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Ranthambore Visit - Spirituality and Jungles Hand in Hand

It was a long weekend and summers were in their last phase. Times had been dull off-late and we hadn't been out roaming for quite some time. Obviously, the subconscious mind was on its own lookout for an opportunity to get away from home. Now one lazy evening, I came in tired after day load of work and was waiting for my tea when the melancholic sound of the phone spoke up. There was an incoming call that would end this laziness. Dad was calling in to ask if we were interested in a short trip to Ranthambore during the upcoming long weekend because of Dusshera holiday. The background was hidden in the fact that there was a religious ceremony due at one of the famed temples in Indargarh, a place close to Ranthambore. We were, as always, perfectly ready for the trip and a chance to get out of the home. Perfect chance for a change !! As the dates were finalized and plan settled in, we booked our tickets. The plan was to visit Mom and Dad in Jaipur and travel together to Sawai Madhopur, the nearest potential railhead. I call it potential as there is a railway station further up too, but this station lies on a trunk route and hence is better connected to other cities. Finally, we had in hand the tickets to Jaipur and further to Sawai Madhopur and return. The plan was that we would leave Delhi on 7th of October 2016 and spend a couple of days in Jaipur before proceeding for the trip. The return to Delhi was scheduled on the evening of 11th.

As planned, we packed our stuff for the quick tour and were ready on the excited Friday evening. We took enough margin of time and booked our Uber in advance for the ride to the station. Amit, my brother boarded the train - Delhi Jaipur Double Decker - from Delhi Sarairoyhilla station. We were there at Gurgaon Railway Station right at 6 PM waiting for the train as we were supposed to join him from here. The train rolled in by about 6:40, 15 minutes past the scheduled time. We entered our coach and met Amit; settled our luggage in relatively smaller sized overhead bin and settled in our seats. We had the middle seats, the ones where two rows face each other with a center table fixed to the ground. Generally, I am averse to these seats as they create an awkward situation with two sets of families facing each other with nowhere else to steer glance away to. However, this time it seemed a bit different and the couple in front of us were friendly and sweet. It turned out to be a nice journey and we deboarded at Jaipur by about 10 in the night and were enjoying tea before 11.

Next day was Ashtami and there was a puja scheduled at our place. An elaborate arrangement was in place and after the puja, there was a lunch hosted for a few underprivileged children at our home. We were happy that this meant special food for us too and we were also happy to be there at home with family for this occasion. It was a day of gathering and we enjoyed each ceremony with food and fun. Next day was when we were supposed to leave for our trip and hence we were all excited as we ended the day. The trip would be done in two parts - the first part was the religious part where we would be climbing the hill for a darshan of Devi Beejasan; the second was the visit to the tiger reserve. It was an early start next day and we were out of the house by 5 AM to catch the train to Sawai Madhopur - The Shri Ganganagar - Kota SF Express.

We were out of the train by about 9 AM and were on our way to Indargarh. Indargarh is about an hour's drive, measuring about 50 kilometers. Indargarh is the town that is home to the temple of Shri Beejasan Mata Ji. This is one of the most ancient temples with a long history and traditional significance. This ancient temple was built as the popular opinion goes, 2000 years ago in Vikram Samvat 103 by Kamal Nath who was a great devotee of Goddess Durga. His unflinching devotion to the Goddess propitiated the Goddess and she appeared before him. This idol of Beejasan Mata (Mother Goddess Durga) is seated on the demon Rakta Beeja. The stone idol is believed to be There are about 750 stairs to climb up to the temple. The Goddess is deemed to be very powerful and is believed to fulfill the wishes of devotees. Devotees commit to returning to the temple once their wishes are fulfilled. Lately, a temple has been built at the foot of the hill which resembles in many ways to the one on the top. The purpose was to provide an option to have darshan of the Devi for the aged and handicapped who cannot climb all the way up. By about 10:30, we were busy preparing for a hike in our guest house, which was to serve as a base camp.

We began our ascent at about 11 after a light breakfast and armed with water bottles. We bought the prasadam and the headband that is traditional gear for such hikes. It took about 45 minutes to climb up and enter the temple. The rush was huge given that it was an auspicious day of Navami. Devotees had thronged in large numbers and the scene was electrifying. There were drums and there were slogans of devotion, there were chants and there was spirituality to the core, and there was that steep hike. I was surprised to see people with disabilities and age overcoming those high and steep stairs. At the temple too, the crowd was evident and the line was long. Finally, we did manage to have the darshan and spent some time in the calm of the temple premises. I have always observed that the few moments spent in temple premises has a mysterious energy and power and is really calming.  After about half an hour at the temple, we began our descent which took about 15 minutes in all. We did spend some time at the new temple, by the foothill.  We were on our way back from Indargarh by about 1:30 and reached Sawai Madhopur by 2:15 PM and had a quick lunch before starting the next part of the day.

At about 3 PM, the forest department Maruti Gypsy was standing on the guest house porch waiting for us to embark on the jungle sojourn. We boarded the car and began the journey towards Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. After about half an hour of drive, we crossed the forest checkpoint and entered the jungles of Ranthambore National Park. First stop within the jungle was the Ranthambore Fort. The fort stands majestically atop a hill overlooking the entire park. The walk up, one of the only places this mode of transport is possible, is a very refreshing and exciting one as even the big cats have been spotted up there! The view of the surrounding keeps getting better and better as you go up but the view from the fort itself can only be described as breathtaking. Many animals can also be seen along the edges of all the water bodies, which are all visible from here. The fort itself also offers many interesting architectural and historical sights worth viewing and photographing. A trip to the fort is a must if you are a first time visitor to the park. A guide with a good knowledge of the fort's history would always be a good idea. Within the fort is the  Trinetra Ganesha Temple. The temple is the famous and oldest temple of Lord Ganesha in Rajasthan that comprises of his whole family all together in one place.

Once the visit to the fort was over, we began our expedition in hunt of the big cat of the jungle - the Tiger itself. We covered 3 zones across the entire area and spent eager moments at multiple site points - places where chances of spotting a tiger are high. Most site points are located beside waters bodies. Ranthambore national park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957 and in 1974 it gained the protection of "Project Tiger". It got the status of a National Park in 1981. The reserve covers approximately 400 square kilometers of the area excluding the peripheral forest areas. During our back and forth trips across the uneven terrain, looking attentively at minor details to spot the tiger, we saw a number of other animals including wild boar, swamp deer, birds and many more. However, as luck would have it, it wasn't our day. The four-hour effort did seem futile to some extent as we closed our expedition without citing the cat. As if this wasn't enough, one of my friend visiting the reserve the same day happened to spot one in the only zone we left out. However, it was a good experience in all and safari had all the elements of excitement, curiosity, and suspense. We were back to our guesthouse by 8 for our train back to Jaipur. It was indeed a roller coaster ride on a rushed day but the company of family.

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