In a Nutshell:
A lovely trip to Ranthambore – our first ever sighting of tiger in a jungle, enjoying the feel of the forest, a detailed tour of Ranthambore fort, an enjoyable long drive (sans a few small stretches) to & fro, stay at a beautiful palace hotel with a gem of a person Ajay ji as our host ……. except that the food in general at the hotel was a culinary disaster & the fact that the staff of the hotel were nice warm people who had not been trained to run a place professionally (serious challenge of people management in f&b and house keeping, leading to inconsistent & unpredictable service).
Address & other details: nahargarh Ranthambore
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Each section of this post has headers, so that you can skip a section if that does not interest you. Here is a jist of all the sections:
1. The drive to Ranthambore & back- from gurgaon
2. About Ranthambore
3. About Ranthambore national park – pointers that will help you have a smooth trip
4. Tigers of Ranthambore – in general & also about the famous tigers & tigresses of Ranthambore
5. Our safari – booking, pick up, safari, guide, driver
6. About Ranthambore fort
7. History & folklore of Ranthambore fort
8. Key Buildings of the fort that are still intact.
9. About the hotel – nahargarh ranthambore
10. Food at the hotel – nahargarh ranthambore
1. The drive to Ranthambore & back – from gurgaon.
We drove from gurgaon to Ranthambore – about 6 hours 30 minutes each side, non stop.
While Onway to Ranthambore, we got stuck in traffic on national highway 48 as the roads ahead were blocked for farmers protest.
We caught a glimpse of the protesting farmers. They had got trolleys attached to the Tractor that added up as a bed & sitting area (almost like a mobile house). The roofs of some of these trolleys were covered with hard tops – rest had temporary waterproof roof covers. We saw many mobile toilets lined up on both sides of that stretch.
So we took a detour thru a village & were back to the highway in another 20 minutes.
Onway back from Ranthambore, we were prepared for this & hence got off the highway at the right time, to drive thru the village. It was great to see that the gentlemen from the village had put up ROAD DIVERSION signages to ensure the narrow village roads become one way. The village drive was very good otherwise. Picturesque in places.
Most of the roads from gurgaon to Ranthambore were in highway format (with a divider). A good stretch of road off NH48 was a single road (no divider). However the quality of the single road was fabulous & the scenery around marvellous. We passed thru few hamlets but did not get stuck in heavy traffic.
NH48 road quality has fallen further from our earlier trip from mumbai in 2019. The surface was rough & bad. There were occasional potholes. Worst was the traffic – trucks were travelling on all lanes at low speed. That meant, to be at 80 kmph (official speed limit), one had to Crisscross the lanes constantly.
2. About the place Ranthambore-
This place was originally called ‘Garh ranat sthambha bhawar’ – garh means fort, Ran means war & sthambha is the rock that acts like a base, bhawar is the lake that acts as a moat.
The history of the place is about a thousand years old.
This place is located in sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan, about 130 km away from Jaipur.
In 1955, this forest was declared a game park. In 1971, hunting was banned in India & protection of wildlife was enacted. In 1980 Ranthambore was declared a tiger reserve & later two adjacent forests were also merged with this to form a large National park
3. About Ranthambore national park –
The forest, located on the foothills of Vindhya & Aravalli mountain ranges, is a dry, deciduous forest. Our memory of the place is vast field with light golden yellow tall grass & narrow trunk trees all around. So its easy to spot animals even if they are at a distance.
There are numerous historical buildings (centuries old structures) throughout the national park that add to its uniqueness.
The presence of large water bodies in the tourist permitted area (20% of the forest is accessible by tourists, like in most national parks of india) helps in spotting of wild animals who come to drink water.
Another unique visual memory is that of a layer of red algae floating on the top surface of the water bodies.
The tourist permitted area (mentioned above) is divided into 10 zones. While booking you have to mention zone 1-6 or 7-10. Then allocation of zone happens I guess by lottery. We had chosen 1-6. Both the safaris we were allocated zone 3. The kaccha roads of the national park have barricades to stop vehicles entering into another zone
Tourists can hire a gypsy (6 seats) or a canter (20 seats approx). Unless one family has 6 members, they share the gypsy with others.
Every slot 140 vehicles are allowed to go into the national park. They cover approx 30-40 sq km area.
Tourists can go for morning or evening safari that is around 2.5 hours each. There is also option to do half day (6 hours) & full day (12 hours) safari. Tourists who take half day or full day safari can access all zones.
The tigers here have grown up seeing human beings & cars stopping by to shoot pictures. So they don’t pay attention to the people in the cars & keep doing what they are enjoying / have to do. This makes it easy for the photographers to take great pics as they get enough time.
Apart from tigers the forest also has caracel, beer, deer, antelope, chinkara, wild boar, monkeys, crocodiles & a whole host of birds (migratory & resident).
The jungle has many Dhok trees – they look dry but they turn green soon after rains
4. Tigers of Ranthambore – stories we heard from forest guides, guards & safari gypsy drivers
At present there are approximately 80 tigers (including cubs) at Ranthambore.
All tigers of the park are given a name starting with T, by the office of the forest department. However, forest guards, guides & local people end up giving interesting names to the tigers.
The most famous of the tigresses was named Macchli (coz she had a fish mark on her forehead). She was the highest photographed tigress in the world as per a survey.
Macchli (generation 1) have birth to 3 cubs, two of which were tigresses – sundari & Krishna (generation 2)
Once when a crocodile attacked the cubs of Macchli, she started a fight with the crocodile, that lasted about an hour. She killed the crocodile but she also got injured & this damaged her eyes. Hunting became difficult for macchli in later years & forest department people helped her get food.
She was also the one to live 21 years (usually life of a tiger is about 15-17 years).
A male tiger named Ustad was also very famous. He was huge (about 250 kg) & fearless & fearsome. Ustad has the largest territory anyone had. Ustad had ended up killing 4 people & hence he was ‘jailed’ – sent to a zoo in Udaipur. There was huge protests against this on social media, public gatherings & there were court cases in jaipur, delhi & Supreme Court against sending ustad to a zoo. The courts said the decision of forest department was final.
Sundari & Krishna (mentioned above) had 3 cubs & 2 cubs respectively.
One of the cubs of Krishna was named Arrowhead (generation 3).
We saw arrowhead in both our morning & evening safaris, at multiple occasions each.
Arrowhead gave birth to two tigresses Riddhi & Siddhi (generation 4). We saw Siddhi during our afternoon safari – fully fed, walking down the forest. The deer saw her but they remained in their own place. Did not try to run away – coz they knew that the tigress was not hungry (they don’t kill if they are not hungry).https://yummraj.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/img_2294.mov
Like I mentioned in my earlier posts on tigers of Panna, Corbett & Sundarbans, all animals in the forest conspire against the tiger. The moment anyone spots the tiger, they raise an alarm call. That sound gives time to the potential prey to run away.
Tigers are unable to catch deer by direct chase coz the lightweight vegetarian highly active deer easily outrun the meat eating, less active tigers. So tigers always have to use their brains to hide, plan & attack the unsuspecting prey from behind.
5. Our safari – booking, pick up, safari, guide, driver
So we were expecting the same when we called the hotel. However they said we have to book the safari online ourselves.
So we googled to understand the Booking process. We came across a site that allowed us to do one slot booking at a time. We again logged in later to book a different slot for the same day.
What we realized later was that Agent sites come up before the government site comes up on google search. We also realized that there are many agent sites with similar sounding names & that we had booked the two safaris thru different agents inadvertently.
While booking we Did not understand that the gypsy car was not exclusive to us, like it was in Corbett & panna.
The concept of Half day / full day booking was not clearly mentioned in the site / did not show up as options.
Agent 1 (Ranthambore jungle safari) – this company was seriously unprofessional, non proactive & was responding slow, after multiple pokes.
However we got the best driver among all our safaris so far – Asif (+91 8619882686) He was into it. Passionate, understood what customers are looking for, excellent control of vehicle, perfect positioning of vehicle every time we would wait for tiger, good insights.
We also had got a good guide fawaad ji. He knew things very well but was soft spoken & introvert. He did not tell us anything proactively, but replied to most of our queries.
Agent 2 (GTI travels) – these guys seemed professional at every stage. They confirmed our booking on their own thru email. They were always responding to calls / messages.
They however sent a totally uninterested driver who had no clue, was always tense & angry (as if he got ‘broom beaten’ by his wife before he came to the safari, was absolutely lousy in getting good spots to get a glimpse of the tiger, would suddenly start the car with a jerk even while the tiger is around (our co-passenger was almost falling off the car once), zero passion, stone faced, non responsive – in short, a disaster.
We were however lucky to get a very good guide this time who proactively told us many things.
6. About Ranthambore fort:
This fort is about 7 km long. We walked almost 300 steps (easy ones) to reach to the topmost point. This is second largest fort of rajasthan, after Chittor fort.
The fort is set atop a hill & had natural fortification. On top of that, there were great ideas that had been put up, to make the fort invincible. Yes, it was invincible. No one was ever able to win it by sheer force.
But what History teaches us that nothing or no one is invincible – After two defeats in war (the Khiljis cud not breach the fort), Allauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi bribed the generals of the King of Ranthambore & got what he wanted – the fort.
There were 4 entrance gates to the fort.
We entered thru the Naulakha gate. Two more gates are permanently shut. The 4th one is opened once a year, for a festival.
The commonly used method of breaking fort gates in 1200s was to hit the gate with huge wooden logs / have elephants charge at the gate. The main entrance gate here, was built at 90 degree to the outer entrance gate. So elephant would not get the space to run & charge at the gate. The log system would not work too.
The outer wall was 8 ft wide. So it was impossible in those days to break that.
We learnt that early fortification in this area happened as early as 5th century. The yadavs ruled this fort in later centuries of the millennia. The main fort as we see it today was built around CE 950 by the Chauhan rulers of Delhi.
7. History & folklore of the last ruler
Hameer Dev Chauhan was the last Hindu king who ruled the fort (late 1200s) & before it fell to Allauddin Khilji (Jalaluddin Khilji & later Allauddin Khilji attacked this fort thrice & failed. Then Allauddin won by bribing the king’s generals).
It all started with a principle of Raja Hameer Dev – ‘Sharnarthi ko sharan dena hamara farz hai’ (It is my vow to give refuge to anyone who seeks shelter in the fort). When the jailed senapati of Allauddin Khilji fled, he came here to seek refuge at the fort. Hameer Dev agreed. Allauddin Khilji offered to get his prisoner back or face a war. Hameer Dev did not accept the offer.
Allauddin Khilji attacked.
Hameer Dev was defeated & killed after a long siege, after his generals defected to Allauddin s camp. Centuries later the fort was won back by the Rajput rulers of Jaipur & it remained that way till Indian Independence.
Folklore (written 100 years after his death – hameer Dev raso)
Before going to war, Hameer Dev told his wives – If you see my people coming back with orange flags, please arrange for celebrations. If you see them returning with black flag, all women please do jowhar (mass jumping into fire, to avoid being captured by the victors).
The war took place. King Hameer Dev won. Allauddin Khilji & their troops receded.
The victorious King asked his generals to return to the fort with orange flags. However the bribed soldiers came back with a black flag. The King came to know this much later & started returning.When he reached the fort, th ethird gate was closed by one of the bribed generals. The king somehow managed to get in, thru help from others. When he reached the top of the fort, he realized that all married women had committed jowhar already & the unmarried ones had jumped into the lake.
The King was devastated. He first left the fort to do tapasya (penance) in the forest. Later he Beheaded himself at a Shiva temple & offered his head to the lord.
Folklore has it that lord Shiv, pleased with this act of extreme sacrifice, offered to return him his head & make him alive again (like he did for Ganesha – set up an elephant’s head to the beheaded Ganesha’s body).
Hameer Dev refused this saying what is once given can’t be taken back. Our guide narrated a poetry that talked about this conversation between the beheaded king & lord shiv.
After the king’s death, Allauddin’s people came back & captured the fort.
8. Buildings of the fort that are still intact –
We saw the mazhar of Qazi pir sadruddin – guru of Allauddin Khilji. This building was built in CE 1301.
We saw Rani mahal, across a water body. This used to be post-bath change room for queens. The only access to this was thru small boats. Allauddin later converted it to a mosque.
Badal mahal – a building with a campus for the king’s favourite horse Badal. The horse Badal was kept on the first floor & there was a ramp to take him up (see picture below).
The beautiful 32 khambha chhatri (32 pillared mausoleum) was built by the King Hameer Dev in memory of his father jihattar singh Chauhan, who reigned for 32 years.
The ganesh temple in the fort is very famous. Pilgrims come from across the country to just visit this ganesha temple.
We went to see a kali temple in the fort.
Lakshmi temple was squarish in nature & did not follow the classic north Indian temple architecture (e.g. khajuraho).
A jain temple was later built here as well.
The king’s palace is now shut – the building is not in good state & might cause harm to people if they are allowed in.
9. About The hotel – nahargarh Ranthambore
The Hotel that we stayed in, was a Stunning palace – visually among the best palaces that we have stayed in so far. So we thought. Till, we figured that it was built as a hotel, visually replicating a palace in Rajasthan. Well, stunning job of replication & attention to detail I must say.
The rooms & common area were Perfectly maintained – spotless clean.
The hotel was just a 5 minutes drive away from the forest gates
Everything visual in the hotel was stunning. Outstanding attention to detail.
The facade was imposing
The arches & windows were just too good. The lattice work was a feast to the eyes.
The chequered floor looked so cool.
We were told upon arrival that we had been upgraded. Our room was beautiful
The bar looked absolutely old fashioned & Royal. The horse saddle seats were unique
The dining halls were elaborately designed. The look & feel was stunning.
The pool area was stunning
The hathi talao area was beautiful
The outdoor seating area was cool
Everything else had minimal attention to detail – specially housekeeping & food & beverage.
The hotel employees had individually great behaviour. They were nice simple village people but just not professionally trained. They were lacking a Manager who trains the staff consistently. There was no one who effectively & smoothly put them thru processes to deliver standard results .
We asked what fish was used to make fish tikka. The server did not know. He came back & said ‘do pao wala’ – meaning fish with two legs!!! Is that a joke?
There was no consistency in Refills in the room.
Open tea bags (not packed) of Assam tea were kept in random multiples of the number of guests.
We were given 1 milk pouch for 3 guests.
The number of towels was not matching the number of guests.
The quality of towels was average – like you get in red fox hotel or tier 3 lemon tree hotels.
The room did not have Toothpaste or a dental kit. We had to ask for it.
The Spray jet next to the commode in the washroom was some cheap local one, that threw sharp water jet like a sword!!!!
On the days we stayed at the hotel, there was a marriage booking. There was high decibel Open area music – just unacceptable when one goes to a holiday in a forest. Why should other guests have to go thru such torture when coming to spend a weekend in nature, with a different mindset?
There could have been Underground banquets/
Sound sealed banquets / Endless other ways not to harass other guests who are not a part of a marriage ceremony!!!!
In the car park area there was No parking assistant. Double layer/ 3 layer cars was common – randomly kept wait to get car out of someone has not parked properly
Nice musicians played local rajasthani tunes on our request instead of Bollywood tunes they were playing earlier.
Among all this mess, was an exception- Ajay ji, the Gentleman who welcomed us in front office , was a gems of a person. He was great on his own – not that the hotel seemed to have trained him. He was like an oasis in the desert.
He made us feel at home & was way more warm & nice as compared to many people I know. He behaved as if he is a friend from long time. Too good.
My recommendation to friends – it’s surely worth staying here, but not fir long. The Best option is to check in to different hotel day 1, go to morning safari in day 2, then check in here on day 2, just soak in the palace , leave on day 3. 24 hours is enough to soak in this palace & get its feel at different points in the day & night.
10. Food at the hotel – nahargarh Ranthambore
They have No ‘a la carte’ option for any meal, but only buffet in all the meals. I find this strange. The a la carte menu does not need to be long but it can have 8-10 basics.
The Food was always greasy, sometimes good to taste, sometimes directionless & NCW (non calorie worthy).
Overall it was ‘Average to poor’ food in terms of taste & flavors.
The buffets had the average delhi ‘shaadi ka khana’ menu (no unusual style, no imagination except on one meal when they served rajasthani local food ), with too much oil floating, salt mismatches, Assault on the senses very often,
On the face spices, not even strong in basics (like kaali daal really pathetic sometimes). So much oil in food made me wonder if they have invented to pump up drinking oil from the soil free, like water!!!!
There were few dishes in every meal that was a face saviour & enjoyable.
There was no option of room service food. So if one was to be hungry in a different time than the buffet, there was no choice to drive out & go to a cafe. After midnight if someone is hungry, they have just the option to drink water & be happy.
Other than the buffets, the general f&b management was super lousy too. It was a joke.
Tea incident – day 1 we got to know that tea & cookies will be served from 5 pm. We reached. There was a guy with milk water & tea bags. We asked about the Indian chai (tea leaves cooked with milk). We were told ‘15 minutes’. We asked after 15 minutes. We were told ‘after 15 minutes’. This happens 3 times & we decided to drive out & drink tea. At a roadside stall. No coordination of the guy at the tea counter & the kitchen. He kept going & coming as more & more people asked. Finally he fled & hid somewhere!!! Unthinkable.
Day 1 lunch
Egg curry tasted very good. It had a thick gravy with a slight tinge of sour. enjoyable. Rate it 4/5
Daal was excellent. The texture was perfect. We could feel every grain of pulse. The daal & spices blended beautifully to give a great flavor. Rate it 4.5/5
The paneer curry was interesting. The Gravy was just ok but the paneer was excellent. Rate the gravy 3/5 & the paneer 4.75/5. Overall rating of this dish averages out to 3.9/5
The Chana had excellent texture & taste. Rate it 4.5/5
Matar cauliflower was ok ish. The matar (green peas) were old & the cauliflower was over cooked. Rate it 2/5
Gajar ka halwa was bland & pathetic. The cooking had been suboptimal. Maybe water was also added to milk or carrot had been boiled & added to milk. Whatever was the horrific innovation, it was inedible. The dessert had no ‘paak/ binding’. It seems to have been made by shortcut method. Rate the dish 1/5
Dinner day 1
‘Long live the dead goat’ I spelt out, after eating the outstanding meat ‘roganjosh’. Yes, it was named laal maas but it was not like the traditional laal maas. It was simply a great North Indian meat curry.
The flavors & texture was great & so was the taste. It was an excellent gravy but it was surely not laal maa. if I ignore that, they did a stupendous job. Rate it 4.75/5
Kaali Daal was horrible – a tasteless, thick liquid with no texture & too much cream. I seriously thought the chef was on leave & the housekeeping charge was managing the kitchen.
Every tom, dick & Harry in delhi makes kaali daal better than this. Rate it 1/5
Navratan korma was too sweet & there was almost no salt!!! even good desserts have salt. It was very good to taste after adding salt. Rate it 3.5/5
Pakora very good. It was crunchy outside & soft in the middle. It had great taste. Rate it 4/5
Kadhai paneer lacked the punch in terms of balance of taste. the ‘full dhania (coriander)’ which is characteristic major flavor of this dish was meek. the onions & capsicum are supposed to be crunchy in this dish but here they were softened out. The dish was at best average!!!! rate it 2/5
Dum aloo had a very good gravy & very good aloo. It was well cooked. rate it 4/5
Chana pulao was really nice. It had the perfect texture – hard enough to have a bite but soft enough to enjoy – soft, independent, long grains of rice. Rate it 4.25/5
Moong dal halwa was pathetic – while it wud be outrageous to even compare with the likes of chaina ram, I don’t remember a place where I have had such rubbish. If the one at chaina ram is a top end BMW, this one was struggling for being a jugaad (google it in case u have not seen this yet). 1/5
Apple pudding was like a bad sponge cake with too much baking soda & some strange butter not whipped properly. Rate it 1/5
Breakfast day 2
We had Good paratha 4/5, average omelet 2/5, average vada 2/5, bad idly 1/5 & average sambhar 2/5.
I am not explaining these in detail as these are basic offerings by any kitchen & suboptimal food shows the sad state of affairs in the kitchen
We enjoyed a Lovely chai for breakfast . It was served with fanfare from a traditional utensil in disposable earthen cups (kulhad). The tea was strong enough to be enjoyable, had milk flavor of tea, spices, ginger. Rate it 4/5.https://yummraj.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/img_2252.mov
Lunch day 2
This menu was Better than dinner day 1. It had Local rajasthani dishes. I would say Good thought but Average execution.
Daal was excellent – texture of daal could be felt very well, flavors of daal were enjoyable & flavours of spices did not overpower that of the daal, balance of taste was perfect. Rate it 4.75/5
Baati was good but not the best we have had. Rate it 3/5
Choorma was good too & we have surely had better. Rate it 3/5
Navratan pulao was excellent – long , independent, aromatic grains of rice & real fruits (grapes) & dry fruit in it. Loved the balance of sweet & salt. Rate it 4.5/5
Outstanding badam pakora. We had never had anything like this before. Great texture. Full blown flavors of badaam & crisp outer layer. Rate it 4.5/5
Paneer curry was oily & ok to taste. Rate it 2/5 . The paneer itself was very good. Rate it 4.5/5
Aloo pyaz curry was also just ok. It had no particular spice flavor & just too much oil. The curry was pretty bland & directionless. Rate it 2/5.
The Gatta curry had a watery gravy with no particular taste / flavour. The Gattas were made with I guess excess baking soda that led to the gattas becoming like pakodas in water!!! They lost their texture. It really takes a lot of caliber to cook something so bad. I am curious to know who was in the kitchen that day – the security guard / the cobbler / the driver . Rate this dish 1/5
Papad curry was ok too. It was mild in terms of flavors, a bit watery. The papads were probably good but they had been cooked in too much eater for too long I guess. I have had fantastic papad curries in Gujarat & rajasthan – this one was a fraction of what those were. Rate it 2/5.
Ker sangri (a rajasthani vegetable) curry was the worst jee sangri i have had in my whole life & perhaps earlier life put together too!!! The balance of taste was a mess. Rate it 1/5.
Fish curry was very interesting. Large chunks of Gish had been batter fried & a thick gravy had been made. Loved both the fish & the gravy. Rate it 4.25/5
Evening snack day 2
Paneer tikka had a really good paneer, it was mildly spiced, sub optimally charred & in general good to taste. Rate it 3.5/5
Dinner day 2
We did not have the courage to try everything on the menu.
By now we had understood that they are good with yellow daal & mutton. So we stuck to that.
The daal was excellent. Flavors of spices & daal complimented each other. The texture was excellent. Rate it 4.5/5
Mutton curry was excellent too. Great quality of meat, perfectly cooked. The gravy was just right. Rate it 4.5/5
Breakfast day 3
Poha was good to taste & had the right texture. Rate it 3/5
Poori Subzi – the subzi had a lack of balance in taste (salt, sweet, sour etc). Rate it 2/5
Overall rating of food averages out to 3/5 with extreme oscillation from 1 to 4.75 – highly inconsistent & unpredictable.
This was collectively the largest culinary disaster in my memory, with the exception of the yellow daals & mutton