“The tigers are back in Sariska” was how Hotel Aravali in Alwar greeted us even before the beautiful receptionist could utter the good afternoon address.
Surrounded on all sides by Aravali hills, Alwar has a rich Rajputana culture to offer tourists from Delhi and Jaipur, starving for a peek into the royal lifestyle of the erstwhile Maharajahs. Sariska, which is an hours ride from here, is house to rare tigers, of which only a couple is alive because of rampant killing by smugglers until as late as 2004. Also many wild animals like antelopes, nilgai, wild boar, etc. can be found here.
Thanks to 26th January which fell on a Monday, the weekend was a day longer. A friend suggested Alwar and after a bit of googling on the net, we set off for Alwar. The Rajasthan State Bus, which we boarded from Sarai Kale Khan, dropped us at 2 o’clock (had the bus taken the Dharuhera-Bhiwadi road instead of the Sohna road, we would have reached an hour earlier).
“Sorry Sir but we don’t have any rooms vacant now”, the receptionist said, adding further, “except for an economy class room”, which she said with a pause.
“Looks like she thinks us an unfit for economy class room”, the thought was pleasing. “No probs” we said instead.
And so we were escorted to our room by the boy who didn’t let us carry our light baggage even though we insisted on carrying them ourselves. With a TV, double bed, warm blankets, geyser and cooler, this certainly wasn’t an economy room – all for Rs 500 that included breakfast as well.
Without wasting more time, we decided to head off for Alwar’s other places of interest.
Our first step was City Palace, which has turned into a Kachehri and also houses a museum, really rich in its offering. The museum has three sections – statues, paintings, and armoury. Statues dating back to 11th century and built in South-Indian style are found here in aplenty. They were surprisingly found in different parts of Rajasthan. There is a 9 ft long stuffed tiger, killed by one of the maharajahs of Alwar. The painting section also housed Vakyat-e-Babari, a handwritten biography of Babur. Also there were a metre long Mahabharat and Shiv Kavach. Radha Krishna pictures drawn in Rajasthani style and dating back to 11th century looked so fresh and vibrant. The armoury section is the richest – the entire wall has weapons on display – swords, bows and arrows, clubs, guns, rifles (two of them were more than 8 ft long), rocket launcher sized rifles, sheilds, the rajahs throne, his war gear and many more things.Photography isn’t allowed here or would have surely brought you some of the pictures.
I would like to draw attention to the state of the palace and museum. Now that it holds the commissioner’s office, walls all around are coloured with graffiti. There aren’t any directions to lead you to the museum until the third floor. A couple of boys guided us to the museum. The staff was basking in the sun – but they were good and told us not to take any photographs.
It was already evening by the time we came out of the museum. Also we were hungry and so we decided to head for the market. Though we would have loved to trek to the Bala Quila that is perched on top of a hill.
Finding a decent food joint turned out to be a major expedition. Although there were many a sweet shops around, we wanted to have something hot and spicy. We came across the only South Indian cafe by Gopal talkies after a half an hour search on Alwar roads.
Next I wanted to purchase some souvenirs, which I found in aplenty at shops in the market. There are many a jewellery shops found outside the city palace (looks like Rajasthanis have a huge demand for gold all the year round). I bought Jamnagar Bandhej style suits and hand woven sarees for my mother and bhabhis. I also purchased a bani-thani, which is a set of puppets, like the one shown in Paheli movie. It is said to bring good luck to the house. The local market offers a good bargain – not unlike some of the tourist destinations that fleece off tourists – by the way there were not many tourists around.
As night drew and our legs were aching with the hours of walking, we started off for our hotel room. A menu card by our bedside listed the dishes served in the restaurant. Too much to resist and we proceeded towards the restaurant.
Tables were nicely placed but not much people were around. Are we too early or too late, we thought.
A buffet had been organised. Unfortunately, I was too full or would have showed them the disadvantages of having a buffet. But I am not one to waste money though- served myself some butter chicken, a roti, some salad, and rasogulla. The food was really yummy and I cursed the South Indian cafe for that tasty sambar which I ordered thrice. The restaurant staff and other staffs at Holtel Aravali were quite decent and helpful.
After a heavy dinner, we returned to our room. The next day was destined to be more adventurous. We had booked the entire monday to Sariska and the Tiger Trail.
However, it was more than 8 after we reached Alwar bus stand. The hotel wallahs were suggesting a taxi (costing Rs 900) to the place. Later I discovered that the taxi would ferry us only until the gates of Sariska from where we would be required to take a Safari jeep. Instead, we took a bus going to Jaipur via Sariska and all we spent was Rs. 36 (wow so much of savings).
Passing through the Aravali hills, we reached Sariska at 9.30 in the morning. Like everyone, we crowded at the ticket window, only to know that all safaris are already booked. The first safari had already left at 7 o’clock and the next one was due at 10 o’clock. The rates for safari jeeps were Rs.900, Rs.1400 and Rs 2700, and one for the entire day.
We opted for the lowest one but there still was a major hiccup. All safaris were already booked and the latest we could get another was at 1 o’clock.
As the safari jeeps started returning and groups began moving for the jungle trip, I felt very disappointed. I started cursing the friend for taking too much time at breakfast (it was complementary and none of us had plans of foregoing it). Just then we spotted a group of young boys, who fortunately were just four in number. It turned out that they had booked their safari early in the morning and we hooked up with them for the two of us.
For all those who are travelling by their private cars and wouldn’t like to wait for the safari jeeps, here is a caution – don’t go by your personal cars; you won’t be allowed deep inside the jungle; besides you spend Rs. 125 for taking your car inside the car and also the guide fees that comes upto Rs. 150. Safari is all time better option (Rs 900 for 6 persons).
The boys turned out to be quite a fun. Being college boys, they referred to us as bhaiya. And together we headed for the jungle. The jeeps are petrol driven for lesser noise. The driver took us deep into the jungle tellling us that they are instantly informed if a tiger is spotted at a particular place.
Everyone was in search of the tiger. But the tiger was nowhere. With just two tigers in the forest, the probability of ever seeing a tiger was very less. There used to be around 26 tigers here until 2004. Sansarchand, a Delhi based smuggler, was behind rampant killing of tigers here. The government had promised to send 5 tigers but only two have been delivered until now.
But we did see a variety of wildlife. In the pictures that I will upload someday soon, you will see a large number of animals who posed for a photograph – alligators, deer, spotted deer, sambhar, nilgai, barasinga, peacock, and many others. The maharajah had a especially constructed tree house by a water tank. A bait used to be tied at the base of the tree house and when the tiger came to drink water, it fell for the trap. The forest officers lived inside the forest. I would have loved to spend a night here, although it would have been very scary. The driver showed us from far the Kankwadi Fort where Aurangzeb had his brother Dara Shikoh imprisoned. Just as we were wondering at the beauty of the wildnerness, we heard some rustling sound near the bushes. Before we could delight ourselves by the thought of spotting tiger, it turned out to be a cow. Night vision cameras were placed at several locations to monitor the movement of tigers.
As we were close to ending our 3 hour trip, we were nearly exhausted. The thought of not spotting a single carnivorous animal was further disappointing. The driver said that since it is daytime, the tigers would be resting. What makes it more difficult to spot them is that they have not yet defined their areas – the entire jungle of Sariska is their area – food would be available for them in plenty.
We decided to tell everyone that we spotted a tiger. The driver started pleading not to exceed expectations of people. Okay as you wish driver ji. We shaked hands with the other guys and headed for Alwar. The bumpy ride of the Sariska forest was enough to exhaust us. I was too sleepy to remember the return journey to Delhi.
Also read about my trip with my parents to Puri, Orissa: