Rajaji National Park is a wild life reserve in Uttaranchal, India. It falls in the lower Shivalik regions of the Himalayas. It is a peaceful and a quick getaway from the capital of India, New Delhi.
We traveled from Delhi to Haridwar in February this year . The name Haridwar will translate roughly as ‘the gate of gods’. We took a night train from Old Delhi Railway Station and reached early in the morning. From Haridwar, the Chilla gate of Rajaji National Park is just 9 km away. But at 5.30 in the morning we could find no buses to the park. The private taxi operators were asking for a lot of money. Then, there is a vehicle called ‘Tempo’ that is a four-wheeler, runs on diesel, makes a lot of noise and moves slowly. We decided to hire it. Later, we discovered that buses run from Haridwar to the park but start only after 9.00 in the morning.
It was an early February morning, and it was chilly on the way. We had to pay Rs. 70 as entrée fee for the vehicle to the park. The Tempo dropped us near a market place and from there we walked for 1 km on foot.
We were under the impression that there were many options to choose for lodging at the park. But that is true of the Haridwar city only. At Rajaji National Park, there is only one tourist guesthouse run by a Government Agency, GMVN (Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam). Though we traveled without any prior booking, during school or public holidays in India, it is better to book an accommodation beforehand. We inquired at the reception about availability of rooms. We were greeted nicely and asked to sit. Then the manager informed us that there are only ‘hut’ style rooms available and the rest are taken. We gladly took the offer. The manager offered us tea, saying we must be cold after traveling so early in the morning. I must say that was very thoughtful of him and contrary to how most of the government accommodations are run in India.
The wild life sanctuary is spread in 820 sq Kms. It is open from 15th November to 15th June and is closed during the rainy season. After the tea, as we were walking toward our hut, we found the grounds of the guest house very well kept and full of seasonal flowers in bloom. A lot of birds were chirping in the tress and generally, there was an air of peace and quiet (disturbed occasionally by loud music systems in cars and people partying in the lawns of the property). In front of us at a little distance the Ganga Canal was flowing. After having breakfast, we decided to catch up on all the lost sleep due to traveling. We woke up in the afternoon and after lunch; we decided to go to the park.
There are two options for traveling in the park, one, to take a jeep ride and second, to take an elephant ride. Of course, we were interested in the elephant ride. But the person handling the elephant was away for some errand to the city. So, we had to settle for a jeep ride. Again, fee is to be paid to enter the park. We got an uncovered jeep and both my husband and I were standing at the back hanging on to the rails so as to not to lose balance. Very close to the entrance itself, we saw two elephants. As our journey progressed, we witnessed many deer, peacocks and wild boars. In terms of large animals, we did not see much and our driver said February was not such a good month for animal spotting. According to him, summer is much better season.
But the two-hour drive through the forest itself was exhilarating. I remember on the ride initially, I was continuously trying to tie my hair as it was coming unstuck from my ponytail. But later, I just let it loose and my fondest memory is of the wind playing on it for hours as I was busy taking photographs (many of which did not turn out well) and not thinking about anything much but living only the moment.