I had never been on a safari until 2 weeks ago. It’s not that I don’t love the outdoors, I spend as much time as I can outside and all my vacations revolve around sleeping under the stars. I love walking the trails, climbing to the highest peak in a range, or kayaking down a river. So, I never understood safaris and this idea of going to a national park and driving around in a jeep all day. It seemed counter intuitive to everything I love about wild, natural spaces. Then, I spent 2 weeks on jungle safari in India and my whole philosophy changed. I not only understand the drive (pun intended) to go on safari but think it’s a must-do on everyone’s list for the following reasons:
Naturalists: Watching the naturalists work was perhaps my favorite part of the safaris. They drive a car on bumpy, winding dirt roads yet can spot an owlette sitting on a branch 30 ft away, nestled in the woods. They spot things while driving that take me minutes to find with their instruction and binoculars. They can be speaking to you and pause mid sentence because they’ve heard an alarm call deep in the jungle. The jungles of India offer a unique challenge for naturalists as the animals are hidden, unlike in Africa. They have to be able to hear and see minute clues from the forests like pug marks (tracks), calls, and knowledge of animal behavior and put it all together to find the animals. While I know they all love seeing tigers, listening to them as they explain the jungles there’s no doubt that they love it as a whole. The knowledge they can impart at the drop of a hat is truly astounding.
Community: When on a safari in India you stay near the park in luxurious lodges that encourage guest interaction and exemplify environmental consciousness. The lunches and dinners are communal affairs where all the guests and the naturalists come together and eat at a big table. Discussions usually starting with the days safari and branch off into any topic you can imagine, lasting hours over a delicious feast. People come and go as they please but you can always count on the naturalists to be at the table, answering any question you may come up with about the jungle’s flora and fauna (or their backgrounds, or the lodge, or their favorite food… etc) The lodge staff and naturalists live at the lodge for the season so they know each other so well. It’s a family and they’re wonderful at making you feel welcome in their home.
Food. The lodges are all eco focused and you can see this in the food they make. The menu changes daily depending on what’s available and many of the lodges try to grow as much of their own produce as they can. They make you breakfast, lunch and dinner so they know how important the meals are to the experience. I found myself looking forward to each and every meal and being constantly impressed with the quality and creativity. I never expected to be eating spinach frittata or chicken from the tandoor deep in the jungle. Make sure to leave room for dessert!
Sunrises and sunsets: When was the last time you saw the sunrise? The last time you took the time to see the sunrise and the sunset in the same day? You enter the park with the sunrise and can hear the jungle in its full glory. Birds calling, wild boar snuffling, insects buzzing, and, if you’re lucky, tigers roaring. The sounds fade as the sun rises and the heat increases and both you and the animals retreat for the middle of the day. When you return in the evening you can listen to the crescendo of the jungle rising as the sun and heat fade and as you drive towards another beautiful sunset the jungle hums with activity again.
Being in the natural spaces of India: India is a huge country that has so much natural beauty to be discovered. As one naturalist said to me, “everyone only thinks of India as 1.5 billion people. They don’t think of the parks and the animals.” In fact, with so many gods it seems as though everything in the forest is sacred in the Hindu religion. Ficus religiosa is the tree Buddha gained his enlightenment under and is used in many Hindu ceremonies. Monkeys are considered sacred due to the monkey faced God, Hanuman. Peacocks are considered to be a holy bird and their feathers are used to dust religious idols and often adorn the head of Krishna in mythology. India’s spirituality is rooted deep within these natural spaces and, as you drive around, simply ask and I guarantee that every tree, flower, or animal has a story.
The wildlife: There’s an incredible variety of fauna in these parks including but definitely not limited to the Bengal tiger. I was fascinated every second of my safaris from seeing the electric blue Indian roller to a wild boar with 6 piglets to the sloth bears rambling around to jackals and wild dogs, but there’s really nothing like seeing a tiger in person. The naturalists will tell you, it’s addicting. That being said, the fauna is enough to keep you enthralled and fascinated while you try not to let tiger fever take over too much.
Local life: The parks themselves and many of the lodges are situated far out from normal tourist destinations. The areas right at the gate may be developed but on the drive to your lodge you’ll pass communities and villages that are vibrant, exude traditional charm, and are home to people who are not only friendly but genuinely excited to wave hello to your Jeep as it passes through. Many of these communities have very strong ties to both the parks and the lodges as both train and employ a large (and growing) number of community members within their staff.
If you like this blog, check out A Day in the Life of a Jungle Safari in India or if you need help deciding what park is right for you we’ve got you covered: How to Choose the Right Tiger Park in India.
You friendly travel guru,
PS: Wildland offers 5 trips to India and a wide range of custom trips are available. Let me know if you need any help planning your trip to India.