Early 2019 I was on a business trip in southern India. During that trip I had a full weekend without meetings or work to do. I decided that this weekend was not for work but to go on another kind of mission: seeing a tiger for the first time in my life. After doing extensive research, I found out that one of the most obvious places to go on a tiger safari was Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan.
Since I didn’t have too much time, I hopped on a plane from Chennai to Jaipur in the later afternoon of Friday. As I had to attend business meetings on Monday morning, I had to fly back on Sunday again. This gave me the opportunity to do a day trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore on Saturday. The mission: see one or more tigers.
Is a one day trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore possible?
To start with the most obvious question, is a day trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park possible? The answer is yes. I went on GetYourGuide.com and booked the one day trip. I was picked up at about 6 AM from my hotel and had a private car and driver that took me to Ranthambore. The trip went smoothly and the driver, who didn’t really speak English, arrived perfectly on time. I loaded my backpack which was filled with snacks, water, binoculars and a camera into the car.
From the hotel we directly drove to the village near the national park. The trip, which was perfectly save with daylight took about five hours: four hours of driving and one hour spent in at a tourist trap local restaurant/souvenir shop where you were handed one or two pieces of toilet paper as you entered the restrooms.
We arrived at the outskirts of the national park around 11 and I was asked to wait in the lobby of a hotel until 1 PM. At 1 PM I would be picked up by a jeep driver and guide who would take me into the park for a safari that lasted from 2PM until 5:30 PM. I wasn’t alone. About 50 other tourists were waiting for their jeeps and guides to pick them up. Speaking to my fellow tiger seekers, I learned that it was more common to take multiple safaris to increase the chance of seeing a tiger. A heavy debate started about what gates and sectors gave the best of spotting a tiger. During my visit, zones 3 was the lucky sector according to those I spoke to.
As my jeep arrived last, and I already started to get nervous whether I was being picked up at all, I learned I was lucky and we were about to go into zones 3.
Chances of seeing a tiger on a one day tiger safari
By now I have learned that my chances on seeing a tiger on a single 3.5 hour trip into the park were pretty slim. Tigers in the wild of course do their own thing and don’t adhere to my schedule. Most tourists, go to Ranthambore for several days book multiple jeep safaris to extend their chances of seeing a tiger. Seeing a tiger on your first safari was like winning the lottery but of course it did happen. My chances of spotting the majestic large cat were as big as anyone of these more experienced travelers on their jeeps.
What the Jeep tour is like in Ranthambore
I shared my jeep ride with several other tourists. They were Indians that lived in the United States and came back to their mother land to show their daughter the beauty of her country. Like me they only booked one safari. But we were pretty sure we would see a tiger and I had a positive track record. On my last safari in Sri Lanka, I saw absolutely every animal on the list, during a one day safari including an up and close experience with two leopards.
As we entered the park we drove through the bushes and forests on several tracks. Quickly we stopped to look at a very special bird species. Soon after we stopped to look at special kind of deer. Ten minutes later we watched water buffaloes sharing the water with massive crocodiles. A bit later we stopped to stare at a canyon were a tiger family were supposedly sighted in the morning. I guess that was true since 20 other jeeps also showed up at the top of the canyon. While we were waiting the tigers didn’t come so we gave up and decided to descend into the canyon.
Getting closer to the tigers
While safely sitting in our jeep, we drove down into the canyon where a river had carved out the canyon for centuries. While we drove into the canyon we remained silent. The only thing I could was my heart beat as I didn’t want to scare away the tigers that were sighted that morning. Every breath I took was in stealth mode. I truly felt like were entered tiger’s land.
We drove up and down the canyon for about half an hour and only found birds and lizards. The tigers were in hiding and the clock was running out on my plan to see a tiger on a one day trip to Ranthambore. We had to get back to the top of the canyon or try other places in the park to see tigers. At that moment our guide received a phone call. A tiger was spotted in our zone.
As quick as we could we made it out of the canyon and raced towards the area where the tiger was spotted. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and we had only 30 minutes to see the tiger. 30 minutes to find out if my flight from the south of India, transfers, hotel stay and one day safari were worth it. We drove towards the watering hole were the tigers were spotted. Once we came closer a group of jeeps approached us. The jeeps were filled with tourists like us. But unlike us the tourists were filled with adrenaline and enthusiasm. They just saw the tiger. Their trip was complete, ours wasn’t so we sped up towards the watering hole as we now only had 20 minutes left.
Tigers at the water hole?
Once we arrived at the watering hole, no jeeps were left. Either the tiger had left or the tourists had enough of the tigers. Unfortunately the first was true. After a hydration stop, the tiger walked back into the forest away from the tourists. Meanwhile, time was up and we had to leave the park. Our guide said that he was on many safaris where he spotted tigers while driving towards the exit which meant there was still hope. While we were frantically looking into the woods, occasionally stopping for something we thought that was a tiger, we approached the gate of the park. My mission to see a tiger on a single trip to Ranthambore had failed.
While I though the adventure was over, I didn’t realize the adventure was yet to begin. At this moment I didn’t realize I was about to call my wife to tell her I love her because in two hours I thought I was about to die.
The worst part of the one-day Ranthambore tiger safari
As the safari ended at 5:30 PM, it was still daytime. In an hour or so, it was dark. What I didn’t realize when I booked the one day trip is that the return journey would take place in the dark and on Rajasthan’s roads that is absolutely not recommended. The journey that took four hours in the morning took more than 6 hours as my driver at to battle fatigueless, and the absolutely mental other drivers on the road. Trucks with no lights driving on the wrong side of the road. Dogs, goats, cows and chicken sharing the road and villages where people were warming their hands at a fire in a oil drum, I have seen it all.
After the most uncomfortable drive in my life, I arrived back in the hotel around midnight. The one day Ranthambore Safari from Jaipur was over. My mission had failed but I was happy. Happy that I survived the crazy night roads of Rajasthan. I recommend everybody to go to Ranthambore but not do it as a daytrip from Jaipur. If you are anyway interested in a crazy dangerous Rajasthani road trip, you can find the tour I booked here at GetYourGuide.