The sanctuary covers an area of 800 sq km (including a core area of 498 sq km) and has sambar, spotted deer, wild boar, and above all, tigers. Project Tiger, the project launched in India to protect and preserve the tiger, has been in charge of the sanctuary since 1979.
As in the Ranthambhore National Park, this park also contains ruined temples, as well as a fort and pavilions, built by the maharajas of Alwar. And the explorers delving deep into the jungle spread over nearly 900 square km can seek answers to shadowy mysteries in the crevices of the hills, remnants of a bygone age.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit this beautiful countryside is between November and June. One can see the most of the animals in the evening.
These same forests, ages ago, are supposed to have sheltered the exiled Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharat. The dense forest and difficult terrain of Sariska shielded them until they reached the court at Viratnagar 66 km away and lived there disguised as servants of the king. Only five boulders now remain to testify to the presence of the five Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi.
Though the material relics of that age are scarce, the whole countryside is teeming with evidence of the presence of the heroic brothers. Bhima, the strongest brother, smote his scepter in the rock face of a cliff and created a passage for them through a gorge deep in the sanctuary. This is the place known as Pandupol, the most commonly visited spot within the Sariska area. It was here also that Bhima, who had acquired the strength of many thousand elephants by drunk from the eight jars of the nagas, received a setback to his inflated ego by Lord Hanuman. Hanuman lay across the road disguised as an old monkey and challenged Bhima to lift him when he was ordered to clear the way for the Pandavas to pass. Bhima could not even move his tail and accepted defeat. A temple here is dedicated to Hanuman in the human form.
Tourists rarely return without a visit to this temple in which the image is in a reclining position. Busloads of devotees crowd the route on Tuesdays, the monkey god's known weekday. On Wednesdays, the inhabitants of the sanctuary are allowed a rest from the sight of human invaders and animals are indeed most visible on these days.
In September each year, however, they almost disappear off the track as hordes of worshippers from near and far, descend on the place for the famous fair which offers the startling spectacle of persons crawling lengthwise on the road the entire 48 km distance from Alwar city. If one is lucky to be present at the right time, the ear can be treated to the fascinating narration of the folk epic, the pandun ka kada, a Mewati version of the Mahabharata, sung by a Muslim jogi for hours at a stretch.
At Bhartrihari, it is the group called Bhartrihari ke Jogi, who dominate with their powerful music at the fair in August. For hundreds of years, the place gave solace and shelter to the legendary sage Bhartrihari, the author of important Sanskrit works on nitishastra and epics. A millennium later he is still greatly revered by the local populace. A temple in the hilly area (35 km) of Sariska is dedicated to this saint. For every night over a month, a grand musical drama of seven hours in the style of Parsi theatre is enacted and draws a massive audience. It narrates the epic story of king Bhartrihari, renowned for his justices.
At a short distance from Alwar is a diversion taking one past the small fortress of Kushalgarh to Talbraksha (36 km). The moist palm grove valley transports one mentally to India's coastal areas and it is difficult to believe that one is geographically in a desert state. Langurs compete in numbers with busloads of constantly arriving pilgrims. Side by side at Talbraksha are hot and cold springs with immense healing capacities.
In a clearing is a cluster of temples of varying ages and one might almost miss the gem of them all, a 10th century temple relegated to the background. This temple, in the typical panchayatna (five houses) pattern, was probably built as a Vaishnava temple, but was converted for Shiva worship. The Vishnu legend is represented in the relief of Hiranyakashyap, Vishnu's great antagonist, being killed by the Narsimhavatar.
Talbraksha is mentioned in the Virata parva of the Mahabharata. It was here that an arrow Arjun shot into the ground sprouted the Banaganga and when his exile ended he was able to purify himself in this offshoot of the holy river before taking up his arms and weapons concealed in a tree. Unfortunately, the archaeological value of this temple, or of Talbraksha, has been little exploited.
Past tobacco fields and tiny secluded hamlets, in the hills beyond Tehola is the marvelous fortified temple town of Neelkanth. Located as it is in a remote valley, 22 km deep in the interior of Sariska and surrounded by a jungle well populated by animals, access to which it difficult even today. But tucked away in this green belt are shades of antiquity in sandy brown, stone gray, and marble black, in a plethora of weathered sculptures and ornately carved temples.
It is particularly fascinating to explore the widespread area of Neelkanth, preferably over a day culminating with a visit to the fort, Rajor. Around the Shiva temple, scattered all over are mounds still unexplored indicating the multiplicity of temples. One has only to remove the shrubbery and dig away the earth to find fragments of an amalak or stambha and sculptures on religious themes and musicians.
HOW TO REACH
Sariska is 35 km from Alwar, which is a convenient town to approach the sanctuary. Frequent buses ply between Sariska and Alwar. From Jaipur, Sariska is 120 km away and it takes three hours by road. Jaipur is well connected by air, rail and road to most of the important cities in India.
The best way to visit the park is by jeep and these can be arranged at the Forest Reception Office on the Jaipur Road.
WHERE TO STAY
One can stay either at the RTDC's hotels at Sariska or some of the other hotels like the Sariska Palace. If one is looking for a wider choice, one can go back to Alwar.
Tourism-of-India.com provides complete information on tourism in Sariska. Tourism-of-India.com offers package tours in order to make your visit to Sariska Pleasant.
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