Ramathra Fort, Rajasthan

Sunrise over Ramathara
 Sunrise from Ramathra Fort

As a kid, the month of March was one of my favorite times in the year. It was in March, we as a family (back then 30 of us, elderly, uncles, aunts, cousins etc.) would pack our bags, food, provisions and staff to make our annual trip to Kaila Devi temple near Karauli in Rajasthan. For us kids, it was a grand event - it was a family get together. All the kids would wake up earlier than usual in order to get dibs on seats in the family's prized Jonga, the adults in other cars and we would make our way to Karauli in an armada that would put the Spaniards to shame.

Wildlife in Kaila Devi National Park
Indian Fox during the Jungle Safari

It was essential that we traveled together in a group as the area was (till the 90s) notorious for dacoits and kidnappings. The region is also densely forested with criss crossing ravines so deep that even the Sun's rays can't penetrate it's floor. We would stay the night in a dharamshala, bathe in cold water straight out of a well early morning, pay homage to the goddess Kaila Devi and head back or onwards to our next destination. Not once, did we venture beyond the temple complex to the Kaila Devi National Park (KDNP).

Bhanwar palace karauli
Live like royalty in Karauli

Now that I have founded Travel With - a wildlife and back to nature travel company, I am always on the look out for off-the-beaten parts in India. Places that are not yet commercial but authentic, rich in wildlife, nature and heritage. Kaila Devi National Park came as an obvious choice to explore given it's close proximity to Agra (4 hours), Jaipur (3.5 hours) and Delhi NCR (6.5 hours). Most tourists do not venture beyond the temple because of the region's notorious past and also due to lack of information about comfortable places to stay, eat and explore. Interestingly, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve shares it's boundaries with KDNP and is a corridor for tigers and other animals.

Forts of India
Ramathra Fort

I recently visited Karauli and I did so with the intentions of exploring KDNP specifically in search of the Indian Wolf. I'm not hung up on tigers (not seen too many either) but on the lesser known mammals, birds etc. that inhabit our forests. Regardless of what I see and not, the quest of exploring a new region, especially one that I have fond childhood memories of was exciting. 

rajasthan winters
Winter evenings in Ramathra

My first stop, a comfortable 3.5 hour drive from Agra on excellent roads was Karauli city. Crowded with vehicles and people, it is the gateway to Kaila Devi temple. Most people halt in Karauli, visit the temple the following day and then head back home. Karauli does have an old palace and the royal family has a heritage hotel which is a great option to stay in if you're visiting the region. The ambience and rooms are very princely and food and hospitality outstanding. A visit to the Karauli city palace and a tour of the historic by lanes of the main bazar are worth spending the night in the heritage hotel.

Maheshra Kho - Kaila Devi National Park
Maheshra Kho - Kaila Devi National Park

KDNP is over 800 sq. km of scrubby dry forests with gorges also known as a 'kho' in Hindi that swell up with waterfalls during the rainy season. Part of the Park serves as the buffer zone for Ranthambore, however, KDNP has over 40 villages and thousands of cattle too. This poses a big challenge to the Park management who intends to make it a safe corridor for the rising tiger population in Ranthambore. Man-animal conflict is common as wolves, leopards and tigers do prey on cattle. 

Waterfalls in Rajasthan
Seasonal Waterfall near Ramathra

If you're visiting KDNP you must visit some of the khos (gorges). The natural landscape is outstanding and views from the top are breathtaking. I was shocked to see the depth of some of these khos and also surprised to know their existence as when you're driving on a flat surface you don't expect it to all of a sudden give way to over a 100 feet of free falling cliffs! Dangerous and difficult to go down a kho as tigers, leopards and sloth bears call these mysterious and dense ravines home. Currently, there are recorded sightings of two adult tigers with their two cubs that have made KDNP their permanent home.

Daang Plateau
Daang Plateau

If you are specifically going for wildlife, I recommend you get a vehicle with high ground clearance as you will have to go off road to reach some of the khos. There are no jeeps/gypsies available in Karauli and elsewhere. This makes exploring the region rather challenging and knowing the who's who of the region is very critical.

Luxury hotels Karauli
More than 10 ways to relax in Ramathra

I explored the Karanpur range and the forests around Sapotara. As we drove in the interiors and away from the villages it became more dry, dusty and warmer than normal. At points we were completely off road but thanks to my friend Mr. Ravi Pal Singh and a local tracker we were able to manoeuvre without getting lost. It would be safe to say that venturing in to KDNP without local intel is suicidal. Ravi dada's (big brother) ancestors were granted a jagir - Ramathra by the Maharaja of Karauli in 1645. His family has graciously opened up their 17th century fort as a luxury heritage resort. Ramathra is devoid of traffic, pollution and all things urban (including the television). His father Thakur Brijendra Raj Pal and son Udit are fond of wildlife and the wilderness and excellent hosts.

Painted Sandgrouse
Painted Sandgrouse

I would advise you to go on jungle drives early in the morning before the shepherds take the cattle out for feeding. Night drives are not permitted by the Forest Department, although I was told by several locals that vehicles plough on the road from Kaila Devi temple to Karanpur (through the sanctuary) all night long. 

Ramathra Fort Rajasthan
Magical Morning in Ramathra

I didn't spot any wolves during this visit, I thought I did but they turned out to be Jackals! I did see the Indian Fox, Nil Gai, Chinkara (Indian Gazelle), Cheetal (Spotted deer), Hyena, Jungle cat, Indian hare, an Indian Grey Mongoose with a catch in it's mouth, crocodiles and several species of birds such as painted spur fowl, painted sand grouse, black stork, flamingos, pelicans, common wood shrike, plum headed parakeets, larks and buntings etc. We also saw fresh tiger pug marks in one of the khos beyond Ramathra and the forest department claims that they have images of the very rare Caracal in camera traps too. 

Magical Sunset in Rural Rajasthan
What an end to the day!
Photo: Ramathra Fort

I believe Kaila Devi National Park is a great place to explore if you've been there and done that and Ramathra Fort is your best bet to stay in when in the area. Wildlife sightings are all about luck and timing and I am pretty sure I will be back to see wolves and other animals and further explore this untouched rural landscape. 

A trip to Kaila Devi National Park can be combined with a trip to either Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve or if you are looking to for a short weekend getaway from the bustling big towns of Agra, Delhi and Jaipur.

If you need my help in planning a trip to this region, you can email me on info@travelwith.in or call (+91) 9717148483.