Sariska National Park

Peacock and Palash Flowers
A Peacock and flowers of the Palash tree

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 in and around the Sariska Tiger Reserve, including Bhangarh Fort - supposedly India's most haunted Fort! 

kankwadi fort sariska
Historic Gates of Kankwari Fort - Sariska

Sariska Tiger Reserve was once a hunting preserve of the Alwar royalty. By road it takes about 2.5 hours from Jaipur, 04 from Delhi and 3.5 from Agra. Sariska is a popular stop for people doing the 'golden triangle' (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) route. 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. 

sariska wildlife
Sambar stags jousting for the ladies

Deep inside the tiger reserve is Kankwadi Fort. Although now abandoned, the Fort can be visited when you do a jeep safari. 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 (shockingly, yes!) every Tuesday and Saturday in their own vehicle after paying INR 250 at either one of the two entry gates of the tiger reserve - Sariska and Tehla Gates. 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 do a jeep safari on these two days. Temple traffic - cars, motorcycles and buses plough through the tiger reserve causing much 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 worth a visit if you happen to be in the area on a Tuesday or a Saturday. The idol of Lord Hanuman is very unique in this temple as it is in the lying down position. As if Hanumanji is taking a siesta in the shades of numerous date-palm trees that cover much of Pandupol. Be careful of monkeys and do not carry anything in your hand that could be mistaken for food. 

sariska safari
A massive 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 6 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 and I sincerely hope you're not) 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 and on public holidays). 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. 

Leopard Sariska Safari
Leopard in Sariska

As of 2019, there were 16 tigers in Sariska and a much larger leopard population spread over a range of 880 sq. km. 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

The Park is abundant in other wildlife. You're most likely to see herds of sambar, cheetal, wild boars and nil gai. Several species of migratory birds visit the park every winter and Indian Peafowls are spotted in the hundreds. I would recommend  at least two safaris - one towards Kankwadi Fort and another in one of the three designated routes. But do your safaris on days other than Tuesday or Saturday.

neelkanth temple sariska
Neelkanth temple ruins

Besides the jeep safaris, you can visit Neelkanth temple ruins dedicated to Lord Shiva and statues belonging to the Jain religion, from the 6th and 9th century. This temple is closer to the Tehla gate of Sariska tiger reserve than it is from the Sariska gate which is closer to the city of Alwar. 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 take photographs of the temple there are no guides to show you around and tell you the history when you go on your own. But don't sweat, I can arrange a guide for you when you book your Sariska tour through me.

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 that made life difficult for it's residents. 

bhangarh fort
Ruins of Bhangarh Town

Of course, I didn't venture to the Fort after sunset (you're not allowed to) but I can assure you that during the day I saw no spirits in any form. 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 Temple. 

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 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 

There are also some un-crowded historical places to visit near Sariska gate. This gate is closer to the city of Alwar and thus closer by road for people visiting from Delhi. I personally like Tehla gate as it is much quieter and the forests around the area are richer than the ones around the town of Alwar and the Sariska gate. Regardless there is plenty to do and see if you're staying in a hotel near the Sariska gate of the tiger reserve. The below attractions are within driving distance from your hotel. It is recommended to carry bottled water and packed lunch when visiting these places as I didn't find anything worth stopping at even for a quick bite.

Bala qila
The view from Bala Qila

I personally enjoyed going on a drive in a 4x4 vehicle to Bala Qila or the Fort that was never conquered in battle. It has commanding views of the entire city of Alwar on one side and dense Aravali hills and forests on the other. Other than the actual Fort which in not very well maintained, you can also see ancient stepwells, hunting lodges and not to forget the intact wall marking the boundary of the Fort is very impressive too. I can't wait to visit this Fort in the monsoon when the entire hillside will be lush green as compared to the dry forests dotted with the orange flowers of the Flame of the Forest / Palash tree that I saw when I visited this spring. 

Garwaji waterfall
Garwaji waterfall

Another interesting attraction rarely visited by tourists is the towering rock formation and waterfall at Garwaji or Garbhaji which is a few kilometers beyond Siliserh Lake. The waterfall is not only worth visiting in the monsoon but also in the dry season as it still has a trickle of water flowing through it. In the dry season you can walk all the way up to the waterfall, beyond which is a small temple. The priest of the temple claims that he has seen tigers, leopards and other wild animals at dark who visit the waterfall to quench their thirst. 

Indian Eagle Owl
Indian Eagle Owl

If you look closely at the towering cliffs you may spot long billed vultures and birds of prey such as Indian Eagle Owl, Bonelli's eagles, shikras etc. or you may run in to a ruddy tailed mongoose. I wouldn't recommend visiting the Lake Palace at Siliserh, although a beautiful property it is sadly managed very poorly by the Rajasthan tourist development corporation (RTDC). There is also boating you can do in the lake but I thought it was very touristy and skipped it.

So here you go, a long weekend in Sariska ain't too bad right? Jungle drives, haunted forts, gods on siesta and starry nights - can't get any better than this - all this, just 4 hours from Delhi!

If you're planning a trip to Sariska, I can help put one together. Contact info@travelwith.in / +919717148483.

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