We knew, that Jaipur is a good starting point to visit a national park and see some wild life. To arrange this, we’ve contacted a travel agent, who was very helpful and convinced us to shorten our stay in Jaipur and skip a day in Agra and visit a national park instead – promising a chance to see wild tigers – you can’t say no to this!
On the next morning we packed our backpacks into a car and our driver Ravi took us to our next adventure J So far we’ve been traveling by train or plane between the cities and didn’t see much of the inter-city roads… This time, we experienced all of it, washed-out broken pavement, all kinds of animals on the road, trucks driving on the wrong side of the highway, trucks overtaking each other nearly hitting the traffic in the opposite direction etc. but what was really impressive is the calmness of our driver Ravi, who seemed to be immune to the craze of the traffic and took us safely and relaxed to our destination.
We booked two safari rides to the park to increase our chances to see wildlife (especially tigers) and so our first tour started directly on our arrival. We’ve been picked up by a big truck, which looked like a convertible bus without a roof. As we were under the first ones, we got to sit in the first row, next to the driver. At the entrance to the national park, we’ve been welcomed by several groups of monkeys, who really weren’t surprised seeing us. Once inside the park, we saw a whole lot of wild life: different kinds of deer, antelopes, peacocks and crocodiles but no tigers. All those animals were so much used to tourists and the busses, that they didn’t even make an attempt to run away or hide from us – tourists belong to their environment as much as anything else. At some point, our bus stopped at the road and the guides showed us a mark in the sand, which they said belonged to a tiger. That could have been an end of this trip, which we wouldn’t have regretted. But after the next corner, there was a traffic jam (!!!) in the middle of nowhere. It turned out, that there is a tiger somewhere in the bush and all cars/busses were collected at this one spot and everyone was trying to get a glimpse of that poor thing. As long as our bus was in the back of the line, the drivers screamed at the drivers in the front to make them move and make space for those in the back. When we were finally at the spot, the other drivers screamed at our driver, who couldn’t care less (as the others when they were in the spot) until everyone saw the tiger. Speaking of which- this utterly reminded us of the tale about the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone was looking into the bush and was pretending to see something somewhere while Alice and I seemed to be the only ones seeing just what was there – bush, may be also some plants… you know… green leaves… We really couldn’t recognize any tiger there and even after looking closely at all pictures we’ve taken, I’m not sure if it is a tiger or a bunch of dark leaves, but at least we’ve seen many other animals and a nice landscape so we counted the day as success. On the next morning we woke up early as we had our second tour to the park. This time we took a different entrance in order to see another part of the park and just after a couple minutes again the same picture – jammed road, dust, hordes of people screaming around, cameras clicking – there must be a tiger in the bush. Our driver did the same as the one the day before- by screaming and driving through the green (not that it is a national park and you would expect them to respect the nature…) he got us to “the spot” where a tiger supposedly was eating a cow. And again, we couldn’t see anything. But this time a friendly driver from the car standing next to ours has let us crawl over on their Jeep an there it was, an actual free tiger having his breakfast and not caring about all those uncivilized people around him. At some point he seemed to have enough of the show (and the cow) and just walked away and in that moment we saw him walking through a glade in the bush- Goosebumps! As our tour guides fulfilled their objective of showing us a tiger, the rest of the tour was as disappointing as the beginning. We rushed through the park for about 30 minutes, saw a couple of deer and antelopes, destroyed some more plants and got out in a cloud of dust. We both were left with mixed feelings about this visit – on the one hand we saw one of the few tigers in their natural habitat and might not have this chance in a couple of years any more. On the other hand, we are well aware, that by our visit we also supported the behavior of those drivers and the way too high number of cars driving around in this park.
On the next day, we were heading to Agra, the home of one of the wonders of the world and India’s most famous landmark: the Taj Mahal. Whenever we were telling someone, that we’re planning to spend over two days in Agra, they were giving us strange looks and asking, what we are planning to do there. Finally the tour operator, who helped us to organize the visit in Ranthambore brought it to the point: “Agra is a sh*thole”. But at that time we only thought: how bad could it be? On the way there we stopped at Chand Baori, one of the biggest and most impressive step wells in India dating back to 800-900 AD century. This well is about 30 m deep and has 13 storeys, which is quite impressive (especially considering the age) and looks pretty cool on pictures 🙂 This step well is also featured in many movies… the recent most prominent one is “Batman – The dark knight rises”.
Due to the road conditions described before, it took us all day to drive the 300km from Ranthambore to Agra, but we arrived just in time to see the sun set over the Taj Mahal from Metah Bagh on the opposite side of the river. The way to the gardens and back went through the craziest traffic, we’ve experienced in India and perfectly explained, what all the others said about Agra – there is nothing else to see or to do in Agra besides the Taj Mahal. There is a lot of crazy traffic, dust, dirt, stray dogs and nothing else. But this time we were not the unprepared tourists as in other places, we read several articles giving recommendations on how and when to visit the Taj, we bought our tickets online in advance, we didn’t bring any forbidden items with us (basically anything except a camera) and, most importantly, we were about to go to the Taj at sunrise. The gates opened at 06:45 and we were in the first dozen of people in front of the gate. Those fresh and happy American tourists were a bit irritating, as Alice and I were still in the middle of the night – probably the jetlag was working for them. 😀 Once the gates were open and we were through several pointless security screenings, we were heading to the entrance just to be blown away by the beauty of this place. The white marble was shining in the red morning sun and made our jaws drop to the ground. You can see thousands of pictures, but none of them transport the feeling of actually standing there and seeing it with your own eyes. And the sentence “This is it, this is what we’re doing it for” went through our heads again and again. The advantage of being amongst the first ones on the premises was, that we could have some really nice pictures with only a few other people – we saw later how the place became more and more crowded. Once the pictures were taken, we walked inside and saw again, how much work and love to the details, the builders have invested into this monument. We found a place with a nice view and sat around for a while to be mesmerized by the beauty of the Taj. After the visit we were just looking forward to get back to Delhi and meet our friendly host Sunil, whom we knew from our first visit in Delhi. But Delhi was just a short stopover to our next destination across India. The far north east – where the Darjeeling tea originates.