Plan your trip.
Getting there. The journey from Johannesburg to Delhi is about 13 hours, with one stopover.
Getting around. The easiest way to travel Rajasthan is by taxi or train. Book train tickets at least two days in advance; you can do this at any station or through a local travel agent. The closest station to Ranthambhore is Sawai Madhopur, which is on the main line between Delhi and Mumbai. Most hotels offer an airport pick-up and drop-off service, and will arrange a taxi for your onward journey.
Need to know. South Africans need a visa to enter India. India’s currency is the Indian rupee (INR). It’s easier to withdraw cash from ATMs than exchange dollars. Break a few big notes at a supermarket as small change can be a problem. The most comfortable time to travel to Rajasthan is between October and March, when it’s cooler (maximum temperature around 30 degrees Celsius) and dry. The best time to see tigers is in the summer (April to June) but temperatures are in the high 40s. The rainy season is July to September (but the western areas of Rajasthan remain quite dry).
Do this. Go on a tiger safari in Ranthambhore National Park. The park is open from 1 October to 30 June. November to February is excellent for birds and wildlife. Early mornings in an open vehicle are very cold, so pack a beanie and jacket. Private vehicles are not allowed in Ranthambhore, and so you book a seat in one of the park’s open-top vehicles. There are two types: the 20-seater Canter and the six-seater Gypsey. A total of 40 vehicles are a lowed in the park at one time, so book well in advance. The park is open twice a day, 30 minutes after sunrise for three and a half hours, and in the afternoon for three and a half hours before sunset. To control vehicle distribution Ranthambhore is divided into 10 zones, each with 20 to 25 kilometres of roads, and vehicles are allocated the zone in which they may drive. Unless you book 90 days in advance, you cannot choose your zone – it’s luck of the draw. Most hotels will book your safari in advance when you secure accommodation; alternatively book your safari directly on their website.
Walk around Ranthambhore Fort. There is no entry fee, and you get to drive a kilometre into the park to get there – so ask the driver to take it slow and get some game viewing done, for free. Go late in the day, take a sundowner and binoculars, and enjoy all that this beautiful setting has to offer. To make the most of your time within the park and not simply chase after tigers, book exclusive use of a Gypsey.
Stay here. The Ranthambhore Bagh is an excellent safari-style hotel, a short drive from the park’s main gate. Take inspiration from the pictures on the walls, which were all shot by the hotel’s owner, photographer Aditya Singh. There is a very comprehensive library here; wildlife films are shown in the evenings and dinner is served around bonfires.
Talabgaon Castle was once the home of a royal family who recently converted it into an elegant hotel. Stay here for a luxuriously quiet getaway, but be sure to explore Talabgaon village and go on a camel cart ride to get a taste of rural Rajasthani life. Talabgaon is about halfway between Jaipur and Ranthambhore and an hour and a half from the park.
Ranthambhore Regency is a stone’s throw from the entrance to the park. Rooms are big and genteel, with lovely mountain views. There’s a casual outdoor bar – perfect for evening gatherings – and a large pool, which is welcome most days in Rajasthan.
Why you should roam Rajasthan. From the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur and the intricately painted havelis (traditional houses) of the Shekhawati region to the desert around Jaisalmar and the forested hills of Ranthambhore, Rajasthan is quite possibly the most captivating place you could visit. Here you’re likely to see, at any given moment, women with chunky silver ankle bracelets wearing brightly coloured saris as they work in the fields; or camels with pom-poms on their noses and bells around their ankles; or men with heavy, curled moustaches drinking tea and smoking pipes; or Brahmin cows lying casually across the main roads of villages. There are old forts and castles, wild peacocks and parrots and a million colours set against the neutral tones of the desert. Once a collection of 22 feudal kingdoms, Rajasthan is scattered with fascinating architecture and moody market towns … an absolute must for a visitor to India.