A light lunch (in the photo): A Hanuman Langoor snacks on a Banana. dropped from a passing vehicle inside Sariska. Feeding the animals is strictly prohibited but many repeatedly violate the rule.

SARISKA TIGER RESERVE, SARISKA, ALWAR, RAJASTHAN, INDIA.

The ill fated sanctuary that once lost its tiger population to mass poaching.

FACT FILE: SARISKA TIGER RESERVE.

Status: National Sanctuary.
Locale: Alwar, Rajasthan, India.
Popular for: Weekend getaways and pilgrimage.
Tigers, last count: 13.

Spread across 866 km of a dry and dusty stretch of hilly Aravali terrain, the Sariska Tiger Reserve is a portrait of an untamed Indian jungle with its collage of deciduous forests, seasonal fresh water lakes, dense shrubs, thick undergrowth and wildlife. Historically, the reserve was the hunting grounds of the Ranas (Kings of Rajasthan) and the nobility, before being reorganized as a wildlife reserve in 1955 and becoming a part of Project Tiger in 1979.

In 2005 the tiger reserve was the first to enter history as the only one to lose its entire tiger population to poachers and the first to successfully reintroduce the felines back into the region (see Farbound.Net snippet: Roaring once more) –  under the Sariska relocation project, that transferred a total of seven tigers into the reserve from the Ranthambhor National Park, located some 173 kilometers away in southeastern Rajasthan.

THE MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DECIMATION:

“The tiger decimation in Sariska is widely believed to be the work of criminal mastermind Sansar Chand, a local of Alwar, Rajsthan.”

According to the investigating authorities, Chand was a notorious smuggler and the main accused behind the systematic slaughter of wildlife at Sariska achieved via organized poaching activities for illegal sale of animal parts and skins to buyers in Nepal and Tibet – as evident from a raid on a storage depot he used in Delhi, testimony of poachers he hired for the task, and his personal diaries containing details of the illegal activities. A NDTV news bulletin published in 2010 stated Chand, in a career spanning some thirty odd years, had been arrested a dozen times for animal slaughter but never convicted as the prosecution had been unable to build a solid case. Succumbing to advanced stage tumor in 2014, aged 55, he is considered to be India’s biggest wildlife criminal – with 50 cases of killing and animal cruelty. After the Sariska incident Chand remained in custody for nine years.

Yet, and inspite, a healthy re-bounce, wildlife officials, continue to express concern over the fate of the tigers, specially in the wake of mining activities and presence of old villages within the area, particularly after an incident that took place barely five years after the reintroduction of the felines in which two men were arrested for poisoning one of the relocated tigers. The official tally is currently estimated to be around thirteen felines – nine adults and four clubs. The tiger reserve is cared for and guarded by the Rajasthan Forest Department. Reallocation of villages within the area, an ongoing process.

Who goes there.

Presently, the sanctuary is popular as a weekend getaway for residents of nearby cities including Delhi.  In ancient times the region was also home to the Vedic Matysa clan, references of which can be gleaned from the epic Mahabharta – a people who likely created one of the earliest idols of Hanuman, now within the modern day temple complex at Pandupol. The temple is a year round pilgrimage destination.

Getting there.

By road the tiger reserve is located 37 km from the city of Alwar; 200 km from Delhi (approximately 4 hours driving time); and 107 km from Jaipur. Road condition ranges from good to worse. Traffic is heavy on normal days specially when crossing busy towns. Short stops are to be expected at railway crossings and traffic signals. One can also travel to Alwar via train from both Delhi and Jaipur then hail a cab or local bus to the reserve. There is no airport in the immediate vicinity. Travelers are required to keep handy either their passports, license cards or voter IDs.

Officially declared wildlife.

Thirteen Bengal tigers. Leopards. Panthers. Indian Wild Dogs.  Jungle Cats. Wild Boars. Samburs. Nilgais. Chitals. Chinkaras. Numerous Hanuman Langurs. The Rhesus Monkey. Common Cobras. Asian Rock Pythons. Rat Snakes. Whip Snakes. Checkered Keelbacks. The Great Indian Horned Owl.  Pea Fowls. Grey Bush Quails. Golden Back Woodpecker. Grey Partridge. Crested Serpent Eagle. Sand Grouse. Parakeets and Tree pie.

Historical attractions.

The ancient fort of Kankawadi built by the Rajput King Jai Singh II (under restoration). The ancient Hanuman Temple at Pandupol. The Neelkanth temple dedicated to Lord Shiva (in ruins).

Best season for visiting.

The reserve officially opens in October and stays closed during the Monsoons. However, year round the road leading to the ancient Hanuman temple at Pandupol is kept open for pilgrims on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Best time of the day to visit is during the morning or late afternoons. Best months are November, towards the end of February, March and early April when the weather is neither too cold nor too hot.

In summers the park is usually open from 6:30 am to 5:00 pm and in winters from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. The tiger reserve is off limits after sundown.

Vehicles.

Jeeps, Gypsies, Sumos, Dusters and other 4x4s are the preferred vehicles for driving up and down the raw uneven road with speed breakers at intervals. Though bikes, sedans and other passenger cars are also frequently seen.

Speeding is generally not advised and discouraged by the authorities. Touring the inner reaches is permitted only via Jeep safaris organized by the forest department located near to the park entrance.

Strict forest regulations prohibit getting out of vehicles and feeding the animals for the safety of visitors as well as the residents of the forest.

Wildlife observation posts.

Visitors with prior arrangements can also book ‘hides’ (secluded observation posts) near wildlife frequented areas for an unobstructed view. However, animal sighting, varies from day to day.

  • Travel tip

When heading for the tiger reserve from New Delhi, visitors can indulge in a bit of heritage on rails by opting to travel on board the Fairy Queen. Constructed in 1855 and a troop transport during the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, the historic steam locomotive is the oldest in service today, ferrying passengers to and fro between New Delhi and Alwar in a 5 to 6 hour journey.