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Ranthambore was a battlefield. In early medieval times, Ranthambore was a powerful independent kingdom that controlled trade routes to the rich Malwa plateau. At the heart of this kingdom was the massive and “impregnable” Ranthambore fort that had a thriving community living around it — a community that built amazing buildings. In the middle of the 15th century, Mughal emperor Akbar annexed Ranthambore. Over the next few centuries all the beautiful monuments of Ranthambore fell into ruins and gradually the forest took over. However, it was not till the 1980s that a dozen of the biggest villages inside the park were relocated under Project Tiger and tigers began to make a comeback and reclaim the forest and the monuments.

There are very few places in the world where one can see wild tigers grooming themselves in ancient monuments built centuries ago. Where else do you hear phrases like “Mahal ke jharokhe mein Arrowhead baithi hai” (Arrowhead, the tigress is sitting in the balcony of the palace). It is this mix of history and natural history that makes Ranthambore really special. This is what attracted me to Ranthambore in 1984 when I came here for the first time as an 18-year-old and this is what kept getting me back here till 1998, when I permanently relocated to Ranthambore. In the last 23 years, I have spent nearly 50,000 hours inside the Ranthambore national park and I am still as fascinated with it.

The “bada gate” or the big gate is a gateway with a long stretch of walls on either side of the gate, a few hundred meters inside the Jogi Mahal entrance to the national park, along the shores of the Padam Talao lake. Since the wall on either side of this gate is still largely intact, wild animals use this gate a lot, when they need to get across this walled barrier. There is room on top of the gate with three windows. A spiral staircase leads up to this room. Strong winds blowing from over the lake keep this room cool and in summers we sometimes find tigers resting in this room. Many decades ago, before the present gate was built, this was the main entrance to the national park. The “bada gate” or the big gate is a gateway with a long stretch of walls on either side of the gate, a few hundred meters inside the Jogi Mahal entrance to the national park, along the shores of the Padam Talao lake. Since the wall on either side of this gate is still largely intact, wild animals use this gate a lot, when they need to get across this walled barrier. There is room on top of the gate with three windows. A spiral staircase leads up to this room. Strong winds blowing from over the lake keep this room cool and in summers we sometimes find tigers resting in this room. Many decades ago, before the present gate was built, this was the main entrance to the national park.

The “bada gate” or the big gate is a gateway with a long stretch of walls on either side of the gate, a few hundred meters inside the Jogi Mahal entrance to the national park, along the shores of the Padam Talao lake. Since the wall on either side of this gate is still largely intact, wild animals use this gate a lot, when they need to get across this walled barrier. There is room on top of the gate with three windows. A spiral staircase leads up to this room. Strong winds blowing from over the lake keep this room cool and in summers we sometimes find tigers resting in this room. Many decades ago, before the present gate was built, this was the main entrance to the national park.

Ranthambore is a dry deciduous forest and water is in short supply particularly during the summers. Since ancient times, human beings have been constructing water harvesting structures like stepwells (locally called baoris), small temporary dams (check dams), open wells and even large lakes. When the forest was declared a tiger reserve, the management realised that to increase the density of wild animals within the reserve they need to ensure a good supply of food, cover and permanent waterholes. A large number of check dams were built and still continue to be built all over the tiger reserve. This one, near the Sakri Nallah in Lahpur valley, was built of local rubble stone almost three decades ago. There are six large lakes within the national park. All six of them are man-made and built in the recent past.

Ranthambore is a dry deciduous forest and water is in short supply particularly during the summers. Since ancient times, human beings have been constructing water harvesting structures like stepwells (locally called baoris), small temporary dams (check dams), open wells and even large lakes. When the forest was declared a tiger reserve, the management realised that to increase the density of wild animals within the reserve they need to ensure a good supply of food, cover and permanent waterholes. A large number of check dams were built and still continue to be built all over the tiger reserve. This one, near the Sakri Nallah in Lahpur valley, was built of local rubble stone almost three decades ago. There are six large lakes within the national park. All six of them are man-made and built in the recent past.

The biggest, grandest and possibly the oldest monument in Ranthambore is the massive hill fort from which the tiger reserve gets its name. The Ranthambore fort, over a 100 years old, with the Padam Talao lake at its base is a Unesco World Heritage site. It fortifies a small hill that is 4 square kilometres in area, with massive sandstone walls, excavated from the same hill. The walls run for a distance of nearly 7 kilometres. Interestingly, this is just one of the twenty forts within the Ranthambore tiger reserve.

The biggest, grandest and possibly the oldest monument in Ranthambore is the massive hill fort from which the tiger reserve gets its name. The Ranthambore fort, over a 100 years old, with the Padam Talao lake at its base is a Unesco World Heritage site. It fortifies a small hill that is 4 square kilometres in area, with massive sandstone walls, excavated from the same hill. The walls run for a distance of nearly 7 kilometres. Interestingly, this is just one of the twenty forts within the Ranthambore tiger reserve.

The Rajbagh lake in Ranthambore is, in my opinion, the most scenic landscape in any tiger reserve in India. Imagine a large lake, the shores of which are teeming with wildlife, an ancient palace at one end, surrounded by low forested hills on all sides. It does not get more photogenic than the Rajbagh Lake. There is a narrow land bridge that connects one shore of the Rajbagh lake to the palace that is on the other side of the lake. However, it remains submerged for half the year. Tigers, like this female, use this bridge frequently to get across the lake as it is much shorter, while other animals are slightly wary of using this and prefer using the longer route to cross over.

The Rajbagh lake in Ranthambore is, in my opinion, the most scenic landscape in any tiger reserve in India. Imagine a large lake, the shores of which are teeming with wildlife, an ancient palace at one end, surrounded by low forested hills on all sides. It does not get more photogenic than the Rajbagh Lake. There is a narrow land bridge that connects one shore of the Rajbagh lake to the palace that is on the other side of the lake. However, it remains submerged for half the year. Tigers, like this female, use this bridge frequently to get across the lake as it is much shorter, while other animals are slightly wary of using this and prefer using the longer route to cross over.

The Rajbagh palace, surrounded by the lake on all three sides is what gives the Rajbagh lake its name. One can see a massive jharoka (an overhanging balcony) that overlooks the lake, with the main building of the palace lying hidden behind this façade. Tigers are seen resting on this jharoka particularly on hot summer days as a gentle summer breeze usually keeps this structure cool. If you are lucky, the tigers may even stand up and pose for you. The Rajbagh palace, surrounded by the lake on all three sides is what gives the Rajbagh lake its name. One can see a massive jharoka (an overhanging balcony) that overlooks the lake, with the main building of the palace lying hidden behind this façade. Tigers are seen resting on this jharoka particularly on hot summer days as a gentle summer breeze usually keeps this structure cool. If you are lucky, the tigers may even stand up and pose for you.

The Rajbagh palace, surrounded by the lake on all three sides is what gives the Rajbagh lake its name. One can see a massive jharoka (an overhanging balcony) that overlooks the lake, with the main building of the palace lying hidden behind this façade. Tigers are seen resting on this jharoka particularly on hot summer days as a gentle summer breeze usually keeps this structure cool. If you are lucky, the tigers may even stand up and pose for you.

Chattris or dome-shaped elevated pavilions are an important feature of Indo-Islamic architecture and Ranthambore has some of the prettiest ones, like this one (left) in the background. This chattri, locally known as badi chattri (or the big dome), like most other chattris here has a Shivling under the dome. One rarely sees wild animals on top of this chattri except the occasional peafowl. A long time ago, however, I did see three tigers, sisters, sitting and eating a small kill inside of this monument.
There are many platforms like this one (right) littered all across Ranthambore, remains of chattris that have fallen apart many decades, if not centuries, ago. The well-weathered lime mortar plaster cover that is peeling off in almost all such platforms adds character to them. The top of these platforms is dry, flat, clean, free of thorns and offers a nice commanding view, making it an ideal resting place for tigers.

In India, if you see saffron-coloured stones then you know that there is a Hindu temple close by and Ranthambore has a large number of temples. There are over 700 places of worship, mostly Hindu temples within the tiger reserve. That is roughly one place of worship for every two square kilometres of land. Pilgrims periodically cover stones with saffron paste to mark out the route to the temples. Here the rocks marked on the route to the Soleshwar temple create a vibrant backdrop to the two thirsty tigers. Tigers, who are nearly colour blind, do not seem to mind it and as a photographer, I love the contrast it brings to my frames.

In India, if you see saffron-coloured stones then you know that there is a Hindu temple close by and Ranthambore has a large number of temples. There are over 700 places of worship, mostly Hindu temples within the tiger reserve. That is roughly one place of worship for every two square kilometres of land. Pilgrims periodically cover stones with saffron paste to mark out the route to the temples. Here the rocks marked on the route to the Soleshwar temple create a vibrant backdrop to the two thirsty tigers. Tigers, who are nearly colour blind, do not seem to mind it and as a photographer, I love the contrast it brings to my frames.

The forests around Ranthambore have a large number of rather plain looking buildings with large doorways on one side and walls on the other three sides. They were dharamshalas or public rest houses for travellers in the olden times. Thy are now used by wild animals as shelters. This particular dharamshala along the shores of the Padam Talao lake lies at the junction of four heavily-used animal paths. When tigers walk past this particular building, they scan the walls for scent marks and spray it with urine to mark their ownership of the building (left). If and when another tiger disputes the ownership, the issue is settled in the old-fashioned way (right).

This masjid (mosque) along the Padam Talao with its onion domed slender minarets at the end of thick stone walls, large vaulted gateways opening into a big courtyard is a classic example of Ranthambore’s Indo-Islamic architecture. This one is definitely one of my favourite buildings in Ranthambore. This mosque is in an area that has a very high density of ungulates, so tigers frequently hunt in this area, using the cover provided by the building to get close to their prey.

This masjid (mosque) along the Padam Talao with its onion domed slender minarets at the end of thick stone walls, large vaulted gateways opening into a big courtyard is a classic example of Ranthambore’s Indo-Islamic architecture. This one is definitely one of my favourite buildings in Ranthambore. This mosque is in an area that has a very high density of ungulates, so tigers frequently hunt in this area, using the cover provided by the building to get close to their prey.

Besides the Rajbagh palace, this chotti chattri (or small dome) is probably the best known monument from inside the Ranthambore national park. Imagine a monument that is a typically Rajput style dome on top of carved sandstone pillars that are anchored to a raised square platform, with a Shivling under the dome in a mind blowing location. For years I imagined photographing a tiger sitting under this dome, like young forest officer Y.K Sahu, who recently retired as the field director of Ranthambore, had photographed in 1988. For nearly 20 years that picture was the poster image of Ranthambore. Then one day in the year 2008 I saw my dream come true. I found a young tigress sitting under this chattri. In fact, for the next few days this tigress and her two sisters were regularly seen resting under this chattri. A few days later they stopped doing that and since then we have never seen it again.

Besides the Rajbagh palace, this chotti chattri (or small dome) is probably the best known monument from inside the Ranthambore national park. Imagine a monument that is a typically Rajput style dome on top of carved sandstone pillars that are anchored to a raised square platform, with a Shivling under the dome in a mind blowing location. For years I imagined photographing a tiger sitting under this dome, like young forest officer Y.K Sahu, who recently retired as the field director of Ranthambore, had photographed in 1988. For nearly 20 years that picture was the poster image of Ranthambore. Then one day in the year 2008 I saw my dream come true. I found a young tigress sitting under this chattri. In fact, for the next few days this tigress and her two sisters were regularly seen resting under this chattri. A few days later they stopped doing that and since then we have never seen it again.

There is a grave of a Sufi saint by the side of the road to the Ranthambore fort and it is known as baba ki mazhaar. It is revered by a small groups of locals. There is a very pretty baori next to this grave with large trees all around, including a few of the species Litsea glutinosa or the Indian laurel tree — a rainforest tree in the semi-arid Ranthambore! The trees were recently identified by botanists Dr Satish Sharma and Dr Dharmendra Khandal. Its presence in Ranthambore is nothing short of a miracle.

There is a grave of a Sufi saint by the side of the road to the Ranthambore fort and it is known as baba ki mazhaar. It is revered by a small groups of locals. There is a very pretty baori next to this grave with large trees all around, including a few of the species Litsea glutinosa or the Indian laurel tree — a rainforest tree in the semi-arid Ranthambore! The trees were recently identified by botanists Dr Satish Sharma and Dr Dharmendra Khandal. Its presence in Ranthambore is nothing short of a miracle.

The forests around Ranthambore have slowly reclaimed most of the buildings that human beings built centuries ago. It is probably only in Ranthambore that you’d find tigers blissfully resting in these ageing monuments. However, most other animals stay away from these monuments, maybe because tigers regularly spray mark them. However, the tall defence walls around these monuments and all over Ranthambore are ruled by another enigmatic cat — the leopards. It’s from this safe, untouchable haven that they keep an eye on the daily life of this historic jungle.

The forests around Ranthambore have slowly reclaimed most of the buildings that human beings built centuries ago. It is probably only in Ranthambore that you’d find tigers blissfully resting in these ageing monuments. However, most other animals stay away from these monuments, maybe because tigers regularly spray mark them. However, the tall defence walls around these monuments and all over Ranthambore are ruled by another enigmatic cat — the leopards. It’s from this safe, untouchable haven that they keep an eye on the daily life of this historic jungle.

Aditya
Aditya "Dicky" Singh

is a former Indian Civil Services employee, who quit to work in wildlife. Since 1998, he lives in Ranthambore and works on various wildlife documentaries, photography and conservation projects.

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