Temperatures in Ranthambhore typically reach forty-five degrees Celsius in May. A particularly unfriendly summer temperature occasionally crosses the fifty-degree Celsius mark and becomes a natural limiting factor for over-growth. Waterholes become scarce and trees like the Dhok, drop off their leaves to ration their moisture levels. Rock surfaces – scattered throughout the park – emit a furnace like waft each time a breeze sweeps their surface and you can feel the heat stroke you, as you drive past them. Animals and birds appear panting and their movements become soporific as they spend time in the shade of evergreens or the oasis that are formed around perennial waterholes; clusters of Jamun, Ficus and wild mango trees, all daytime shelters for creatures of the forest. The wonderful thing is, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve has several ‘belts’ of such oasis’, tucked away in its folds. No matter how high the temperatures soar, these are the spots you should drive to, and here’s why.
Tigers are territorial predators who dominate their ecosystem like few other wild species. A key factor in picking – and keeping – a territory is the availability of water within it and with rising temperatures, tigers stay within distance of their preferred waterhole which also attracts other species. Tigers are also ambush predators who will stalk and lie-up in wait of prey for hours on end sometimes. A decline in undergrowth and therefore cover ensures that they also stay close to the ‘oasis’ of reeds and evergreens which proliferate around water sources in high-summer. This combination of water and cover is the perfect habitat towards which you should gravitate on your drive and in the months of April and May – more likely than not – you should be able to see one of the most striking sights in the natural world; a wild tiger in its natural element, cocooned by a habitat which is as precious and endangered as the tiger itself.
The other advantage summer visitors to Ranthambhore have are the increase in alarm-calls or distress-calls emitted by prey species, when they sight a predator. These gain in frequency as tigers as well as leopards, traverse their territories ‘on patrol’ without the benefit of the cover of grasses through which to glide through. The depleted forest cover allows the often arboreal Langur monkeys to give off their rough, pelting cough like calls the moment they see feline movement from their perches. Keeping an ear out for these calls allows you to pick up signals for predator movement. It is worth your while to halt for a few minutes in the shade, a cool drink of fresh lime-juice or sherbet from the ice-box, goes down very well while you pause to listen for these calls.
So the next time you are wondering when to visit Ranthambhore, don’t allow the prospect of high temperatures to dissuade you. It may well be that summer and its corresponding heat is perhaps the coolest time to visit the park for you are unlikely to be disappointed.