need a lot more space than most carnivores.
While the Tigers are undoubtedly the stars of the show here the park is home to many more animal species. While I was there, I personally saw Sloth bears, Hanuman langurs, sambar deers, Indian Mongoose, Nilgai, Chital, Rufous-tailed Hare, Marshmugger crocodiles, desert Monitor lizard and five stripped palm Squirrels. Ranthambore is also home to 273 species of birds. Just a few of the many birds I saw on my safaris include the Indian scops owl, plum headed parakeet, Coppersmith Barbet, blue-tailed bee-eater and the Indian roller. For serious birders download this birding checklist.
Another draw of this beautiful corner of the world is of-cause the Unesco world heritage listed Ranthambhore fort. You can get a shared taxi in daylight hours to the entrance of the park then another to the fort and will only set you back a few rupees. The road is a mini safari in itself but, there is absolutely no walking it. The fort is really nice and offers excellent bird watching for free and the views from the ramparts of the surrounding lakes and mountains are amazing. Well worth the effort and a crowning jewel of the park.
Getting in and around the park.
Ranthambhore is one of the biggest premier national parks in Asia, so as you would expect, it can be very pricy. I will now tell you some information I suspect you won’t get elsewhere.
The first tip is definitely to come in the high summer. The months of April and May are perfect. It is scorching out, and no one really wants to come, what with the thermometer topping 50 degrees Celcius sometimes. So why would you come now?
The reasons are two-fold. One the aim of coming to any national park is to see wildlife, and this is when are the leaves are dead, opening up the jungle and making this the very best time to spot wildlife.
The second reason it is when its quiet and there are fewer tourists, so you have bargaining room to get a seat in a premier zone without having to pay someone in town commission for sorting out your place. You can make your way to the ticket office and book your own seats, and that will save you thousands.
The staff at the booking office said this is just not possible in the high season and to add insult to injury, if you came at that time you would have to share the park with loads more jeeps. I visited zones one, two and four for only 1714 rupees per seat for each safari on the six-seater gipsies. It seems impossible to book places at this cost without organing it all yourself this way. The commission can be more than a 1000 rupees per seat sometimes.
In season there are massive twenty seater canters that ply these route and will probably be filled with noisy daytrippers. I don’t even think they run in the summer as there is not the custom. I certainly did not see one in my whole time there.
I have read recently people have paid 72000 rupees for a full day private jeep hire. While it is unlikely you would ever have to pay this much you can bet it will be way more in the peak season. If your itinerary allows for this, it will save those on a budget a lot of money.
Probably don’t pay for a full day safari right in the middle of summer as the jeeps are open top and you will slowly cook while looking at no wildlife in the midday sun.
To book your tickets, you will have to walk a couple of kilometres to the booking office, and in the early morning, it will be cool. I set off each day before 5 AM or indeed before the sun comes up. I never walked the whole distance as I was picked up by passing jeeps that dropped me off at the booking office for free.
Safaris start at 6.00 AM and end at 9.30 AM The afternoon safaris begin at 2 PM till 5.30 PM. You will have to take any spare seat that’s to whatever zone that is available. Remember to request the core zones one to six. In the high season, there are simply no extra seats to apply this trick.
No shared taxis are going up and down the road so early in the morning, so walking is your only option. By the time you come back, there will be many shared taxis to take you back up the road if you are going to wait for an afternoon safari.
If your itinerary does not allow you to come at that time when no one else wants to, I would strongly advise booking online early. The government website also charges you “a handling fee” but that is just unavoidable. You should book online with the forestry department official website, as the safaris can get booked up weeks in advance and you would not want to get here and have to leave again with nothing.
Getting a nights rest.
I stayed at Hotel Aditya Resort www.hoteladityaresort.com on Rathambohore road as its relatively close to the park. If you are not happy with my suggestion, this is where the cheaper hotels are so you can shop around a bit. The staff are friendly, and they took good care of me and what’s more, they were fine with me organising everything myself and not paying them any commission. In fact, they helped me to cut costs, and I don’t believe that is something many hotels would be happy to do that as the average commission seems around one thousand rupees per seat and I did so many.
Getting there and away.
The nearest large town is Sawai Madhopur, approximately 10 km away from the national park. It is well connected by rail and bus to destinations across Rajasthan and from other major cities like Dehli. An auto-rickshaw should cost about 100 rupees to where the cheaper hotels and guest houses are located, and they are all conveniently bunched together. So if you are travelling as a couple, one can wait with the bags somewhere cool, and the other can walk around to find a place they like and at a reasonable cost. It also implies you already have a room if you walk in somewhere and have no luggage, meaning you are more likely to have room to bargain.
For more information on my personal tricks and tips on getting around this vast country, then check out my post. It is packed with advice to help my readers save a little money and make it all a little less stressful.
In summary of my No1 Budget backpackers guide to Ranthambhore.
Now I have equipped my readers with the knowledge of how to visit this incredible stretch of the wilderness without breaking the bank. I hope at least some of you put this idea into action. There is so much here on offer, but, foreigners tend to stay away from Indias natural spaces as we all know it can cost a small fortune.
It is not common knowledge that there are ways around it sometimes, and that makes the prospect of visiting a whole lot more appealing. I will be writing more posts on how to save money for nature lovers, so keep your eyes open for future articles. The principle drawcard here is the tigers. Sure there are many of them, but even if you don’t get to see one, I don’t think any nature lover would leave disappointed.
For me, this is one of my favourite national parks as there is so much biodiversity, but the downside is there is not really anywhere you can wander off and see things on your own. That was a little frustrating for me because I wanted to spend some time looking at the smaller animals as well, such as the birds! Unlike most national parks there is absolutely no option to do that. It is just so organised compared to other parks, and none of the hotels is anywhere near green spaces.
I know my idea to come in the middle of summer might seem crazy to some but, you can not only visit for a reasonable cost you are also much more likely to see wildlife. My advice is to grit your teeth and take a lot of water. Because it is definitely worth your time and dedication, after all, nothing in life worth doing is ever easy, right?
For further information and inspiration, here are the links to two fantastic documentaries. One is a national geographic documentary on the Tigers of Ranthambhore, and the other is by Sir David Attenborough. It is about the wildlife you can typically find in the area entitled The Tiger Jungles. Both are well worth the watch and are very interesting.
That just about wraps up my Number one Budget backpackers guide to Ranthambhore, and I think I have passed on some information that is genuinely hard to come by. So do take advantage of this if you can. If you would like any further information on this issue, then do not hesitate to ask. So Until the next time, my fellow Intrepid traveller’s happy tracking.
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