The unusual problem of 2020 needed some unorthodox solutions. The solution to the ‘no-travel’ problems seems to be road trips to wildlife sanctuaries. I grew up traveling to these nature hotspots, so this isn’t very crazy for me. However, a year of back-to-back visits does sound a bit much. Though this is 2020, anything is possible.
For a while, we flip-flopped between Bharatpur and Sariska as the target destination. Both were about 3-4 hours from Gurgaon, eliminating the need for a pit stop in these scary times. Neither of these destinations has a full 5-star resort though both had options that were clean and good. Since the birding season for the year hadn’t started, I was keen on a jungle resort to feel over a heritage property. So, Sariska won. I had been there twice in the last three years. Each time the safari was quite useless – the prized tiger aside, even deer were hard to find.
Sariska had lost all its tiger population to poaching and encroachment back in 2004. In 2010, some Tigers were brought in from Ranthambore and given a lot of protection and opportunity to grow and prosper. I wasn’t optimistic that I would be able to spot any one of the 20 tigers this park now boasts of… but I was willing to be amazed.
We started from Gurgaon at about 8 am and reached the Trees and Tigers resort at about 11:30. The drive was relatively smooth except for a small patch of traffic on the highway and several speed checks. I was lucky enough to avoid getting caught by the speed guns. The staff sanitized even car tires and all our luggage. We were taken to our cottage and it looked strangely familiar. There was a large room with an attached dressing area, a spacious bathroom, a sunny front courtyard, and a cute little terrace over the roof. I would soon realize that I had stayed at this very place the last time I visited.
The morning safari was the highlight of the tour. It is advisable that the booking be made with the Rajasthan government website in advance, though there were still some spots available in the morning. Unlike Ranthambore where the Jeeps come to the hotel to pick you, here we needed to drive a good 30 minutes to get to the park gate. The road is narrow but was free of traffic at the break of dawn. We saw a fox dart out from the bushes on the road and then run back in. The gate is across from the Sariska Palace Hotel, which is a good landmark. The process of finding the allotted jeep, even with online booking was a little manual and took time. A guide and a driver are a package deal with the jeep and they generally coordinate to help you get onto the path of a tiger.
The driver drove around aimlessly for a while till the guide got a call about a tigress spotting a little distance away. Suddenly the driver changed gears and drove like a rally driver. We soon got a fleeting glimpse of the tiger as we got to the suggested point and I was happy. Over the next 10 minutes, the tigress took a long stroll across the park. Our driver kept trying to anticipate where she would come out next. He seemed quite adept at in an got it right quite often. We were not alone, another 5 or 6 jeeps, and a canter gave us company. I am not sure the tigress was happy, but she seemed to be used to it. In one of the closeups, I noticed a collar on the tigress’s neck. Maybe they wanted the visitors to spot a tiger and hence had a tracking device. That made the pictures a little useless but got us a great sighting of the magnificent cat.
With the primary purpose of the safari met, we drove around aimlessly. Nothing seemed to compare with the excitement of seeing a tiger. We did see some spotted deer, sambhar, monkeys, peacocks, and a hare. The watering holes were full of water and even a large lake seemed quite full. Some birds were gliding over the lake making it an amazing sight to just watch and absorb. A family of peacocks walked past us as we tried to click the birds. The safari routes were all mixed up and it seemed most people did end up with a glimpse of the tiger.
Back at the hotel, there was a good breakfast, followed by a wonderful lunch and then an amazing dinner over a private bonfire. The bonfires were a key attraction for their guests with three permanent areas being dedicated to the cause. The food was surprisingly good and the general hospitality was great. The rooms were large and clean. There were some sporting facilities and a hill hike right outside. The swimming pool, though, was useless and dirty. A personal highlight of the trip was the hills that surround the resort, making for a brilliant foreground for the moon. That sight and the room reminded me that it was the same place that I had stayed at the last time I was in Sariska. I hadn’t remembered the name then.
There are some other things in the vicinity – there is the Alwar city, Siliserh lake with boating facilities, and also some other ruins around, like Bhangarh – the most haunted places in India. I didn’t do any of these this time – I had done the lake on my last trip. I focused on just staying low in the hotel and trying to find something to click or someplace to sit and do nothing.
On the way back, we decide to take a mid-way stop for a lunch at Tijara, a heritage hotel right at the center of Sariska and Gurgaon. It is a beautiful fortress on top of a hill that has been meticulously restored with modern amenities, lovely gardens, and a glorious restaurant on the lawns. This was a perfect end to a wonderful trip.