Having had our fill of the mountains we decided to head towards the sandy forests of Ranthambore in search of the elusive Tiger. I am not a big fan of the desert but was motivated by the experience of an acquaintance who met Sher Singh up close. I got the heebie jeebies just recalling his experience and it seemed too tempting to resist.
The First Mistake
Having missed a couple of opportunities for getaways on long weekends me and the Mrs decided that we couldn't miss the holi opportunity. Having never tried travelling on holi and having spent the last 6 odd years in the South of the country where holi is (almost) irrelevant I wasn't really prepared for what awaited us. We were warned upfront by people (my dad will be nodding furiously if/when he reads this) but the bookings had been done and we had decided to start our journey at the unearthly hour of 4 am in order to avoid any incidents.
We felt safe and had an uneventful journey till around 10 am after which the fun started. As soon as we crossed one of the toll plazas on the state highway we found a roadblock manned by a team of youngsters armed with flimsy looking sticks. Since I had never experienced something like this earlier and was accompanied by 2 ladies, I was alarmed and decided to turn back to the toll booth 500 mtrs in the opposite direction where I had noticed a police jeep.
The cops were unhelpful and/or in cahoots with the Holi mafia and we were asked to register a complaint with the area police station who would then send another jeep. They too were kind enough to remind me of the mistake of venturing out on Holi (Dad! stop shaking your head). After waiting for a 10 minute eternity we were met by another Sikh couple who were travelling to Ranthambore with their 3 teen-aged daughters (and you thought I had it bad). There were other folks who were travelling on that day as well but they were the only ones who cared enough to stop. The couple and their caravan were coming from Jaipur and told us that they had crossed many such Holi toll booths along the way and a mere 20 bucks will get us through them. That gave us confidence and we followed them all the way to our destination crossing roughly 30 such Holi toll booths.
It was the Sikh gentleman's calm and tactful behavior while dealing with these groups that comforted us and honestly speaking this was something I can definitely learn and implement.
Lesson learnt: In the end we got to our destination safely, however given the mood of the folks on the roadblocks and my short-tempered nature anything could have happen. This is a mistake I am not likely to repeat in a hurry.
The Second Mistake
This happened on the way back from Ranthambore when we were speeding down a empty stretch of the highway and noticed a mini traffic jam at a distance. A bit of questioning informed us that there had been an accident and the villagers had blocked the road. Since the jam seems a little ominous we followed a person who seemed to know a parallel road running through the fields. The road was one of those very narrow lanes which separates one farm from another and are mostly (or only) meant for tractors. Anyway everything seemed to be going smoothly when a moments lapse of concentration (I was trying to see the traffic buildup on the highway) led the entire left side of the car into a mini ditch.
It wasn't a totally lost cause since we were going really slowly on a really bumpy road but my Precious was stuck deep and I was nearly on the verge of tears. The partial saving grace was that we went down in front of a villager's house and he was able to summon a group of 10-12 youngsters who actually lifted the not so light Swift dzire from the ditch and onto the so called road. The real sigh of relief came when the car started and moved ahead without any signs of damage to the axel.
One set of villagers lead us into the ditch (I played my part in it as well) and another set of villagers got us out. We offered them money in return for their help but they furiously refused to accept. By the time we negotiated the rest of the village road and got back onto tarred roads the highway had been cleared but the thought of being the idiot in that village had not quite cleared.
Lesson learnt: Stay on the ROAD and Keep your eyes on it at all times.
Dude!! but where is the friggin Tiger in all of this. I guess if you have been reading till now that is exactly what you are thinking.... aren't you? Well we did see the Tiger and we did have a relaxing time while we were there.
The Place - Rantambore National park is located about 15 kms from the small town of Sawai Madhopur. The city area has nothing much to offer and seems pretty backward even though there are quite a few foreigners who come to catch a glimpse of he sun and Sher Singh. Mostly locals tend to stare at you as if you have landed from a different planet.
The Hotel - We stayed at Raj palace resorts which is located at the outskirts of Sawai Madhopur. The hotel had a very nice garden and the rooms were really classy for the 1600 a night that we paid. The hotel has a decent sized swimming pool as well and being a water baby I was really thrilled. The crowd was a good mixture of families like ours from Delhi and other neighboring cities with a generous helpings of foreigners. The only sore point of the hotel was the food they only serve buffets for all meals which are (very) excessively priced. We had most of our meals outside the restaurant since we as usual wanted to enjoy the local cuisine of dal baati churma etc.
The Safari - We took the early morning safari and weren't really prepared for the biting cold that was waiting for us. So if you decide to go in the winters then...... All the best. Living in concrete jungles we city dwellers generally get really fascinated by even the most common of animals or birds. And the park has a large amount of peacocks, wild boar, spotted deers, sambhar etc.
The Route - We referred the blog from Ghumakkar and used route 1 on our way there and route 2 on our way back. Its a little difficult to catch route 2 on your way out of Delhi unless you know your way around Daruheda. Our experience on route 2 was marginally better due to lesser traffic and better roads. For details on the routes refer the blog.
In conclusion, the travelling spirit was shaken but still lived on to travel another day.