Ranthambhore: On the Tiger’s trail – II

Posted: May 23, 2010 in India, tiger sanctuary, Travelogues
Tags: , ,

Back at our hotel, we narrated our experience to the manager and he laughed loudly. He told us about a friend of his who wanted to celebrate his wedding anniversary at ‘Bates Motel’. The manager tried his best to dissuade the friend but the chap was adamant. So he booked a room. The friend and his wife checked in one evening and were out of there in 30 minutes flat, terrified of the dark, and the absence of any guests. Of course, during season time, you wouldn’t find a room here or in any of the hole-in-the-wall ‘hotels’ we saw in this little town.

No tigers, but lots of monkeying around...

The hotel manager told us another interesting story about how tourism was the only means of survival for the people of this town. According to him there were more Maruti Gypsys in Sawai Madhopur than at an Army Command post! The villagers competed with each to buy these vehicles, not realising that fewer vehicles meant more trips to the Sanctuary for each of them and more business. Since the government did not allow more than 20 vehicles at one time into the jungle and each trip took three hours, most of the guides could only make two trips a day. So, the 150 odd vehicles usually had to wait for more three to four days before getting a second chance to take tourists into the sanctuary. Since most of the vehicles had been purchased on loans so, unknown to outsiders, a majority of the guides were living a hand-to-mouth existence.

During the off season they struggled to make ends meet and to make up for their losses, they charged exorbitantly during season time. Since these safaris were booked online these guides blocked the seats and literally sold them on the black market for anything from Rs 1000/- upwards depending on the demand. Hotels chains like the Oberois, where guests paid almost Rs 50,000 a day would have to shell out a whopping amount for the safaris. Interestingly enough, we were told that off season was the perfect time to see tigers! We paid Rs 4500/- for three trips into the Sanctuary during off season, so I guess we were lucky!

Interestingly, this misconception also helped them when it came to finding a suitable match for their sons! Outsiders seeing four Gypsys parked outside a house thought the family must be really rich and readily gave their daughters in marriage! Reality struck home later, but by then it was too late. Mixing with the rich tourists – both Indian and foreigners – also made these guides look at life through rose-tinted glasses – which, in the long run hit them hard.

It was an eye-opener for us on how these forest guides survived the cut throat competition. We left Ranthambhore the next day for Ajmer.

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