Sariska National Park

sariska wildlife
Sambar deer jousting for the ladies

Looking for a quiet, pollution free weekend getaway from Delhi, Agra or Jaipur? Did you hit the snooze button too many times and now you don't have safari permits for Ranthambore Tiger Reserve? If you're not hell bent on spotting tigers, then Sariska is a great alternative. Not only can you spot wildlife but you can also visit some off-the-beaten path historical places near Sariska including Bhangarh Fort - India's most haunted. 

kankwadi fort sariska
Historic Gates of Kankwari Fort - Sariska

Sariska Tiger Reserve was once a hunting preserve of the Alwar royalty. It is 2.5 hours from Jaipur, 04 hours from Delhi and 3.5 hours from Agra. Several international tourists stop in Sariska when they do the golden triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur). People living in the above cities visit Sariska for some much needed R&R over the weekend. Sariska National Park is spread over 800 sq. km. and the forest is mostly tropical, dry deciduous, grasslands and rocky as it is part of the Aravali range. Deep inside the tiger reserve is Kankwadi Fort. Although now abandoned and in ruins, the Fort can be visited by booking a jeep safari. The safari goes through much of the tiger reserve and you can spot wildlife along the way. Kankwadi Fort is where Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan's son) briefly imprisoned his brother Dara Shikoh. 

Sariska Tiger Reserve
Sariska Tiger Reserve

Besides the Fort, Sariska Tiger Reserve also has an ancient Hanuman temple called Pandupol which is named after one of the Pandavas - Bhim from the Indian mythology - Mahabharat. The temple is a practicing temple and visitors are allowed to enter the tiger reserve every Tuesday and Saturday in their own vehicle after paying a measly INR 250 at either one of the two entry gates - Sariska and Tehla. The route to the temple is through the core part of the forest and you can enter from 8:00AM to sunset. 

hanuman temple sariska
Hanumanji - Pandupol Temple

If you are visiting the Park for it's wildlife then I don't recommend you visit Sariska on these two days. Temple traffic - cars, motorcycles and buses plough through the Reserve causing much needless disturbance to wildlife. Visitors blow the horn (not sure at whom as there is no traffic), play loud music, get off their vehicles, picnic and throw trash. Despite this the drive to Pandupol is very scenic and if you get there before the crowds the temple area is very relaxing to walk around in. The idol of Lord Hanuman is very unique in this temple as he is in the laying down position. As if Hanumanji is taking a siesta in the shades of palm trees that surround much of Pandupol. Be careful of monkeys and do not carry anything in your hand that could be mistaken for food. 

sariska safari
Friendly Wild Boar (Male)

If you are visiting Sariska for the purpose of spotting wildlife, then you can enter the National Park from either the Sariska or the Tehla gate. Both these gates are 80km apart from each other on the highway. Both the gates have resorts and hotels near them. Some 25 jeep safaris are allowed every day from the Sariska gate and 12 from the Tehla gate. If you stay at a resort near one of the two gates you will be allowed to enter the Park from that gate itself. You may exit from the other gate but then you will have to drive outside the Park for 80km to reach the resort that you booked near the gate from where you entered the National Park. 

Indian Grey Mongoose
Indian Grey Mongoose

The good (or bad depends on if you're a tiger fanatic) news is that jeep safaris are not very popular as Sariska does not have regular tiger sightings. This means that you don't always have to book safaris way in advance (except for long weekends). The Park lost it's entire tiger population at the turn of the century to poaching and the government had to relocate tigers from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Currently, there are 16 tigers in Sariska and a much larger leopard population spread over a range of 880 sq. km. Plus due to past human disturbance, most of the Sariska big cats are known to be very shy of humans, unlike their counterparts in Ranthambore.

wildlife in sariska
Hanuman Langur

Regardless, the Park is abundant in other wildlife. I saw herds of sambar, cheetal, wild boars and nil gai. Several species of migratory birds visit the park every winter. I would recommend you do at least two safaris - one towards Kankwadi Fort and another in one of the three designated routes. 

neelkanth temple sariska
Neelkanth temple ruins

Besides the jeep safaris, you can visit Neelkanth temple and ruins dedicated to Lord Shiva built between the 6th and 9th century. This temple is closer to the Tehla gate of Sariska. Part of the drive to the temple is a bit rough due to bad roads (but brilliant for it's views of the plateau) so be prepared. Once you pass that hurdle, the temple and ruins make it worth the extra effort. It is believed that several temples in the area were vandalized and destroyed during the Mughal rule. The intricate carvings and sculptures are a visual treat for anyone who appreciates history and architecture.

Shantinath Jain tirthankara Sariska
Shantinath - Jain tirthankara

Except for an old guard who yells at you when you attempt to take photographs of the Shiva temple there are no guides to show you around and tell you the history behind the temples. It's pretty much a self guided tour unless you catch a local from the village and ask him/her to show you around.

haunted forts in india
Bhangarh Fort

About 40km from the Tehla gate going towards Jaipur are the ruins of Bhangarh Fort and Town - supposedly the most haunted place in India. For obvious reasons, access to the area is strictly prohibited after dark as there are stories of people not turning up the following morning. Bhangarh Fort and town was established in the 16th century as the residence of the second son of the Jaipur King - Bhagwant Das. The town and fort were abandoned in the 18th century after a series of famines made life difficult for everyone. 

bhangarh fort
Ruins of Bhangarh Town

Of course, I didn't venture to the Fort after sunset but I can assure you that during the day I saw no spirits. The road to the fort is dotted with ruins of shops and houses of the town residents. It is only when you get closer to the Fort complex do you get to see it's grandeur and magnificence. Built on a hillside overlooking the valley below, the Fort's compound has several havelis and temples, the biggest being Gopinath. 

is Bhangarh fort haunted
View from Bhangarh Fort

You can walk all the way up and inside the Fort. Mostly in ruins but the views from the top are outstanding. Sit for a bit, catch your breath and soak in the amazing historic landscape in front of you. I'm sure Bhangarh would look even more beautiful (or haunting) at sunset though I would also be in a rush to get out of the fort as soon as my legs can drag me, lest I get possessed by the wandering spirit of a maharaja!

Bhangarh Fort
Bhangarh Fort 

So here you go, a couple of days in Sariska are not too bad eh? Jungle drives, dramatic forts, gods on siesta and starry nights - can't get any better than this right?

If you're planning a trip to Sariska, I can help put one together. Contact kunal@totravelwith.com / +919717148483.

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