This blog is almost 3 years old but the memories of this beautiful journey remain etched in my heart forever. And so it deserves a re-post!
I embarked on this journey after a long time post my baby and it was worth every single penny. This was special in more than one ways needless to say. It was our anniversary and first ever trip as family(hubby, son and me). The traveller in me was itching from every corner of my body as the last I made a trip was when I was expecting my son to Pondicherry(India) back in February 2013 so when my husband came up with this superb idea I was more than just plain excited. With all our bags packed we embarked to New Delhi Railway station to catch our superfast train at 11:40pm. We reached station in time but the superfast train disappointed us by not reaching in time and was running late by 4 hours. We waited at the waiting room and finally boarded the train at 3:30am. Train kick-started its journey at 4:00am and to our surprise reached Sawai Madhopur at sharp 8:15am(ok…the train did live up to its name at the end.) Normally we would have reached by 5:30am had the train started on time but it still made up for all the time we lost initially.
As we exited the station our car that was pre-booked was waiting to take us to our hotel. It was an approximately 20-25 minutes ride to our hotel ‘Dev Vilas’ that is actually located in a village called Khichdipur. Our ride was a quick one and on our way were umpteen number of resorts and hotels whose names looked familiar as we checked them out online while choosing our hotel. Once we checked into Dev Vilas we were welcomed with a welcome juice and a hot towel to wipe our face. Both the juice and hot towel rejuvenated me a little bit as I was already getting to experience the hospitality of Rajasthan. All these years I have travelled to so many places in India and abroad but every time I visit Rajasthan I experience a new level of hospitality that is difficult to find anywhere else in the world. Not that staff at other hotels are not hospitable enough but here the people are more casual than formal. Casual not in the way they execute their responsibilities but in the way they interact with us as if they have known us from before and still treat us with utmost grace and warmth.Me and my husband are both more casual and extremely informal people. We prefer to travel light on this earth and like surroundings where others do the same. And I think that’s the case with Rajasthan as well. With their infectious Khamma Ghani(Hello/Namaste in Rajasthani) and a genuinely sweet smile on their faces I get the feeling that they are really happy to have us in their Vilas.
After a quick hot towel and juice refreshment we checked into our room. The room was imply magnificent in terms of space, design and money spent. Apart from a huge room there were two very spacious wash-rooms equipped with everything one needs. The room was also adorned with a window as big as the size of 2 doors in my house that let the winter sunlight enter our room and made our room bright. One thing that particularly caught my attention and me and my son were both in love with was a wooden chest with intricate carvings on it and blankets inside which instantly added to the rustic charm of the room. All in all inspite of a sloppy start(train delay) journey from Sawai Madhopur to Dev Vilas and our room made our very first day the perfect one.
I like to take things slow when on a vacation and not rush through the place so that I can put a tick in the check-box next to the activity I have planned before coming. So even though we had 3 days in our hands we decided not to go on an evening safari and simply soak into what Sawai Madhopur and Dev Vilas had to offer. After our bath and breakfast we decided to let our supercharged son take a nap and excused ourselves too. Post our afternoon nap we had lunch, roamed around the lovely swimming pool, chatted with the staff that were mostly locals. Some of them were from my native state Odisha and we obviously clicked instantly and started chatting in Oriya although over the years my oriya has become a little rusty as I married a non-oriya guy and converse mostly in hindi or english on day to day basis. Still I was able to do chit chat and ask them about their super long journey from east to west. Odisha is situated in the eastern corner of India and Rajasthan in the western so I was a little perplexed as to why and how they landed here. Kartik and Sameer were the two oriya guys with whom I chatted and they told that because they couldn’t find anything suitable in Kolkata and their house got burnt in an accident so they decided to start working here in Dev Vilas as soon as the opportunity represented itself. But they certainly miss their home as they get to travel maybe once a year for a month. I was touched by their story and offered to tip them but they vehemently said no as the hotel has a strict ‘No Tipping’ policy on individual basis. If guests feel someone has done a good job and want to tip them they need to put the tip inside a tip-box placed at the reception which will then be distributed later equally amongst all staff members at the end of every month or maybe after every 3 months. This was something new I haven’t seen anywhere in all these years. Kudos to Kartik and Sameer for sticking to the rules inspite of their financial situation.
Next we decided to walk out of our hotel premises and just see what is around. There happened to be a mound with some very old remains of maybe a fort on top of it. While we were on our way to the mound Jessica one of the Great Den caretaker dog of Dev Vilas was resting quietly on a wooden bed and I think was enjoying the dusty evening like us.
As we started climbing the mound we noticed a shepherd with lots of sheep and goat on the mound. He had let them loose to graze on whatever grass was there or anything that they could eat. It was double the fun for my son as for him it was a different experience. Not only was he climbing a small hill(for him it was a hill) but also he was surrounded by these animals who were making all kinds of sounds. As we reached the top of the mound we could see open safari jeeps returning from evening safaris, breathtaking sunset and beautiful Sawai Madhopur. I should stop writing for some time and let the pictures do the talking.
Once I absorbed Sawai Madhopur at its best it was almost dinner time as per International standards. We decided to have an early dinner as we had our early morning safari starting at 6:30am in the morning. Giving us company were three lovely ladies from UK. Grandmother, mother and her daughter. All the 3 days that we stayed their, they never missed to have dinner at 7pm sharp and were off to bed by 9pm as they went on early morning safaris daily and at times evening safari even though they have already sighted the big one TIGER – T 24 to be precise(that’s what the forest officials have named this tiger). Well that’s what I call being travel freaks and real travellers. Exploring the place at your pace and I am certainly one of them. We too were off to bed early by Indian standards at around 10pm and got up early to make in time for the open gypsy that picked us up. Us being the first ones to be picked we got the option to choose where we want to sit and we sat in the middle seat that could hold 3 people comfortably.
After us we picked an old but extremely alive couple from another hotel. They were visiting India from New Zealand and were equally excited to spot a tiger like us. Last we picked were a newly married couple from Gujarat(India) and our gypsy was almost completely packed now with the driver sitting in the front leaving one seat next to him empty for our guide. In no time we were on our way to zone 6 of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Once we entered the zone 6 gate we waited for our guide to join us. It was a very windy ride as it was February and it was still super chilly in the mornings. I underestimated it and wore just a denim jacket but thankfully my son was all covered in layers and our hotel staff gave us an extra blanket to cover us up. That blanket really did a good job of keeping us warm during our Safari. Even though the temperature in the forest is few notches down than the normal temperature one doesn’t really need a blanket if you are wearing a warm jacket.
Once our guide joined us we started with our Jungle Safari and in no time we spotted lots of spotted deer. We were lucky enough to spot beautiful peacocks, owls perched quietly on a tree and almost camouflaging itself which had the guide not told us we could never have made out there was an owl staring directly at us or it seemed. Sloth bear, Antelopes, Kingfisher, Black drongo taking a ride while sitting on deer’s back and some other variety of birds and trees that we don’t get to see on a normal day. But the jungle was not in a mood to pull out the big guns that day. Every time we were shown a big pugmark I became more and more hopeful of seeing India’s national animal. We waited at few key spots where the guide was hopeful of a tiger sighting but we were out of luck. It almost seemed like tiger was laughing at us somewhere from inside those thick bushes. It appeared he was more interested in playing the game of hide n seek with us.
We realised it was time to wrap up our safari and so we headed back to the same gate from where we entered and dropped our guide there. Next we dropped both the Indian and New Zealander couple and made the last stop at our hotel. By the time we reached our hotel, breakfast was already served and needless to say we were hungry too. After freshening up a little bit we had our sumptuous breakfast, played in the pool and took a good long afternoon nap.
In the evening, we headed for the Ranthambore fort that has lots of stairs(I think around 150) and is actually inside the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Our fort visit which was a beautiful experience as from its topmost cliff one could see the adjoining lake that houses crocodiles and alligators and the entire forest area. We thought it will be difficult to climb those stairs with a kid but he really was more determined to have fun than any of us and climbed his way to the top(well atleast almost) without sweating us much. On our way back we did hear some roaring and screeching so we came down super quickly only to find out from our driver that while we were away a leopard snatched a baby monkey sitting atop the fort’s boundary walls right in front of their eyes and fled from the scene in no time. I for one was really sad to have missed this as well. As luck would have it I saw a bunch of beautiful peacocks perched atop a tree that I was facing. It was a marvelous site and I decided to not fret more about something that is not in my hands.
We returned to our hotel before it got dark. I indulged in some shopping at the hotel’s gift shop before dinner. Brought t-shirts with tigers and Ranthambore slogans printed on them and some old world silver jewellery that I simply loved.I was never a jewellery person and all my gold jewellery are still eating dust in lockers but silver, it brings a sense of old world charm for me. On our last day of stay we didn’t do much and apart from an exquisite lunch at Taj property we decided to let the day just be.
At last we boarded our train at around 11:30pm which thankfully was bang on time. And as always and I think like most of us I was somewhere sad about this wonderful journey coming to an end. But I have promised myself that I will visit this place again for the sheer tranquillness in the pace of life Ranthambor provides, good food, nice people and last but definitely not the least the beautiful wildlife( who knows if I am lucky 2nd time!).