In the Aravalli range which cuts across Rajasthan, a few pockets of forest still survive. Sariska is one such. It was part of the erstwhile princely state of Aiwar whose late Maharaja, Jai Singh. was a keen shikari and his favorite hunting ground was Sariska, which received strict protection under his rule. In 1955 this forest was declared a sanctuary and it became a tiger reserve under Project Tiger in 1979. An area of 308 sq miles (800 sq km) is the project area with a core of 185 sq miles (480 sq km).
This region has always been good tiger country, and though the forest is much smaller now than it used to be, it remains a haven for them. At the last count in 1985, a population of 35 was reported. Unlike in Ranthainbhore National Park, these tigers have not become diurnal. In fact, tiger sightings during daylight hours are uncommon but it appears that they are increasing as human interference decreases. Panther, jungle cat, jackal and hyena are among the other carnivores of the forest. At the last census of 1985, three caracal were reported; to come across one on a drive would be a very rare event indeed. Sariska forest had not had any record of wild dog till three of them began to be sighted fairly regularly since the beginning of 1986. The fact that wild dogs have not been reported from adjacent areas only deepens the mystery of their sudden arrival. What effect their predation will have on the ungulates, has yet to be seen.
The Siliserh Lake is on the edge of the tiger reserve, just off the road between Sariska and Aiwar. This road has considerable traffic and one is not likely to see many animals when driving on it though it runs through the sanctuary. But the lake itself has crocodiles which can be seen basking on the banks, particularly in winter. There is also a small place on a hill by the lake which is now a hotel.
Among the prey population are the sambar, chiral, nilgai, wild boar, hare and numerous porcupine. Over the last 10 years or more the prey population has become very visible and their numbers appear to be on the increase.
Wildlife observation here is best done by driving into the forest in the morning or evening. Sariska is the starting point. While there are many roads and tracks, the most frequented is the surfaced road to Kalighati , Salopka and Pandhupole. One may expect to come across a variety of animals on these drives. Owing to perennial water shortage, the forest department has provided artificial water holes by the roadside which attract the animals.
Animal behavior at a water hole is fascinating to watch and this reserve offers unique opportunities for this. At Kalighati there is a hide at ground level and one at an elevation. There is another at Salopka. Apart from being comfortable, these hides have been carefully located so as to provide maximum sightings and photographic opportunities. Hides should he occupied by early afternoon, well before sunset, as a variety of animals come along to drink at that time. The concentration of ungulates is heavy, particularly in summer. If one is lucky, a tiger, a panther or a wild dog may put in an appearance, though the cats are likely to show up only after dark, and cautiously.
The park is rich in birdlife too. Common pea fowl abound, and gray partridge, quail, sand grouse, tree pie, white-breasted kingfisher. golden-backed woodpecker, crested serpent eagle and great Indian horned owl are among the many species found here.
While sitting in the hides at Kalighati and Salopka, one can observe some of the birds at close quarters when they come to drink. The forest is of a typical dry deciduous type with dhok, khair, tendu, ber, surwal and goria among the flora of the forest. It is lush and green in the monsoon months but in the summer months it is completely dry.
In the Sariska region there are many places of historical interest. The Neelkanth temples (6th-13th Century) situated about 20 miles (32 km) from Sariska are in ruins though one of them, of Lord Shiva, is still in worship. The Kankwari fort was used by Emperor Aurangzeb to confine his brother Dara Shikoh whom he defeated and later killed to gain the throne of Hindustan. The late Maharaja Jai Singhji of Aiwar built a massive palace complex at Sariska in 1902 within a large area of forest. The complex includes the main palace, nobles’ quarters, staff quarters, stables and garages, a “French” pavilion and a swimming pool, all of which are now in varying degrees of disrepair. The main palace is now a hotel.
The best time to visit this forest is from November to March. In April, May and June, it is easy to observe the animals as they must come to drink at the water holes, but these months are extremely hot.