Rajaji National Park India

Gypsy Safari in Rajaji National Park, India

Elephant family in Rajaji National Park

“What are my chances of seeing an elephant?” I asked the park rangers at Rajaji National Park. The answer didn’t matter. I was there, after a trying journey of eight bus drivers laughing off my request and finally paying way too much for a private tuk tuk to drive me to the park entrance at Chilla, and I was going on a safari.

“Maybe 50/50,” he said. “Chances not so good this time of year, but I try!”

“Well, I’ll settle for a tiger,” I said with a smirk, knowing there are few who cross through this protected area in northern India, and chances of ever seeing one are slim.

Rajaji National Park

My guide (right) and driver at Rajaji National Park

He giggled and we climbed into the forest green Gypsy jeep, driver waiting. I’d rented all three – the guide, the driver and the jeep – for a four-hour trek through the park, and though I didn’t have high hopes of seeing much of anything this time of year, I was happy just to be in the back of a jeep, eyes peeled with hope.

Not two minutes into the dirt road entrance and we came to a hault, then a sudden reverse. I didn’t know what was happening until the guide (whose name I can’t remember) leaned back and whispered, “Elephant!”

rajaji national park india

The first elephant we saw

Sure enough, a huge elephant was meandering toward us on the road. The driver inched closer at my urging – I wanted a good photo. Standing on the back seat of the jeep, balancing my camera on the roll bars, I zoomed in and got a shot before she saw us and took off through the brush.

“Your job is done!” I told the guide, satisfied with the tour already. We kept on, past several packs of hundreds of monkeys, an owl and several bright green parakeets. When we came to a clearing, we slowed down enough for the men to point out tiger tracks in the soft dirt.

rajaji national park india“But it’s going the wrong way,” I said, disappointed.

“Yes, she long gone by now, I think,” said my guide.

It did look like a tiger print, and it was enough to raise my hopes that we might see another. My eyes were peeled, though never saw   anything without the guide first pointing it out.

rajaji national park indiaAfter an hour or so we stopped at what I assumed was the park ranger’s home, clear out in the middle of the national forest. I climbed the lookout tower with my camera, but saw nothing. After relieving myself in the bushes, the guide walked down from the home and hurried me along…”come, come, you must see!”

I ran up the short hill, winded, and looked over the peak to see a mama elephant with her two babies walking across the plains. Two cattle herders had scurried up behind us, fearing what the elephants might do in their path. Once the elephant family was safely distant, they headed back down to gather their herd. It must be unreal to fear for your life (beyond falling off a horse) while rounding up cattle. What if they encounter a tiger?

Rajaji National Park India

Elephant family in Rajaji National Park

On the drive out, two wild boar noisily darted in front of us, and several male peacocks stood beautifully in the distance. There were lots more monkeys and various kinds of birds and deer too.

rajaji national park india

The guide asked me how I planned to get out of the park. “Oh, I’ll take a tuk-tuk or bus, or something. What are my options?”

He laughed. “How did you get here?”

“An overpriced tuk tuk because not one of the 8 buses I asked would bring me.”

“Did your driver wait for you?”

rajaji national park indiaNope.

“You not have ride, then. No tuk tuk driver. Usually, they wait.”


Luckily, it was nearly 5pm and the park would be closing down. “You wait for me get off work and I drive you.”

Thank goodness I paid for an English speaking guide, rather than just the driver and jeep. He drove me on his motorcycle to the main highway between Haridwar, where I had come from, and Rishikesh, where I was headed, and waited for a tuk tuk to stop. He flagged him down and negotiated me a locals price before sending me on my way.

“You’re the best guide ever,” I said. And I meant it.

rajaji national park india

My guide at Rajaji National Park


Gypsy Safari in Rajaji National Park, India
Written by:Jessica J. Hill


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  1. He definitely sounds like the best guide ever. I love encountering genuinely good people like that, it makes me feel there is hope for humanity heh.

  2. Bhuwan Chand says:

    My uncle lives in a small village on the outskirts of Rajaji National Park. During school days, I used to visit the place almost every year (its just a 5 hour drive from Delhi) during the summer vacations. Our kid gang would get into the territory of Rajaji National Park (which is a protected forest area) every morning day on our way to a nearby tributary of Ganges river for some fun time in the water and watch the herd of Elephants on the other side of the river. In the nights, we’d keep the fire-crackers ready as the Elephants often crossed over in search of their favorite food during the Sugarcane harvest season. There is a large population of Elephants in Rajaji National Park and it is quite easy to sight them, specially close to the tributaries of Ganges River where they often come to drink and relax in cool Ganga water, sighting a tiger is rare though. Sometime the forest people just have some fun with the tourist by showing them self-made marks :-).

    It is common to see the herds of Elephants on the highway while travelling towards the mountain areas of Uttarakhand. These Himalayan mountain forest areas were home to a number of wild animals in the past but slowly the ever growing human population (my own ancestors are partly to blame) means now there is a need to create protected areas like Rajaji National Park to help them survive.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks for your insights, Bhuwan! That’s fascinating you can still see wild animals on the drive up north – the only elephants I saw on the road were headed home from Amer Palace in Jaisalmer 😉 I’m a little disappointed to hear that the guides sometimes create tiger tracks to trick tourists, but I guess it doesn’t really matter if I didn’t see a real tiger anyway!

  3. Jenna says:

    Stunning!! What an amazing opportunity to see an elephant in the wild.

  4. WOW. What a great story – so glad you found a ride home! I would love to see an elephant, the photo of the babies and mama is adorable. -Veronica

    • jessicajhill says:

      Thanks, Veronica! I’m so lucky to have found a ride home — but these types of encounters happen all the time on the road. It’s one of the reasons I love travel so much 😉

  5. Jennifer says:

    Love that you saw elephants! I think that is quite special since the Asian elephant probably won’t be around in the wild in even the next 50 years. Your guide sounds terrific too. It’s people like that who really restore your faith in humanity.

    • jessicajhill says:

      You’re so right, Jennifer. I think the reason I’ve fallen so in love with travel is because I’ve met so many wonderful people who restore my faith in humanity, as you put it. The world really is full of good people, despite what the media portrays! So sad about the elephants 🙁

  6. Matthew Fine says:

    Absolutely outstanding! I don’t think that I would have ever considered India for a safari park adventure, but hey the more you know. And awesome bit about your guide, I have had many experiences where the leader has either made or broke the joy of it

    • jessicajhill says:

      True, India does seem an unlikely place for a safari, but there are several around the country and I’ve heard wonderful things about many! The great guide always makes the difference!

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