If you want to see a tiger in the wild, Ranthambhore, in the Sawai Madhopur district and once the royal game reserve of the Maharaja of Jaipur, is the best park in Rajasthan to visit. The park (392 square km [151 square miles]) is part of the larger Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve which encompasses 1,334 square km (515 square miles) of rugged terrain bordered by the Chambal and Banas rivers and is home to a vast ecosystem of flora and fauna. To protect the fragile environment only a limited section of both the reserve and the park is open to visitors. Ranthambhore is noted for its tiger and leopard populations, although you still have only a 30% to 40% chance of seeing a large cat on any given expedition. The best time to see tigers is right before the monsoon, in summer, when the tigers emerge to drink at small water holes—when it's dry and the water table is low, the tigers are forced out of hiding to quench their thirst. What you will definitely see are numerous peacocks, sambar
(large Asian deer), chital (spotted deer), chinkara (gazelles), nilgai (blue bull or Asian antelope), wild boar, jackals, crocodiles, and often sloth bears.
Sighting a wild tiger in Ranthambhore is an exciting experience even if you never come face to face with the king. First, of course, you will hear the jungle sounds that warn of a tiger's presence. Monkeys and peacocks scream loudly and the deer in the area become agitated and nervous. Ranthambhore became a national park in 1972 under the Project Tiger program, which was launched in an effort to save India's dwindling population of Bengal Tigers. Despite stricter conservation efforts that are slowly producing results, the tiger population in Ranthambhore is small: a 2014 census put the park's tiger population at around 61, although the number varies from source to source. Sighting a leopard is much more difficult, as these cats live on high, inaccessible slopes and are extremely shy.
The park is run by the Indian government, and the rules are happily inflexible: you can only enter the park in an official government jeep, and the jeeps keep strict hours, daily from 6:30 am to 9:30 am and 3 pm to 6 pm. (the timings may vary by 30 minutes during summer and winter months when the park opens later in the morning). Book a jeep in advance, or online (90 days before), or save yourself the hassle and book through your hotel (it's worth the service charge). Government regulations state that visitors must keep minimum distance of 20 meters from all wildlife (50 meters if you're in a vehicle) and that vehicles may only remain at a sighting point for up to 15 minutes.
You can also explore the surrounding region: the 10th-century Ranthambhore Fort, perched on a nearby hill, is one of Rajasthan's more spectacular military strongholds and how the reserve got its name. Dastkar, a craft-and-textile shop on the Ranthambhore Road, is run by a nongovernment legitimate cooperative organization.
The government-run heritage Castle Jhoomar Baori (12 rooms and two suites, Rs. 3,600–Rs. 7,500) offers the chance to spend a night near the animals, but little else. It can be booked through Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) offices across the state. A better option is to stay at one of the hotels along Ranthambhore Road and take a morning safari. The neighboring town of Sawai Madhopur has numerous hotels, but most are basic.