An Indian Tiger Safari
We spent a couple days of our 20-day tour of India recently at the Oberoi Vanyavilas, a tented safari camp in Sawai Madhopur, on the edge of Ranthambore National Park. Ranthambore is one of several notable national parks throughout India where tigers can be spotted, the other most famous parks being Jim Corbett and Bandavargh. We mainly chose to visit Ranthambore because of the close proximity to the "Golden Triangle" of Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, and the great reputation of the Oberoi Vanyavilas resort.
Vanyavilas lived up to its reputation. The resort is gorgeous, the individual tents huge and divinely decorated, and the service the best we ever had. We arrived by train from Delhi quite late, at about 2AM, and an ensemble of about ten staff were up waiting up for us, offering us fresh watermelon juice, escorting us to our room,etc. The chef waited up specifically to ask us if he could prepare us a late-night snack, and when we said we were famished he guessed perfectly and prepared some grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches, pickles and french fries (our first "American" meal after days of eating curries and tikkas, perfect at that late hour!) Every minute we spent at Vanyavilas was heaven, even with the early start to the jeep safaris in the morning!
The perfect safari day: 6AM we waited in the lobby for our jeeps "gypsys" to arrive, where fresh squeezed juices, coffee and cookies were waiting to help us wake up. They packed us into 6-person open jeeps with blankets (with the wind blowing it can be quite cold until the sun comes out) and sent us on our way. It's about a 15 minute drive to the park entrance, where a collection of 6-person jeeps and much larger 20-person "canters" were lined up waiting to get in. They stagger the entrance to the park and break up the entire park into different regions, each gypsy or canter must stay in their designated region. Thus, some haggling can go on behind the scenes for the driver and guides to get the better regions where the most tigers have been seen. More tiger spottings = happier passengers = bigger tips for the driver! Well, we got lucky! After spotting some tracks and droppings, we tracked down two 8-month old tiger cubs within the first hour of the safari. One was waiting on the side of the road, posing quietly for us as if he knew we wanted his photo:
He and his sibling showed off for us for a while, wrestling and playing in the trees a bit. We went off and explored a bit more of the park but kept returning to spy on these two amazing cubs. They ultimately were hiding back behind a bunch of bushes, and the 6 of us in the jeep kept having to essentially play "Where's Waldo" trying to spot the cubs in the brush. Regardless of the chance of spotting one of the 32 current tigers and cubs at Ranthambore, the park itself is gorgeous, with some lakes, some old ruins of castles and hunting lodges strewn throughout. The huge crumbling Ranthambore fort still hovers high above on a peak and hindu ceremonies are still held in a temple in the same area. There is a wide assortment of other wildlife including elk, parrots, monkeys, several types of deer, peacocks, crocodiles, wild boars, etc. Even without a tiger spotting, the trip is worthwhile. Of course, the drivers are incredibly focused on finding a tiger for their passengers to photograph, so it really becomes a game of cat-and-mouse!
After our three hours in the park were up, we drove back to Vanyavilas to have breakfast, swap stories of tiger spottings (or lack thereof, as the case may be) with other guests, and relax until the afternoon safari. The breakfast there is fabulous, served if you like in their outdoor courtyard surrounding a big bonfire pit. A well-deserved meal after all that driving around!
1PM and back out for drive number two! I have to admit my husband and I were still on a high from seeing the first two cubs. Only about half of the guests we spoke with saw anything during their first drive, and spotting a cub earns you extra bragging rights! We didn't necessarily have high expectations for the second drive and doubted that anything could top the sightings of the first. And for the first couple hours we were correct. We drove to a new, more open and more beautiful area of the park where the biggest lake is located. Literally hundreds of animals were feeding and hanging around in the marshy areas around the lake. Our driver thought there was a chance the famous tiger "Lady of the Lake" (the world's most photographed tiger) would appear, but after a couple hours of lingering around the same areas we were ready to give up. My husband and I weren't disappointed - we had had an excellent morning sighting and could leave for the day happy - but the driver was determined. Finally, just before we were ready to leave, we went back to the same spot we had been lurking all afternoon. We knew something was up when we saw several other jeeps circled around. There she was, the "Lady of the Lake" acting the diva in a little mud puddle, splashing around and posing for all of the paparazzi! She was huge and gorgeous, and gave my husband some amazing photos:
Then, just as she was getting up and beginning to leave the area, our driver began leaving also. He seemed to know what he was doing, so we dared not protest! Amazingly, "Lady"
was not far behind. Our driver knew that she was circling around the lake and he took a back way to catch up. Little did we know that what he suspected would happen was about to come true: "Lady" was circling to pick up her 3 3-month old cubs, who had never before been seen by visitors! The four of them crossed directly in front of our jeep and then walked on down the road. We were speechless. They were amazing.
After all of this excitement, we were thrilled and exhausted! We were happy to retreat back to our lovely tent for a well-needed nap. And after resting and revisiting our new hundreds of photos, we returned to the Vanyavilas dining room for an amazing alfresco dinner, this time with a full bonfire and live musical accompaniment. Thankfully all of the Vanyavilas guests had had at least one tiger spotting during the day. Several had joined us in the spotting of "Lady of the Lake". Spirits were very high! I can't recommend Vanyavilas and a visit to Ranthambore National Park enough. It really was the highlight of our entire trip to India, which was in itself filled with wonderful days. Vanyavilas was superb. Besides the safari excursions, it is a wonderful relaxing place to unwind after days of dealing with the craziness of the Indian cities. The service is exceptional without being suffocating. There are other activities to be had, such as a spa treatment or yoga class. We decided our second day to skip the jeep tours (the first day had been so good, we didn't think it could get any better!) and had a private yoga class in their outdoor yoga pavilion, which is serene and lovely. There were even wild peacocks walking around in the distance as we did our down dogs and sun salutations! It was a lovely couple days and I wouldn't have changed it. Hopefully Luxury Link will add some of these Oberoi hotels to the portfolio as they would fit the criteria perfectly.
Message Edited by claassenam on 04-09-200710:15 AM