THE KAERU KID: Tora, Tora, Tora in India


TIGER STALKING ­— The Kid finally sees a Bengal tiger (right) in the wild. photo by The Kaeru Kid

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a four-part series.

Viewing the increasingly rare Bengal tiger in the wild is a dream for any animal lover such as myself. I had been to Tiger Tops resort in Nepal more than 30 years ago, but never saw a tiger there. In India, their scarcity has become so acute that the Indian government closed all of the “core areas” of the national tiger sanctuaries for several months in July of 2012. The government enacted a tourism ban in light of the decline in the tiger population, from 40,000 in 1900 to 1,200 in 2012. Of course, poaching is probably the worst culprit, and penalties have increased against them.

Some tiger fans go to extremes to see them. There is an excellent article in the August 2012 issue of International Travel News magazine written by a couple who spent more than $21,000 for a custom month-long visit to three Indian national parks that required long strenuous drives to reach their destination. For all their effort, they only saw tigers at two of the parks, and those tigers were all sleeping. Other ITN readers spent around $16,000 per couple for a two-week trip designed specifically to see the tigers; they were more successful. There was no way this frugal traveler was going to spend anything close to those figures.

My comfortable two-hour train trip from Jaipur to Ranthambore was only $5. On arrival, Santish Jain, the owner of the Farm Villa, met me. I had selected Farm Villa, where organic vegetables are grown, from the choices available on The cost was $48 a night, and included breakfast. Unfortunately, there was no Wi-Fi, but I was allowed Internet access in their office.

On the afternoon of my arrival, I took a $20 round-trip taxi ride to visit Ranthambore Fort. The Fort was built in 944 AD, and is located just inside the national park. Admission is free, but there is a charge for video cameras. During the drive, I saw many monkeys, peacocks, pigs and deer. I climbed a steep walkway to the entrance of the fort, but it was well worth the effort to see three Hindu temples (Ganesh, Shiva and Ramlalji) and two Jain temples (Lord Sumatinath and Lord Sambhavnath) within the fort. The views of the national park and a few lakes were spread out like a picnic feast from this vantage point. Take binoculars, as some visitors report seeing tigers from here, as well as other wildlife.

The park is closed from the end of June until the beginning of October because of the monsoon season, so plan accordingly. Reservations for safaris can be made up to 90 days in advance at: Seats on six-seat Gypsy jeeps cost $26 per person and 20-seat canters cost $19 per person. Gypsy jeeps are highly coveted. The excursions can be very cold, especially in the winter months, so dress warmly in layers. Bring water, a head covering, binoculars, camera and your passport, because the park checks your reservation name to prevent scalping. Those on canters should sit as close to the front as possible because when tigers cross the road everyone stands, and those in back will have difficulty seeing. There are five sectors in the park; each vehicle is randomly assigned, and passengers have no choice in this process, although some rumors suggested that luxury hotel guest vehicles were assigned the sectors most likely to view tigers. (Jain told me this was not true.)

Back at Farm Villa, in appreciation for the vacationing college students who were occupying the remaining rooms, the owner arranged folk dancing, musicians and a “fire-eater” for their evening entertainment.

The next morning was the tiger safari. Like a child eagerly waiting for Christmas morning to open gifts, I was anticipating viewing my first tiger in the wild. There are two daily excursions, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon.

SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS — The Kaeru Kid saw a variety of fauna, including deer,   during his safari. photo by The Kaeru Kid
SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS — The Kaeru Kid saw a variety of fauna, including deer, during his safari. photo by The Kaeru Kid

On the safari, we saw antelopes, monkeys, dozens of different birds, buffalo, deer, wild boar, bear, and even alligators. The tiger tracks on the road were the closest evidence of tigers here. The other eight vehicles in this sector also did not see any. Of course, there is no guarantee that tigers will be seen, so the common advice is to take as many safaris as possible to increase one’s chances. I declined the afternoon safari.

Jain, a former national park naturalist, offered me a free nighttime tour of the town. We visited the finest and most expensive hotel here, the Oberoi, which was voted the best in the world in 2010. It was luxurious, with a rack rate of $900 a night, but I was not impressed. We next drove into the park. Jain pointed out a place where he said he saw a leopard at night, and said tigers are frequently in this area. In fact, a young man was killed two weeks before in this general area. Jain also remembered an elderly woman being killed by tigers 10 years ago.

We approached the rear of the Oberoi Hotel, which had a viewing tower. Jain told me the hotel would place meat below the tower to attract tigers, leopards and other carnivores, so guests could view them from the comfort of the towers. However, in 2002, a tiger and her two cubs climbed the six-foot tall walls and wandered onto the hotel grounds. They were successfully removed, but the hotel built the wall higher, placed barbed wire on top and stopped the feedings.

We drove into town to the local market where residents shop. Jain’s father owns a hotel there; while walking by several food stands, Jain was offered samples by people who recognized him.

He told me his friends who were VIPs had a pass to explore all sectors, and would be taking a morning safari. He arranged a seat for me, and assured me that we would see a tiger.

TIGER STALKING ­— The Kid finally sees a Bengal tiger (right) in the wild. photo by The Kaeru Kid
TIGER STALKING ­— The Kid finally sees a Bengal tiger (right) in the wild. photo by The Kaeru Kid

Our morning safari in a jeep with an experienced guide was remarkable. He quickly made out tiger tracks, and drove to the top of a hill, where he surveyed the area and spotted a tiger. The jeep roared down the dirt road and encountered a magnificent Bengal tiger coming toward us. He casually walked across the road and then laid down for a nap. After 15 minutes, he still hadn’t moved, so we toured other areas. This whole national park was once the hunting grounds for the ruling maharajas; we were able to visit one of their lakeside hunting lodges now falling into ruin.

I was very fortunate to accomplish my mission of seeing Tora (tiger).

The next article about the trip to Mumbai will conclude this Indian adventure.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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