It was a hot summer morning in the national capital. We started our journey from Bikaner House, spread over an 8-acre plot in Lutyens’ Delhi, a former residence of the Maharajah of Bikaner, now a cultural hub for folk, classical and contemporary music, owned by the Government of Rajasthan.
As the car ran through the NH 48, the excited souls inside were more than prepared to brave the hot and humid days ahead. The mission was to explore and experience the wildlife of the Land of Maharajas.
Jaipur – Jhalana Leopard Safari
The first destination was ofcourse, the state capital Jaipur- a city that never gets boring, no matter how many times you visit. Excited, we made sure to reach on time at the gate of Jhalana Leopard safari. A 9-10 km drive from the heart of the city would take you to this amazing landscape of 23 sq km radius. Like many of my wildlife photographer friends who have not visited this place earlier, I too had little apprehension about a wildlife Safari Park so near to the highly populated city of Jaipur.
Jhalana Leopard Safari Park is not only home to 30-35 leopards but also a safe haven for Striped Hyenas, Desert Fox, Golden Jackal, Chital, Indian Palm, Nilgai, Civets etc. Jhalana is also a surprise package for bird watchers: A home to a number of familiar and rare species of birds that includes Indian Pitta, Dusky Eagle, Owl, Spotted Owlet, short-eared owl, northern goshawk etc.
As the journey started through this amazing landscape on the lap of the Aravallis, we slowly delved into the scent of the forest, birds chirping around the juliflora and khejri trees, languors busy in family meetings, and national birds all focussed on their job of impressing their girlfriends all around the park-truly turning it an ‘another-world’ so near to the city.
One look and you will be enthralled by the unique landscape of rocky Aravalli on one side and a forest of evergreen and deciduous trees stretching out on the other. North of Jhalana is the Amagarh Reserve Forest, which is separated from Jhalana by a busy National Highway. The western and the southern boundary of the Jhalana forest adjoin the heavily populated suburbs of Jaipur City, and the eastern boundary has villages and new settlements.
One sharp turn and right in front we saw another gypsy standing there with passengers focusing excitedly on a nearby tree. Not 30 mins passed after we entered the main gate; there we were, standing face to face with the magnificent leopard of Jhalana.
The gorgeous predator with all its glory stood comfortably on a huge tree trunk. After obliging the lensmen with a few moments of front face-pose the spotted beauty decided to climb down the tree and swiftly disappeared beyond the green kumta plantations behind.
The majestic morning sighting set the tune of the entire safari as it always does. The amazing biodiversity of its own, the typical Rajasthan forest land is a place where any nature lover would love to spend as much time as possible. The environment has its own charm and magic that make you long for a lazy and stretched day watching the green and brown landscape, the owls watching you with one eye opened, hyenas searching for food, spotted deer cautiously crossing the road or the nilgais gazing the green grassland.
History records the existence of both tigers and leopards in the hill ranges of Rajasthan, including the Aravali range. In the early 19th century, Jhalana was a popular hunting ground with eminent state officials being frequent visitors. The old Shikar Audhi (Hunting Palace) stands as a testament to its popularity. The last tiger was shot in 1948, and its cubs were relocated to the Jaipur Zoo. Since then, leopards have been the apex predator here.
With the rapid increase of urbanisation over the decades, the amazing story of the coexistence of leopards and locals today has been the testimonial of leopards’ unique ability to adapt as well as the success of wildlife conservation projects by the Forest department of Rajasthan. The only reserve in the country dedicated to leopards, Jhalana is one of the finest examples of successful human-animal cohabitation stories in the world.
HOW TO REACH :
Jhalana safari park is 5 km from Jaipur city which is connected with all major railway networks and airports. Jaipur is about 5/6 hours drive from Delhi.
The evening was spent with a visit to the magnificent Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, the oldest museum of the state and functions as the state museum. The evening lights, and speeding cars on the outside highway, occasional horsecarts – all around the building made the atmosphere so different and alluring! The team went back to the Hotel but not before enjoying a delicious treat at Masala Chawk. A great place to enjoy unlimited street foods. Chola Bharura’ Pau bhaji chola kulcha paneer Tikka Kanji vada samosa Dosa sambhar ice cream jalebi’ faluda Rabdi – you name it and it would be available at some stalls or not.
Amagarh Leopard Safari
The brand new heaven for wildlife lovers in the neighborhood of the city of Jaipur is Amagarh Leopard Safari. Another surprising wild landscaped after Jhalana, Amagarh Leopard Safari had just started its first trip in May 2022.
Home to around 20 Leopards, this is again a very different landscape from the average Indian forest. Occasional dense areas are surrounded by big grasslands. We were greeted by a pack of Jackals. It was heartening to observe the vigilant species running freely around the grassland, playing, and searching for prey.
The park has all the ingredients to make people fall in love with the wilderness and nature. The fresh air, blue sky, birds of different species chattering around, and occasional alarm calls by the Langurs, Spotted deers and Neelgais – Amagarh Leopard Safari is a heaven for any city dwellers se
arching for peace and tranquility.
This is not an easy task to recreate and maintain a wildlife park so near to a big city like Jaipur. But as they say, if there’s a will there’s always a way to make it a reality. Rajasthan tourism and Forest Department have made it successful.
Online booking has already begun. The timing for the safari is from 5.30 am to 8 am and from 4.45 pm to 7.15 pm. Anyone visiting Pink City has now one more irresistible attraction to include in the list, specially if you are a wildlife or nature lover.
HOW TO REACH :
Amagarh Leopard Park is 30 mins drive from Jaipur city via MI Road. Jaipur is connected to all major railway networks and airports and is about 5/6 hours drive from Delhi.
Ranthambore National Park
After a delicious meal with Jaipur’s famous stuffed kachori, we hit the road. This time the destination is the land of Royal Bengal Tigers – Ranthambore. A smooth journey ( for the most part) with a wide highway drive of about 190 km took us to Sawai Madhopur, the nearest township of Ranthambore National Park.
Much before we actually made it to the actual gate of the national park, a captivating surprise was waiting for us. Following GPS to our nest for the next couple of days, we found ourselves driving past the localities with forest lands gradually getting dense on the sides. The signboard of Castle Jhoomar Baori led us through a gate from the main road. In a moment we were driving inside the dense forest of Banyan, Pipal and Neem trees. We stopped our car in bewilderment. The scent of the forest, calls of birds, golden sunlight filtering through the leaves – transported us to a world of pure bliss. The RTDC-run Jhoomar Baori is located at the top of a hill nearest to the National Park. Once the summer Rest house of the Rulers of Jaipur, it was a real castle in the past and later was converted into a hotel by RTDC. Situated at the edge of the forest it offers a scenic view of the jungle and Aravali hills of Ranthambore. Living in this amazing place is an experience in
The landscape of Ranthambore National Park is unique in every sense. The 392 sq km national park has dry tropical forests, rocky terrains as well as green grasslands carpets in some areas. Every zone of the park seems like a chapter from the pages of a history book. The ruins of the killa, old baoli, the broken walls made of desert stones, and of course, embracing the forest the great Ranthambore fort – would take you to the days of the Kings and queens more often than not.
One can never have a dull moment inside the wilderness of Ranthambore. At every second a new drama is unfolding. The cormorant suddenly jumping into the blue lake for a sharp fish startling the resting giant crocodile, the pied kingfisher drying its wings on the big trunk of a Mango tree, the sambar quenching his thirst on the waterbody while on the other side, the langurs and spotted deers enjoying the delicious mangoes in unison- you would never know when you become one with the raw nature. The experience of sighting not one, but three sub-adult tigers together in the wild- resting, playing and drinking, completely indifferent to the spectators who were witnessing this unforgettable saga with divine contentment.
Once out of the park, delighted and quieten, we spent the evening talking to the locals and voting in nearby villages. It was more than evident to witness a sense of motivation and contentment amazon the people in the area. The fact that tourism
has brought positive changes in the lifestyle and potential among the men and women in the adjoining localities could easily be understood while interacting with them. Whether it is a forest or any other area of tourism, no development can be a total success unless local people are actively involved in the macro-environment. The department of tourism in Rajasthan has achieved this task in mankind people see the bigger picture. This is the very reason we saw the people like Dharamveer Rathore, a local entrepreneur who is encouraging village women from the nearby areas to learn and sell handicrafts, toys, paintings, etc to the tourists visiting here, telling us very clearly “ Tiger hai to hum sab hai” ( if the tiger is there then we all are here).
HOW TO REACH :
Sanganer Airport is the nearest airport and is located in Jaipur. The distance from Jaipur to Ranthambore is about 180 km. The Sawai Madhopur railway station is the nearest railway station to Ranthambore Park. The station is located at a distance of about 11 km from the park
Chambal Gharial Sanctuary ( Palighat)
The 50 km ( approximate) drive from Sawai Madhopur to Chambal (Palighat) is perhaps one of the best highways drives one can enjoy in Rajasthan. The dark green hills of the Vindhya range, in much contrast to the other parts of the state, under the clear blue sky, wrapping the wide curvy highway offer an astounding scenic beauty.
As we reached the riverside Rest house not far from the main highway, the wide and majestic Chambal river immediately soothed our souls. Even in mid-day June, the river bank felt blissful and conciliate. The Rajasthan Tourism and Rajasthan Forest department have taken an uphill task to protect and readapt the gharials in this part of the world, along with the restoration of the Palighat as the exciting tourist destination of the future. Gavialis Gangeticus commonly called gharial has been identified as the most Critically Endangered crocodilian species in the world.
An exciting boat ride took us to one of the most memorable sights in my life. The newly hatched gharials must be a few hundred in numbers lying by the banks of the river. We made sure not to make any sound to disturb the poor little souls and took as many photographs as possible to treasure the memory forever. Also, the thought that most of these little gharials won’t make it to the future made me regretful.
A little-known hidden destination, Chambal Gharial Sanctuary ( Palighat) should be included as a must-visit spot for all looking for solace away from the madding crowd and to enjoy a few days of serenity.
Sariska Tiger Reserve
The cordial staffs of Tiger Den welcomed us right at the reception lobby. There is something about this RTDC guest house in Sariska Tiger Reserve that makes you feel rejuvenated and gratified. The combination of the location (right adjoining the main entrance of the tiger reserve), uncontaminated environment, delicious food, and committed workforce create the magic of positivity.
Once Maharajas of Alwar’s hunting ground Sariska Tiger Reserve the 800 sq km landscape of western Aravali hills with typical Rajasthan dry-grassland and Dhok , Salar, Kadaya, Gol, Ber, Khair, Bargad, Arjun, Gugal Bamboo etc is a success story of turn-around of ecosystem and conservation project. After the alarming news of the massive loss of the tiger population (due to poaching and other reasons) in the year 2008, the Rajasthan government, in cooperation with the Centre and Wildlife Institute of India, Tourism planned the re-introduction of tigers to Sariska and also the relocation of villages. Consistent efforts and hard work by all authorities concerned have turned it into one of the most sought-after tiger sanctuaries today. Earlier this month, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced the number of tigers in the Sariska Tiger Reserve has increased to 27.
However, Sariska is much more than tigers only. The serene nature, variety of birds ( including the water birds busy fishing in the number of water bodies maintained inside the core area), jackals, Leopards, Striped Hyena, deers, crocodiles, etc – Sariksa has got everything that wildlife enthusiasts would look for. Yet, the moment of the trip would still go that breathtaking second when, after a hard-day tracking, we finally found the king of the jungle resting peacefully behind a Tendu tree.
It is never easy to bid adieu to such an amazing trip through the raw nature and amazing wildlife of Rajasthan. As we looked back to say a final goodbye, we knew we all would come back here, soon.