Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Tiger Sighting at Sariska Tiger Reserve - Review

I hadn’t gone on a vacation for a long time as I was busy with work and other issues. As my casual leaves for the year would lapse on 31st December, I thought I’d take a few days off and do something special – not too much, maybe a day trip to a nearby town. First we thought of going to nearby Agra or Jaipur, but eventually decided to go on a Sariska safari and do some tiger spotting. No one I know has ever really seen a tiger at the Sariska Tiger Reserve, and I didn’t really hope to sight one either – I just thought it would be wonderful to look at the deer and birds in their natural surroundings and get a feel of the outdoors. I could also wear the new ‘Outdoor Performance Gear’ jacket I had recently bought from Woodland, which was rather expensive.

Planning the Delhi-Alwar-Sariska-Delhi Trip

Before setting off, I did some research on the kinds of animals and birds that we would be able to see at the Sariska National Park, from their website www.rajasthanwildlife.in. We also booked online tickets for the safari jeep, which was Rs.105 per person. We were asked to enter identification details on the website (passport, voters ID card numbers on the site) and carry these identification documents with us. It was also mentioned to print individual indemnity forms (park will not be held responsible if tiger eats you etc.), and hand it to the guide when you enter the park. On arrival at the park, we would have to pay an additional Rs.350 per person for the gypsy and Rs.50 per person for the guide.

Well, we hired a Toyota Innova car (at the rate of Rs.11 per kilometer + toll charges + taxes etc.) and set off from Delhi to Sariska at 6.30 am. We had booked the afternoon safari, which was scheduled to begin at 1.30 pm, so there would be plenty of time to reach there. Please note, the timings of the Sariska safari (morning and evening) vary from month to month, as the daylight increases/decreases. As we started out from Delhi, it began to drizzle, and kept raining intermittently as we drove to Alwar and the Sariska Tiger Reserve. It also became freezing cold.

The Drive To Sariska for Tiger-Spotting

At about 9.30 am we stopped at a roadside dhaba called ‘Hotel Haveli Midway’ and had some hot aloo paranthas and tea. The place was clean and we were served well – the toilets were also clean and there was a bucket of hot water to wash hands - which was wonderful in this cold weather. The aloo parathas were really tasty, and we had a good laugh looking at the spellings on the menu. Here is a photo of it:

Check out the spelling of Rasgulla and Custard, not to mention gravy!

We then continued on to Sariska and Alwar. We were a bit early, and thought we’d check out some tourist places in Alwar – I heard there is a magnificent fort there. We checked our phones, ran a Google search and dug up information about what to see and do in Alwar – which was not much. We decided to go to the Alwar Fort – also known as Bala Fort. The scenery around Alwar city in Rajasthan was magnificent, with the towering Aravalli hills, the yellow mustard fields and trees. With the low lying clouds and slight drizzle, it seemed we were driving around a hill station rather than a supposed ‘desert’ area of India.

The Royal City of Alwar

We reached Alwar at about 10.30 am. It was a sleepy town. Not many shops were open and we could not buy the famous ‘milk cake’ sweet that Alwar is famous for. We asked around and drove to the Alwar Fort. The road from the Fort Gate to the actual Fort is about 13 kilometres, and goes in circles around a few Aravalli mountains. We had to be careful while driving, because the place was filled with peacocks, langurs and sambar deer, all jumping around. My sister had packed some pudina chutney sandwiches and we had a nice time feeding the sambar deer. They ate from my hand and were really cute.

Feeding a stag in Alwar - my Kirsten Stewart 'Snowhite' moment 
The Fort was on top of one of the hills, from where you could see the whole town of Alwar below. It was not a very big fort, and had many cannons displayed inside.

Palace inside the Bala Fort in Alwar

People around town had told us that we required special police permission to go inside it, but when we reached there, we saw that the gate was open and no one was available so we just walked in. We also saw a nearby Hanuman temple and the ruins of another medieval monument.

The Sariska Tiger Reserve Safari

As soon as it turned 11.30 am, we ran back to the Toyota Innova and set off for Sariska. The scenery on the one-hour drive from Alwar to Sariska was even better than what we had seen before. We finally reached the Sariska Tiger Reserve at 12.30 pm, about one-hour before the evening safari was due to start. We waited in line outside the ticket counter – it opened at about 1.00 pm. We had to pay an additional amount of Rs.150 (paid at the ticket counter) + 2,300 for hiring the jeep and guide, which we were supposed to give to the guide later. We were given a paper with a zone marked on it – which was zone 1.

We took our bag of snacks to the jeep (the guide allowed us) – and sat in it. Soon the driver and guide joined us. The driver had information that a tiger was lazing about in zone 3 (the smallest zone) and changed the zone. We then entered the Sariska Tiger Reserve – all set for a nice safari adventure. My brother was sure that we would spot a tiger, but I was not really bothered as I hadn’t heard of anyone spotting a tiger at Sariska before. I thought it would be good just to have a long ride in the wilderness in the jeep – in fact I was a bit nervous about actually sighting a tiger.

Tiger Sighting in Sariska

The driver and guide told us to keep our eyes peeled for the tiger, as we drove through the thick bushes and vegetation. They stopped outside a small building to get a hint about the location of the tiger through the geo-tracking radio collar it was wearing. We then drove us into deeper forest, and I began feeling really scared. There was a lone black buffalo grazing in the middle of the path. Suddenly, the guide hissed and the driver stopped the jeep. He asked the driver to move the jeep back and pointed in the dense forest. There we saw the tiger – it was golden and black, fur shining in the sun, sitting majestically in the typical royal Bengal tiger pose.

Tiger sighting in Alwar - she looked so peaceful

The guide said this was a female tigress – T3, which came from Ranthambore forest. She was wearing a black tracking collar. The tiger yawned, and we saw her long fangs. My sister became terrified and weakly sat down in her seat. I kept watching the tiger, as my friends took photos and made a video. We saw another jeep coming down the path. I signaled to them that a tiger had been spotted, so that they could also get some photos - the tiger would also have some more 'attacking options' just in case she wanted a quick meal.

The ensuing noise disturbed the tigress, and she got up and walked away as if she wanted to come down from the brush and cross the road. We drove down the road a bit further, to check if we could spot her. The guide saw the tiger hiding in the bushes near the road, and told the driver to reverse the jeep a few metres. We reversed the jeep and waited. Soon we spotted the Sariska tiger again. She came out of the lush bushes, gave us a cursory glance, and began walking down the road.


I kept watching her as she strolled along the road in front of us. I felt really peaceful and fortunate to see a tiger this close at the Sariska National Park. However, this was not all. The tigress saw the lone black buffalo grazing at the end of the path. She began crouching as if ready to pounce, and we thought we would actually see a kill. Suddenly, three other buffaloes came around the bend. They stared down at the tiger, and she ran back into the green forest. We moved the jeep ahead to where we had seen her, but the jungle was too thick, and she seemed to have run in too far.

Suddenly, other safari jeeps began pouring in, having got the message of the tiger sighting. We told them that there was no tiger here, and then turned back. The guide said that the tiger seemed hungry, so we yelled at him that we’d better get out of here immediately. The driver and guide seemed to be keener and more excited to see the tiger than we were. They took us to a clearing and said the tiger would most probably come out here - we should wait a few minutes. We waited a few minutes; there were many colourful birds to look at.

Other Animals in Sariska Tiger Reserve

However, I began to feel nervous, so we told the driver to move the jeep forward. We said we wanted to see the other animals in the Sariska Tiger Reserve – like the langur, which was also very cute. Other animals we saw at the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary were the cheetal deer (spotted deer), the sambar deer (favourite food of the tiger), the neelgai (or bluebull – which is an antelope), wild boars (jungli suar), peacocks, langurs, monkeys and jackals (they always roam about in pairs). There were also lots of colourful birds in the trees, like the jungle warbler (grey angry bird) and the tree pie (yellow/blue angry bird).

Birds are angry cause they are not getting any sandwiches

We tried out antlers at the small forest house museum of the Sariska National Park. They were really big and heavy. We also saw samples of the pugmarks (footprints) of various animals at the Sariska Tiger Reserve like the leopard and other wild cats. The drive around the park was very relaxing. The driver took the jeep through dense jungles and showed us where porcupines and hyenas lived. The safari jeep (which had four-wheel drive) climbed over steep inner roads and rocky paths. With the slight rain and fog, the experience was wonderful. We finished the safari about one-hour early, as we had already spotted the tiger and it was getting really cold.

Of course, the driver and guide asked us for a tip as they had helped us sight the tiger. We did not have that much money with us – so we could only give them a small tip. However, they told us to tell our friends about the tiger spotting in Sariska so that more people come here, and the villages get business. Well, I’ve told my friends and now I’ve told everyone on the Internet as well, so I hope the guides and the drivers do well, and the tigers of Sariska continue to remain protected. It is only when villages around the area realize they are making more money from the tigers living at the wildlife sanctuary, than they are from losing their livestock as prey/poaching, that they will work to protect the tigers and inform forest officials about poachers.

Crocodile infested lake - also a watering hole for the tigers.

We left Sariska and its tigers at about 5.00 pm for Delhi. We took another route back and saw some more beautiful scenery on the way as the light faded – majestic rock faces of the Aravalli cliffs, golden-yellow mustard fields, village scenes and low-lying clouds. On the way back, we spent about five hours on the road, as we were caught in a massive traffic jam near the Manesar area. We finally reached home at about 10.30 pm and ordered for food from outside. The cost for hiring the Toyota Innova came to Rs.5050. All in all, it was a marvelous outing.

Other Review Points 
  • Driver and Guide: They were very helpful and enthusiastic. They helped us spot the tiger and even took us up close. The guide gave us a lot of information about the tigers and other animals in the Sariska National Park, such as their eating habits, mating habits and other behaviour. This was equal to the kind of information I get from National Geographic, Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. They also drove us along the rocky interior paths of the jungle, where the other jeeps were not going. The canter cannot be taken through this area.
  • Food: There was a small canteen outside Sariska Park that was selling cold drinks and patties only. We had a small picnic basket (with sandwiches, chips and mango juice), which the guide allowed us to take inside. Feeding animals and birds is not allowed, and all waste paper should be taken back with you. Do not throw trash around the national park.
  • Toilets: There was one toilet outside the park which was very smelly, but we had no option and had to use it. The driver stopped at the small forest house museum, which he said had a toilet we could use. However, we did not need to try it.
  • Prices: It was expensive, but since we saw the tiger it was worth it. The price of the canter was lower, but canters do not take you down the interior highly-wooded paths of the forest where you have a better chance of sighting a tiger. Anyway, the prices were much lower than the prices charged at the Jim Corbett National Park.
Have you been to the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar, Rajasthan? Did you sight any tigers there? What about other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries?

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