Three best safaris in India

Travel On The Dollar
May 1, 2009  •  10 min(s) read

India has a wide range of wildlife safaris and national parks, some of which have accommodations in the heart of the reserves. Visitors can take elephant rides or jeep tours to watch the flora and fauna – lions, tigers, crocodiles, elephants, boars, birds, monitor lizards and more – and experience the beauty of Indian wildlife.

Here are three wildlife reserves we think are amongst the best:

  • Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
  • Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat
  • Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttaranchal

Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

Tiger at Ranthambore Nationa Park
Tiger at Ranthambore Nationa Park

The spectacular Ranthambore National Park is a 1330 sq km of wild jungle scrub hemmed in by rocky ridges. At its centre is the 10th century Ranthambore Fort, with nearby ancient temples and mosques, lakes and chhatris (cenotaphs). The park was a hunting ground for the Maharaja until 1970, after which it is a wildlife sanctuary. Ranthambore is the only place to spot wild tigers in Rajasthan and Project Tiger has been in charge of the animals’ welfare since 1979. The project has been thrown into sharp relief when government officials were impicted in poaching in 2005. Independent sources estimate the number of tigers as of early 2006 to be about 15.
Aside from the enormous Ganesh Mela (fair) in August, traffic into the park is highly restricted. Even though the remaining tigers are used to being observed that they’re not scared away by jeeps and canters. In Ranthambore, seeing a tiger is just a matter of luck, but the park is worth visitig for the scenery, with 300 species of birds in the park. You can walk up to the fort for an enchanting journey.

Ranthambore National Park is 10 km from Sawai Madhopur to the first gate, where you pay admission, and another 3 km to the main gate and Ranthambore Fort. Accommodation is spread out along the road from the town to the park. The train station is in thr heart of Sawai Madhopur, just south of main bazaar.

Nearby Airports – Jaipur and Kota
Distance by rail: Delhi – 362 km, Agra – 227 km, Bombay 1027 km, Kota – 108 km, Jaipur – 132 km
Distance by road: Delhi – 480 km (via Dausa), Jaipur – 180 km (via Tonk)

The best time to take a wildlife safari in the national park is between October and April. Safaris take place in the early morning and late afternoon. The mornings can be cold, so bring warm clothes. The best way to travel is by jeep, which takes 5 people. You still have a good chance of seeing a tiger from the canter, though sometimes passengers can be rowdy, and the engine tends to roar. Guides will lead you down one of eight allocated routes and negotiating an alternative route with your driver takes clever diplomacy. Seats in both jeeps and canters are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. Only 15 jeeps and 15 canters are allowed in the park per session, hence demand outstrips supply.
A guide is compulsory and is included in the canter ticker price, but will cost an extra Rs 200 if you go by jeep. Tips are heavily encouraged.
Safaris take 3 hours and the cost per person for canters is Rs 150 and jeep is Rs 1050. Both leave at 7am and 2.30pm from October to February, and at 6.30am and 3.30pm between March and June. Bookings can be made at:
RTDC Vinayak Tourist Complex
Ranthambore Road
Prices: Safari Indian/Foreigner: Rs 25/200; vehicle Rs 125, video Rs 200
Hours: 5am-7am and noon-2pm

Hotel in Ranthambore
Hotel in Ranthambore

Hotel Tiger Safari
Tel: +91 7462 221137
Prices: double Rs 740; cottages from Rs 1300
Internet access, 4km from train station. Cottages are best option, rooftop restaurant is cool with pleasant views. One of the best options.

Hotel Ranthambore Resort
Tel: +91 7462 221645
Prices: double Rs 400-700
5km from station.

Hotel Anurag Resort
Tel: +91 7462 220751
Prices: single Rs 700; double Rs 1300; cottages Rs 1750/1900

Hotel Ranthambore Regency
Tel: +91 7462 221176
Prices: full board US$70/90
Swimming pool, good rooms

RTDC Castle Jhoomar Baori
Tel: +91 7462 220495
Prices: single Rs 600; double Rs 700; single with AC Rs 900; double with AC Rs 1000
Government run, set on a hilltop, located 7km from station.

RTDC Vinayak Tourist Complex
Tel: +91 7462 221333
Prices: single Rs 500; double Rs 650; single AC Rs 800; double AC Rs 900
Newly decorated rooms, lawn area and campfire is lit in winter.

Sawai Madhopur Lodge ($$$)
Tel: +91 7462 220541
Prices: room US$260; suite US$300
Swimming pool, internet access
Tak Group lodge, located 3 km from station, once belonged to the Maharaja of Jaipur. Lovely gardens and luxurious.

Vanyavilas ($$$)
Tel: +91 7462 223999
Prices: tents for US$580
Teak-floored tent is 790 sq. ft. with a jungle décor and freestanding bath.

Nahagarh Ranthambore ($$)
Tel: +91 7462 252146
Prices: single Rs 4000; double Rs 5000; suite Rs 6500
Impressive rooms, long gold-inlaid dining area, monstrous courtyard, located opposite to park entrance, 1km back from Ranthambore Road.

Useful Information:
Tourist Reception Center
Tel: +91 7462 2220808
Hours: 10am-5pm Mon-Sat
Sawai Madhopur Train Station

Project Tiger Office
Tel: +91 7462 223402
Located on Ranthambore Road, about 500m from the train station.

State Bank of Bikaner & Jaipur
Hours: 10am-2pm Mon-Fri; 10am-noon Sat
The only place to change cash or travellers checks, it’s in the old city and can be reached by a local bus or taxi from near the train station in Sawai Madhopur. Costs Rs 5/70.

Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat

Lions at Sasan Gir Wildlife Reserve
Lions at Sasan Gir Wildlife Reserve

Located 59 km from Junagadh via Visavadar, this rugged, hilly, 1400 sq. km. sanctuary feels non-commercial and encompasses some beautiful forested land. It was set up to protect lions and since 1980 the numbers have increased from 200 to about 350 in 2006. Sasan Gir is not big enough for the number of lions, but moves by Madhya Pradesh government to transfer 200 lions to the Pulpur Kuno sanctuary were canned by the Gujarat government. Apart from the lions there are more than 30 species including leopards, foxes, hyenas, board, crocodiles, peacocks, monkeys and deer, and the largest Indian antelope – nilgais. The best time to visit is from December to April and it’s closed from mid-June to mid-October depending on the monsoons.

STC buses travel resularly between Junagadh and Veraval. There are buses to Veraval (local/express Rs 12/20, 1.5 hours, hourly) and to Junagadh (Rs 20/30, 2 hours, 59 km). Trains run to veraval (Rs 10, 1.5 hrs) and Delwada (for Diu, Rs 20, 3 hours).

You’d probably be unlucky not to see at least one lion on a safari. If you’re determined to se one, allow a couple of trips. Unfortunately, the lions retreat into the undergrowth during Indian holiday season when the convoys of jeeps roar through the park.
Before you go on a safari, you must get a permit that are issued on the spot at the Sinh Sadan Forest Lodge Office and are valid for the whole day. It’s best to hire a guide that costs Rs 50 or US$10. Jeeps carry a maximum of 6 passengers and costs US$ 10. Although prices are quoted in US$, payments are in rupees. Try and take a jeep rather than aminibus, because the latter sticks to the main tracks, jeeps can take small trails, where you’re more likely to spot some lions.

Sinh Sadan Forest lodge Office
Prices: Indian/foreigner Rs 30/US$5; 4 hr vehicle entry Rs 100/US$ 10, camera Rs 50/US$ 5, Video Rs 2500/US$ 100
Hours: mid-Oct-Feb 6am-10am and 3pm-5pm; mid-March-June 6am-9.30am & 3.30pm-6pm

Crocodile Breeding Centre
A good place to see crocodiles – from baby to adult – there are around 100 bred here. Admission is free and hours are from 8.30am to 6pm.

Gir Interpretation Zone
The chances of seeing lions here are good. Located 12 km from the Sasan Village at Devalia, this is a 4sq. km. zone home to the Gir wildlife. Vehicles run here from Sasan Gir’s main street for Rs 150 and is a 30-45 minutes tour.
Prices: Indian/foreigner Rs 30/US$5, jeep Rs 100/US$10, guide Rs 50/US$10
Hours: 8am-11am Thu-Tue

Sinh Sadan Forest lodge
Tel: +91 285 285540
Prices: Indian/foreigner Dorm Rs 50/US$ 5, room Rs 500/US$ 30, with AC Rs 1000/US$ 50

Maneland jungle Lodge
Tel: 091 285 285690
Prices: Nov-Jan Rs 3500; Feb-Oct Rs 2500; without meals Nov-Jan Rs 2500; Feb-Oct Rs 1500
Swimming pool, 3 km from Sasan Gir, lovely rooms.

Gir Lodge ($$$)
Tel: +91 285 285521
Prices: single w/o AC US$ 50; double w/o AC US$ 70; single with AC US$ 60; double with AC US$ 80
Taj Group hotel. Rooms have balconies and beautiful views. Good restaurant.

Rajeshri Guest House
Tel: +91 285 285505
Prices: Rooms Rs 100-700
Thalis cost Rs 35. Local guide Nitin Ratangayra has family house (Tel: +91 285 285686; double Rs 100-200; 3 rooms). He arranges excellent village tours. Located 18km from Sasan.

Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttaranchal

Elephants at Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve
Elephants at Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve

Jim Corbett National Park lies in the Nainital, Pauri Garwhal and Bijnore Districts of Uttaranchal. The present area of the Reserve is 1318.54 sq. km. including 520 sq. km. of core area and 797.72 sq. km. of buffer area. The core area forms the Jim Corbett National Park while the buffer contains reserve forests (496 as well as the Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary (301

The core is bounded to the North by the Kanda Ridge, with a height of 1043 m at its highest point. The entire area of the reserve is mountainous and falls in the Shivalik and Outer Himalaya geological region. It forms the catchment area of the Ramganga, a tributary of the Ganga. The Ramganga flows from East to West in the reserve through landscapes of incredible beauty. Dammed at Kalagarh at the south-western end of the reserve in 1974. The reservoir created, submerged 40-sq. km. of prime grassland. The area on the western side of the reservoir now constitutes the Sonanadi Wildlife Sanctuary. After India attained independence in 1947 the park was renamed as Ramganga National Park. In 1956, it was renamed as Jim Corbett National Park, in memory of Jim Corbett. Project Tiger, India’s ambitious conservation program to save the tiger and its habitat was launched from Corbett in 1973.

Sight-seeings are down to chance as the 130 or so tigers in the reserve are neither baited nor tracked. Your best chance to see a tiger is late in the season – April to mid-June when the forest cover is low and animals come out in search of water. Notwithstanding tiger sightings, few serious wildlife enthusiasts will leave disappointed as the park has a variety of wildlife and birdlife in grassland, forest and river habitats, and a beautiful location in the foothills of the Himalaya on Ranganga River. Commonly seen wildlife include elephants – about 300 live in the reserve, bears, langur monkeys, peacocks, otters, deers, sambars, leopards, crocodiles, gharials and monitor lizards. The Ranganga River attracts large number of birds, especially from min-December to end of March.
Dotted around the parks are machaans 9observation towers) overlooking water holes which you can climb to watch the wildlife. Be sure to bring binoculars and plenty of mosquito repellent and mineral water.

280 km, around 7 hrs driving time
Delhi – Moradabad – Kashipur – Ramnagar – Corbett

Ranikhet Express from Delhi to Ramnagar
Departure at 10.40 pm from Old Delhi Railway Station.
Arrival at 5.00 am at Ramnagar Station.

Tips for Travellers
When visiting the wildlife park:
* Follow the rules, for e.g., do not walk around if you are not permitted to do so
* Wear clothes in shades of brown and green as they are less disturbing to the environment
* Avoid wearing perfumes and do not smoke in restricted areas.
* Animals are extremely weary of the human voice. Don’t make noise, don’t play music and please don’t honk car horn.
* Carry Personal medication and insect repellent
* Carry Binoculars, Cameras, film rolls and Flashlight along with books and other reading material
* Don’t leave behind any litter and plastic bags are big hazards for animals
* Comfortable walking shoes are appropriate than the fashionable ones
* For winter travel heavy woolens are a must especially for open jeep safaris. Cottons are apt for summer months
* Rain Gear is essential for the monsoons and
* Find about the habits of the animal you want to see to avoid disappointment

The main reception centre is located on the main road in Ramnagar, opposite the bus stand. The main entry points for the park are Amdanda Gate (for Bijrani Visitor Centre), 1.5 km north of Ramnagar and Dhangiri Gate (for Dhikala), 18km north of Ramnagar. Dhikala, 51 km northwest of Ramnagar and deep inside the reserve, is the main accommodation centre within the park’s core area, but it’s only open to overnight guests, or as a part of a tour booked through he reception centre at Ramnagar.

Two hour elephant safaris (Indian/foreigner Rs 150/250, 4 passengers per elephant) are available at Dhikala, Khinnanauli, Gairal and Jhirna Gate at 6am and 4pm on first-come-first-served basis.

Entry permits are bought at Dhangiri gate for Dhikala and at Amdanda Gate for day trips to Bijrani. In the off-season (June 15 to Nov 15) you can only enter through Jhirna Gate. However, from October 15 to November 15, day cisits are permitted through Amdanda Gate (rs 200 + jeep & guide fees). During the seaon the entry fee (Indian/foreigner Rs 50/450) covers three days. The jeep fee is Rs 100 at Bijrani and Rs 150 at Dhikala, and a compulsory guide fee of Rs 150. Jeeps can be hired in Ramnagar and a half-day safari should cost around Rs 600 per jeep and Rs 1200 for a full day, which excludes the entry fee. This means that a full day safari for two people including an elephant ride costs Rs 3000. Check with your hotel reception for prices and bookings before hiring a jeep.

For serious wildlife viewing, Dhikala, deep inside the reserve, is the best place to stay despite the high prices. Rates given inside the reserve are for foreigners, Indian pay less than half!
The town of Ramnagar has budget accommodation, while upmarket resorts are strung out along th road skirting the eastern side of the park between Dhikuli and Dhangari Gate.


Prices: Indian/foreigner log huts Rs 100/200; tourist hutments Rs 2400
Offer 24 basic beds (no bedding supplied). Hutments offer best accommodation and sleep upto six people. If you for VIP accommodation, the Old Forest Rest House (room Rs 3000), the New Forest Rest House (room Rs 2600) and the two cabins (Rs 2600) can be booked through the Chief Wildlide Warden (Tel: +91 135 2644691) in Dehra Dun. The Annexe ( Rs 1200) can be booked through KMVN in Delhi.

Bijrani Rest house
Prices: single Rs 600; double Rs 1200
Meals and elephant rides available.

Sarapduli Rest House
Prices: rooms Rs 1200
Good location in the reserve’s core area.

Khinnanauli Rest House
Tel: +91 125 2744225
Prices: Rs 2000

Travel On The Dollar