A trip to the beautiful state of Rajasthan had been on our bucket list for so long, that it had gathered moss. Finally it materialized this October, when we managed to cover a tiny bit of what Rajasthan had to offer. Even though we had nearly 8 days, travel time within Rajasthan ate up quite a bit of it.
Our first stop was Ranthambore, roughly a 4-5 hours drive from Jaipur and connected by good roads.Train journey is only 2.5 hours and there are regular trains to the small town of Sawai Madhopur. Typical of tourist places, Ranthambore hotels are generally expensive and in the best interests of our wallets, we chose to stay at the Vinayaka residency run by RTDC.They offer clean functional rooms with good bathrooms.
Ranthambore Fort,one of the main attractions in Ranthambore,is a beautiful fort and was once counted among the most impregnable forts of India. It was coveted by the Mughal rulers because of its strategic importance in the trade route and was built sometime during 944 AD during the reign of Chauhan Rajput King.
The sharp spikes on the main entrance door prevented elephants from breaking open the door.Even more ingenious was the use of a right-angled shaped entry to access the gate. This prevented any possibility of exerting a strong force to break open the door.
Called the Andheri Gate or Pol, this gate falsely leads an enemy to an open ground which had a pit covered with grass, while the real entrance was on the right.
Battis Khamba Chattri (32 Pillared Umbrella) is built right in the center of the fort to commemorate 32 years of rule of the King.There was a small Shiva temple which was situated right under the Battis Chchattri, entry to which was again through a secret passage that’s not easily visible.
True to the intrigue that surrounded the place,the walls bear history to a lot of tragic happenings. Hammir Dev, an illustrious Rajput ruler invited the wrath of Mughal Ruler Allauddin Khilji, when he gave protection to Khilji’s enemy. When Khilji found a direct incursion was extremely difficult, he chose treachery and bribed Hammir’s two generals. After the battle, the traitorous generals raised the black flag of the Mughals even though Hammir was very much alive, and all the women in the fort committed Jauhar (suicide).The married women committed Agni Jauhar (immolation) and the unmarried Jal Jauhar (drowning).
When Hammir found out about the treachery, he tortured and beheaded the traitors on this very rock. Afterwards, he had no desire to live and he chose to give up his life in front of Lord Shiva.( This was the version as told by the local guide. I did however find some contradictory facts about the nature of his death, some of which claimed that Hammir had died in the battle itself.I also couldn’t find too many details about the exact nature of the treachery. However the guide’s version could have been passed down as popular folklore and was riveting to hear). In fact, the guide also inserted some mythology here and claimed that Lord Shiva did not want to take Hammir’s life , but on the third attempt Hammir had his way !
The fort was huge and involved plenty of walking.There were also a lot of monkeys in the fort eating a whitish powder, which we later discovered to be Bajra powder which the locals fed them.
In the afternoon at 2.30,was our trip to the Tiger Reserve.The safari happens both in the mornings and afternoons.After consulting experts who claimed to have direct contacts with the tigers, we were advised the afternoon safari.The reserve is split into several zones and we were allotted Zone-6 (Again vetoed by the tiger astrologers).One can either take a canter ( which is an open van with seating of about 20 people) or a gypsy (if the number is less than 7). The canter costed us 550 bucks/seat and off we went on a bumpy ride across the town. Sawai Madhopur is a very small dusty town, mainly surviving on the tourism industry.The narrow bylanes and the small run-down shops were a stark contrast to the plush touristy hotels.
Finally we entered the jungle through the Zone-6 entry gate. It’s an interesting forest, very different than the ones we see in the western Ghats. Dry deciduous trees alternate with open grassy meadows making the changing scenery a pleasure to watch.Photography is a difficult accomplishment unless you have more than two hands, considering that you needed both of them to hold on for dear life and to keep ducking to escape passing branches. In fact, one of our co-passengers, a french lady, who underestimated the ride, was unseated ignominiously from her seat.
Over 40 species of mammals which includes tigers,leopards,sambar deer,spotted deer,neel gais and jackals ; 35 species of reptiles and 320 species of birds including migratory birds are found in the jungle. We spotted a lot of sambar deer, spotted deer, a wild boar, a crocodile which was catching the last rays of the sun. When we stopped to see a Grey Pond Heron which was busy doing its own thing, a pot bellied Uncleji wanted to know if we were planning to waste time on such things instead of looking for the “main cheez”.
We did finally spot some tiger paw prints on the road, but didn’t spot any tiger, though there were 20 pairs of eyes of straining hard to see moving stripes. As is the norm in such safaris, one gets to hear of the morning travelers who managed to spot or the ones that went after us who got lucky.
We contended ourselves by posing in our tiger T-shirts.Considering that I normally haven’t ever had the luck of spotting any of the big cats or for that matter anything even remotely falling in the “dangerous predatory animals” category, this safari didn’t do anything to upset my comfortable status quo.
My husband, who’s a birder and a naturalist,managed to spot several birds. Photo Courtsey: A Ajit
We departed from Ranthambore the following day by train and onto our next destination – Jaisalmer !