India is home to 70% of the world’s remaining tigers. These majestic cats have been making a fantastic comeback due to conservation efforts after being on the verge of endangered just 20 years ago. Seeing one of these big cats is a once in a lifetime experience and there is no better place than on a trip to India to check that item off the bucket list. While it is easy to get lost in the eye of the tiger, there are many other factors to take into account when choosing a park including but not limited to quality of lodges, naturalists as well as other flora and fauna.
This blog is going to focus specifically on the national parks of Madhya Pradesh (MP), considered the epicenter for tiger sightings in India. MP is also great because they offer full day permits if you’re really interested in seeing tigers. You get to enter the park 15 mins earlier, stay all day, and exit the park 15 minutes later than everyone else. The core jungles of MP are also less crowded than some of the other parks that are close to tourist epicenters and will give you more of a wild India vibe. However, I will include a few other options outside of MP state at the bottom. Let’ get started! Here are a few parks we would recommend and some points to help differentiate them when you’re deciding where to go:
THE PARKS OF MADHYA PRADESH:
SATPURA: Relatively new on the scene in Madhya Pradesh, this park is a true gem. With the Satpura ranges rising as its backdrop and the Denwa river guarding its entrance this little-known scenic reserve has many unique features. The first you’ll notice is that you have to cross the Denwa by boat to begin your safari. The park itself rises to 4,450 ft at its highest point and the steep, rocky terrain of the park makes it ideal for certain types of flora and fauna such as ghost trees and leopards. It’s also one of just a handful of parks that offers safaris by way of jeep, walking, or canoe. While there are tigers here, it's better known for sightings of leopard and sloth bears, as well as endemic butterflies among its steep gorges and many creeks.
Favorite place to stay: Reni Pani Jungle Lodge
PENCH :Pench and Kanha continuously vie for the title of inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Since they’re actually connected by a wildlife corridor I like to think Kipling simply loved the whole area. Tigers are certainly the big draw here but leopards are commonly sighted as well. Pench also boasts over 300 species of birds. The park is named after the river Pench, which meanders through the center of the national park, providing watering holes throughout the season. Its forests are mostly teak, different from neighboring Kanha and Bandhavgarh’s sal forests giving Pench a unique look and feel. We like to stay on the Kharmajiri side of the park which offers you space from the crowds and other jeeps. In fact, Jamtara Wilderness Camp has access to the Jamtara gate which is only accessible from this side. You’ll get an exclusive look at the park free of the roar of fellow jeeps and the yells of others safari goers.
Favorite place to stay: Jamtara Wilderness Camp
KANHA: Kanha is one of India’s largest, best known, and oldest parks. It’s spread over a massive 1,945 sq km and is split into 2 main areas – Kisli and Mukki. Our favorite lodge is in the Mukki area giving you a little more space from the crowds. The terrain varies from sal and bamboo forests to plateaus and grassland. Tigers are the name of the game here but the barasingha deer, found only in Kanha, are another big attraction. Kanha’s age and size give it the benefit of offering more flora and fauna in general. Chances of seeing a tiger might be slightly less than nearby Bandhavgarh but the park’s size gives you a real Indian jungle experience and there’s less of rush and grab feeling than at some of the other parks.
Favorite place to stay: Kanha Jungle Lodge
BANDHAVGARH: A former royal hunting reserve, Bandhavgarh offers great tiger sighting chances as well as a good dose of history. Inside the park there are 12 natural waterholes, several other historical monuments and remains of ancient caves that exhibit a 2000 year old rich historical past. Rich sal forests and bamboo mix with large expanses of grassland. Bandhavgarh is often considered to have the highest density of Bengal tigers in India.
Favorite place to stay: Treehouse Hideaway
PARKS OUTSIDE MADHYA PRADESH:
RANTHAMBHORE: Ranthambhore lies between Agra and Jaipur so if you’re short on time this is the park for you. It’s well known for its tiger sightings, especially in the summer as many of its water holes are right by the main road. Due to its location you’ll find an endless stream of people entering the park and big, 20 person trucks are allowed on the tracks as well. That being said, the terrain is absolutely stunning with high mountains and open forest and the Ranthambhore Fort is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon while not on safari. It sits inside the park perched high on a mountain top with sweeping vistas of the area.
Favorite place to stay: Khem Villas
TADOBA: A rising star on the tiger viewing scene. While there are no guarantees your chances of seeing a tiger in Tadoba are as close to a sure thing as you can get. Located in northern Maharashta it’s the oldest park in this state. It has many open watering holes and cliffs and is comprised mostly of teak and bamboo forest. Tadoba is one of the few parks in the country that is open year round (only certain gates) while most other parks close for the monsoon. It has seen a drastic increase both in tiger population and tourist numbers in the past five years.
Favorite Place to Stay: Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge
KAZIRANGA: Located in the far northeastern state of Assam Kaziranga is a coveted destination by anyone who knows anything about wildlife in India. It was top of the list to visit for most of the naturalists I talked to in MP. Located in the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra, this park is known for its tall elephant grass and high density of tigers. Unfortunately, this same grass can sometimes make the tigers difficult to spot. You will see one horned rhinoceroses as well as Asian elephants and some of the last remaining herds of wild Asian buffalo. Elephant safaris are very popular here as well. Our favorite way to see the park is from its lifeline, the Brahmaputra river. From this small ship you can do boat, land, and elephant safaris as well as visit local villages.
Favorite place to stay: MV Mahabaahu
Learn more about Navigating the Brahmaputra
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW:
WHAT TO WEAR: Neutral colors. Long pants and closed toe shoes. Since you’re in a jeep and don’t get out to walk almost at all they don’t need to be more sturdy than a pair of running sneakers. Layers are your friend. Bring a t-shirt and a jacket. Hats are great both for the cold and the sun. Sunglasses.It can get dusty if you’re behind another vehicle on the tracks so a scarf or bandana is nice to have to cover your face. Your naturalist will likely have some but if you’ve got binoculars I would highly recommend bringing them. Camera
HOW TO TIP: In all the parks of Madhya Pradesh you need both a naturalist (from the lodge) and a local park ranger. Sometimes, but rarely, you will also have a driver. The rangers rotate so you’ll have a different ranger for every drive. Generally, tip your ranger 100 rupees per person per drive. You can tip your naturalist 200 rupees per person per safari and people generally wait until the end of their stay to do so. If you do have a driver you can tip them 100 rupees per person per drive. Most jungle lodges will have a tip box for the staff (waiters, bell boys, gardeners etc) which eliminates the need for any individual tipping (it’s actually discouraged). We recommend 250 rupees per person per day in the tip box which will be split by all the staff members (excluding resident naturalists)
Tiger-centric: Mumbai – Satpura – Pench – Kanha – Bandhavgarh – Agra – Jaipur – Delhi
Tigers and Culture: Delhi - Bandhavgarh – Khajuraho – Agra – Ranthambhore – Jaipur - Delhi
Culture with a side of tiger: Delhi – Varanasi – Khajuraho – Agra – Ranthambhore – Jaipur – Jodhpur – Udaipur – Delhi
Far north: Kolkata – Kaziranga cruise – Nepal (chitwan) or Bhutan
Now that you’ve got a better idea of where you might want to go check out A Day in the Life of a Jungle Safari in India. Contact me if you have any questions or are ready to plan your adventure to India!
Your friendly India expert,