Lay of the Land
The fort that gives Ranthambore its name dates back to the tenth century, and until the 1970s, the area was a hunting preserve for the maharajahs of Jaipur. When India gained independence in 1947, it is believed there were still 50,000 tigers in India, but by the time hunting was finally banned in the country in 1970, there were only 2,000 left. In 1973, Ranthambore was named a protected area under Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation program. Experts argue that the major reason for the decline was not poaching or hunting but loss of habitat. Today, after major conservation efforts, it is estimated that there are 1,900 tigers in India, with the numbers slowly increasing.
Current statistics have fifty-eight tigers recorded in Ranthambore. In fact, ninety-five percent of all tiger images in books, magazines and documentaries have been shot in Ranthambore, despite the fact that there are now 47 tiger preserves throughout the country. Tigers, however, are elusive cats and while they are not the only wildlife to be seen in Ranthambore (leopards, sloth bears, hyenas and other species can be seen), there is no question that they are the highlight of a visit. The best way to increase your chances of seeing a tiger is to stay for at least two, preferably three nights, and to come in April or May. Ranthambore’s popularity on the tourist circuit stems more from its convenient location in Rajasthan (which combines well with Jaipur and Agra) and high-quality accommodations than it does from its wildlife experience. For instance, there are Indian camps where leopard sightings are guaranteed and other tiger reserves with many fewer tourists and typically better sightings.
Ranthambore lies just 80 miles from Jaipur, but the drive takes about four hours. It is roughly 150 miles from Agra (a four-and-a-half-hour drive) and many will take the train from Bharatpur, which is a forty-minute drive from Agra.
When to Go
The best time to view tigers is from March to June. The weather is warm but the tigers tend to be more visible. The park is closed during monsoon season (July through September).
Entry tickets for the park must be obtained in advance, a process that can take many weeks. Travelers should make sure to secure their tickets prior to booking accommodations.