Travel is about discovering something. Should a ‘discovery’ always lead to joy and a desire for more? Not necessarily.
Located at a distance of about 400km from our place of residence in New Delhi is Rajasthan’s Sawai Madhopur district, famous for the Ranthambore national park which most know as a sure-shot tiger spotting avenue. I first heard about it when US President Bill Clinton chose to visit the place during his tour to India in March 2000.
Since we were to travel in a relatively shorter timeframe (Jan 1-Jan 4), we chose the train.
In the first hours of the first day of the new year, we found ourselves awaiting the 19806 Udhampur Kota Express at Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. Since I was boarding a train after a long gap, I was keen to see how much had things improved (at this point, delivering a cleaner, passenger-friendly approach has been the focus of the railway minister Suresh Prabhu). The station area felt slightly cleaner but the basic bit about having proper announcements for the convenience of passengers was missing. Found no notification about the where bogies would arrive and the like. So a lot is still the same.
Since we were tracking the train, when it did arrive at 5am (initial time of arrival was 3:55am), we boarded and located our seats. The cold just shot up, once the train picked speed. The windows, though shut, did little to block the chilly wind from percolating. While the seating area felt cleaner, the toilets were all but that. By 10:30am, we were at Sawai Madhopur railway station. The train did good speed.
After boarding a rickshaw, driven by a gentle and patient Chawlaji, a local, we reached our hotel (my TripAdvisor review: https://goo.gl/n5PUqC).
Over the next two days, we did a few jungle safaris and came out a tad dejected since the big cat’s trail turned out cold.
My dismay with Ranthambore can hardly be because of that. After all, any such excursion is a chance and I was mentally prepared for what eventually happened.
Let me begin by informing you that the place is nothing but a dirty, dust bowl, all the way from Sawai Madhopur to Khilchipur.
The local administration, earning as it does from the oversubscribed park safaris and taxes has taken not a step to prevent the place from resembling an overflowing dust bin. Pigs scrounge overflowing, plastic-ridden garbage dumps on both sides of the only yet poorly maintained road which delivers an almost back-breaking ride. Dust pours into your lungs the minute you roll your windows down.
Nothing, just nothing, seems to have been done to beautify the place.
Coming to the park, the main attraction – to my horror I discovered a traffic jam on every occasion we entered. It was hardly the case that things settled down once inside. Thanks to an old temple, located deep inside the park, the authorities allow unrestricted traffic movement. The tranquillity, the rich quality of air you’d visit a forest for, we found blown into smithereens as car owners, jeep drivers, vehicles for tiger safaris honk, fight and speed on the way. As a private car owner you will travel free, deeper into the forest than a tourist who pays to get inside, on to a route or a zone! On our third excursion into the park, so disgusted we were that we cut it short mid-way and returned to our hotel.
Spotting a tiger has been reduced to the luxury of ‘VIP routes’ as locals call them. These are routes on which those who ‘know someone’ get to go to. Our hotel owner advised us to ‘make calls to the park authorities’ if we wanted to spot the tiger.
In this trip, I also attempted at breaking out of the ‘agent-route’ and booking the safari on my own. Nearly died in the process.
For all the money people are willing to pour into visiting the place, the park authorities have constructed a typical, bureaucratic match-box where tourists and agents line up along the dusty highway and wait behind iron grills to purchase their pass. The lords of the safari who occupy the high table inside open the grill which ensures an avalanche of people troop in through a narrow opening (it was a stampede where I fell down and got up in time before being crushed) and yell to secure seats in the safari vehicles.
Why there can’t be a less hazardous way of doing this, needs to be asked.
Before I end, I must also bring to you the tale of a most ridiculous ‘museum’ that I have come across. For the sake of brevity, I shall only that every minute I spent in there was the most under utilisation of my time. It, to my mind, is also the most wasteful utilisation of a building beautifully constructed, almost resembling a palace.
On our way back, we boarded 19019 Dehradun Express from Sawai Madhopur. A clean, on-time performance is what we got.
Thus ended our first trip in the New Year.
I wish I had spotted the big cat. Perhaps my words would be seen differently then however such are the ways of the wild.
With this piece, my only intention is to help unsuspecting animals and tourists get a better deal, moving forward.
Shorter portion of this appeared first on DAILYO