Ranthambhore is one of the largest national parks in India, located in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. Wiki says Ranthambhore was established as the Sawai Madhopur Game Sanctuary in 1955 by the Government of India, and was declared one of the Project Tiger reserves in 1973. Ranthambhore became a national park in 1980. Its one of the very few places where the last wild tigers can be seen. It has roughly around 20+ tigers right now. Project Tiger was initiated in1972. It has become one of the most successful wildlife conservation ventures and aims at tiger conservation within tiger reserves representative of various biogeographical regions throughout India.
I first came to read about the park in a book by Valmik Thapar and Fateh Singh Rathore titled The wild tigers of Ranthambore. The book in itself was a description of the park and its tigers, accompanied by outstanding pictures. I consider that book nothing less than treasure. There are pictures of the ancient palace in ruins and a tiger sunbathing beside it, pictures of the park in summer, monsoons and the dry winter, tall chowkies made by a king long ago now hosting forest guards and one of a magnificent male tiger crossing a jungle path as a jeep with photographer Valmik Thapar stalls.. the photographs are simply fabulous.
In July 06, I was to volunteer at the National Park for 15 days, being a part of the Project Tiger. 2006 was a good year because of a lot of things, but it was this one stint with Project Tiger in July that I can never forget. The park normally closes for the monsoons, during which time the forest rangers had to be busy with anti-grazing duties as well as their slow battle with poachers. We volunteers were to roam the parks and I specifically remember what was said to me in the mail: ” The living conditions are very basic. No bathrooms, no electricity, loads of insects etc etc.. Water can be a problem at times, specially for people who have weak stomachs or are not very careful.. Lots of walking on bad terrain everyday.Come prepared for a rough trip.” It seemed to good to be true :D. How can I explain the desire there was to imagine waking up within a forest, and watching the sun rise among some ancient ruins.. all the while in a noble quest to save these majestic animals. To be so close to unspoilt nature and live rugged.. to have to bother about the essentials of living in a beautiful and rustic environment. At that time, my excitement at the opportunity was purely personal and selfish. I’d not only convinced my parents to let me go but also my Dad and 2 good friends to volunteer themselves. (My dad would be the best companion ever for something like this. The friend who was to accompany us almost lost perm, when her mum spoke to my dad and dad cracked a very morose joke about being worthy meals to tigers). Of course I cared about the tigers too, but having never really participated in conservation I could not appreciate what this program truly meant.
I recently came across another program very like ours. However due to the loyalty and nostalgia with the original, I cant help but feel that this is more commercialisation than is needed. Ah, but as long as the end result will be an increased awareness about our tigers, its worth it. http://www.gapguru.com/GapProjects/OneOfAKind/TigerAndWildlifeConservation.aspx
In the end, we never really made it to the park. Our volunteer project had been called off 4 days before we were to leave. I got an email saying certain people in the government were not too happy seeing volunteers around the park without having proper policies in place. I still dont remember how I got over it… I guess college, GRE and other priorities took its place. Apart from volunteering in a tree census in Bangalore (which had me painting serial no’s on the avenue trees in yellow paint) my tryst with conservation seemed to have ended. I occasionally scour the net for news of tigers and the developments in the park (to see if the policies finally came up or not). I still long to do something for wildlife conservation and sometimes I’m optimistic enough to believe that I shall end up there after all. But for now, I’m content thinking about the many forest guards and officials who love ranthambhore much more than me and are there right now amidst its changing seasons and eternal tigers.
http://ranthambhore.blogspot.com/, In its own words, “All about Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve – its residents, visitors, high and low points.” Blog by Aditya Singh who runs a lodge on the outskirts of the park and is involved with the tigers. Details the history and present of tiger conservation along with tips on nature photography and some very well narrated experiences.
And some good photography- http://www.johnharveyphoto.com/India/Ranthambore/index.html