Early in 2019, I found myself on a business trip in southern India. During that trip, I miraculously had a full weekend without any meetings or work obligations. Instead of toiling away, I decided to embark on a different kind of mission: to catch a glimpse of a tiger for the first time in my life. After extensive research, it became evident that one of the most promising places to go on a tiger safari was Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan.
Given my limited time, I hopped on a plane from Chennai to Jaipur on a late Friday afternoon. Since I had business meetings scheduled for Monday morning, I had to return on Sunday. This meant I had just one day to make the trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore on Saturday and fulfill my mission: to see one or more tigers.
Is a one day trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore possible?
To address the most obvious question, can you make a day trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park? The answer is a resounding yes. I headed to GetYourGuide.com and booked a one-day trip. At approximately 6 AM, a private car and driver picked me up from my hotel, ready to transport me to Ranthambore. The trip went smoothly, and even though the driver didn’t speak much English, he arrived punctually. I loaded my backpack, brimming with snacks, water, binoculars, and a camera, into the car.
We drove directly from the hotel to the village near the national park. The journey, which was perfectly safe with daylight, took around five hours—four hours of driving and one hour spent at a tourist trap of a local restaurant/souvenir shop, where you were handed one or two pieces of toilet paper upon entering the restrooms.
By 11 AM, we reached the outskirts of the national park, and I was asked to wait in the lobby of a hotel until 1 PM. At that time, a jeep driver and guide would pick me up to embark on a safari lasting from 2 PM until 5:30 PM. I wasn’t alone in my anticipation; approximately 50 other tourists were also waiting for their jeeps and guides. Engaging in conversation with my fellow tiger seekers, I discovered that it was more common to take multiple safaris to increase the chances of spotting a tiger. A heated debate ensued regarding the best gates and sectors for tiger sightings. During my visit, according to those I spoke to, Zone 3 was the lucky sector.
As luck would have it, my jeep arrived last, and I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of nervousness, wondering if I had been forgotten. However, I quickly learned that I was fortunate, as we were about to venture into Zone 3.
Chances of seeing a tiger on a one day tiger safari
By now, I had come to realize that my chances of spotting a tiger during a single 3.5-hour trip into the park were quite slim. Tigers in the wild, of course, follow their own schedule and don’t adhere to my itinerary. Most tourists who visit Ranthambore for several days book multiple jeep safaris to improve their chances of encountering a tiger. Witnessing a tiger on your first safari is akin to winning the lottery, although it does happen. So, my odds of catching a glimpse of the majestic big cat were just as good as those of more experienced travelers on their jeeps.
What was the jeep tour like in Ranthambore?
I shared my jeep ride with several other tourists—Indians who lived in the United States and had returned to their motherland to show their daughter the beauty of her country. Like me, they had only booked one safari. However, we were quite confident that we would see a tiger, considering my positive track record. On my last safari in Sri Lanka, I spotted every animal on the list, including an up-close encounter with two leopards, all within a single day.
As we entered the park, our jeep traversed the bushes and forests along various tracks. We made quick stops to admire a rare bird species, followed by another pause to marvel at a unique type of deer. Ten minutes later, we found ourselves observing water buffaloes sharing the water with massive crocodiles. Shortly after, we halted to gaze at a canyon where a tiger family had supposedly been sighted that morning. Judging by the arrival of 20 other jeeps at the top of the canyon, I assumed the reports were accurate. However, the tigers didn’t make an appearance during our wait, so we gave up and decided to descend into the canyon.
Drawing closer to the tigers
Safely seated in our jeep, we descended into the canyon, where a river had carved its path over centuries. As we made our way through the canyon, we maintained absolute silence, not wanting to frighten away the tigers that had been sighted that morning. Each breath I took was in stealth mode, my heart pounding. It truly felt like we were venturing into the realm of tigers.
We explored the canyon, driving up and down its paths for about half an hour, but all we encountered were birds and lizards. The tigers remained hidden, and time was running out on my quest to see a tiger during my one-day trip to Ranthambore. We had to return to the top of the canyon or try other areas of the park in hopes of finding the elusive creatures. At that moment, our guide received a phone call—a tiger had been spotted in our zone.
We swiftly made our way out of the canyon and raced towards the location where the tiger had been sighted. However, as time ticked away, we had a mere 30 minutes left to glimpse the tiger. It was a make-or-break moment, where the worth of my flight from southern India, transfers, hotel stay, and one-day safari would be determined. We sped towards the watering hole where the tigers had been seen, only to be met by a group of jeeps heading towards us. The jeeps were filled with tourists like us, but unlike us, they were brimming with adrenaline and enthusiasm—they had just witnessed the tiger. Their trip was complete, while ours remained unfinished. Undeterred, we accelerated towards the watering hole, realizing that we now had a mere 20 minutes left.
Tigers at the watering hole?
Upon our arrival, not a single jeep remained near the watering hole. Either the tiger had moved on or the tourists had their fill of tiger sightings. Unfortunately, the former turned out to be true. After a brief stop for hydration, the tiger gracefully retreated into the forest, away from the prying eyes of visitors. Meanwhile, time had run its course, and we had to exit the park. Our guide assured us that he had been on many safaris where tigers were spotted while en route to the exit, instilling a glimmer of hope. We frantically peered into the woods, occasionally stopping for what we thought might be a tiger, as we approached the park’s gate. Alas, my mission to see a tiger on a single trip to Ranthambore had ended in failure.
Little did I know that the adventure was far from over. At that moment, I had no inkling that I would soon be calling my wife to tell her I loved her because, in just two hours, I believed I was about to meet my demise.
The worst part of the one-day Ranthambore tiger safari
As the safari concluded at 5:30 PM, daylight still lingered. However, within an hour or so, darkness would descend. What I hadn’t anticipated when I booked the one-day trip was that the return journey would take place in the dark, navigating Rajasthan’s roads—an endeavor strongly discouraged. The four-hour morning trip morphed into over six hours of nerve-wracking travel, as my driver battled fatigue and encountered the chaos of other drivers on the road. Trucks with no lights careened down the wrong side of the road. Dogs, goats, cows, and chickens shared the streets, while in villages, people warmed their hands around fires in oil drums. I had witnessed it all.
After enduring the most uncomfortable drive of my life, I finally arrived back at the hotel around midnight. The one-day Ranthambore Safari from Jaipur had concluded. Although my mission had failed, I felt a sense of relief. I was grateful to have survived the treacherous roads of Rajasthan during that wild night. I recommend everyone to visit Ranthambore, but I strongly advise against making it a day trip from Jaipur. Unless, of course, you have an appetite for a crazily dangerous Rajasthani road trip. Should you be interested in such an adventure, you can find the tour I booked here on GetYourGuide.