Days 4–6: Ranthambore National Park
The former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park offers India’s best opportunity to observe and photograph tigers in the wild, at this time of year. Tucked between the rugged Aravalli and Vindhya hills, the reserve is a broad swath of jungle scrub bordered by steep, rocky ridges and highland plateaus dotted with lakes. The dry, deciduous habitat generally makes it easier to spot tigers here than in other locations where the vegetation is more dense and lush. We head out in our safari vehicles early in the morning, usually before dawn. In contrast to African wildlife, the animals in India take work to find. Tigers tend to remain under the cover of trees and bushes, hiding from their prey and finding relief from the heat. Because their striped coats offers superb camouflage, they can be a challenge to locate. We listen for sounds that give us clues to their whereabouts: rustling grasses, deer running away from their presence, birds swirling overhead.
At the same time, we look for myriad other wildlife. In addition to tigers, healthy populations of spotted chital deer, nilgai, jackal, jungle cat, sambar, chinkara gazelle, wild boar, langur monkeys and rhesus macaques thrive here, as do sloth bear. The park is also home to a sizable number of leopards, though they are shy and tend to stay in higher, more inaccessible areas. More than 300 bird species inhabit the reserve, ranging from crested serpent eagles to paradise flycatchers, peacocks and painted storks. While our focus may be tigers, we may encounter a multitude of other wildlife photography opportunities.