Over the past decade that we've been operating safaris and supporting conservation in India's tiger parks and reserves, the population of Royal Bengal tigers has increased throughout India and chances of seeing them are better than ever. Although there's never a guarantee you will find them, there are several things you should know that will increase your chances of encountering tigers and more fully enhance your safari in India.
WHICH PARKS TO VISIT
Among the 733 National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and protected areas of India, the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh provides habitat for about 20% of India's tiger population and 10% of the world's tiger population. Therefore, we focus our tiger safaris primarily on these four National Parks of Madhya Pradesh: 1) Panna, 2)
There are a number of important considerations deciding which parks to visit that we can discuss with you based on your time, budget and interests. On this trip we combined Kanha and Pench NPs to experience the differences between dense sal forests of Kanha and the more dry and open teak forest habitat of Pench. Kanha is considered to have more frequent tiger sightings (we had 3 encounters there), but the open teak forests of Pench typically mean slightly easier and more open photographic opportunities to see tiger (and we had one exceptionally close tiger sighting I caught on video - see below).
I visited Bandavgarh and Panna National Parks on my last safari and loved them both as well. Bandavgarh has the highest density of tigers in India with the best opportunities to see them, although it is also the highest density of tourist vehicles, so the feeling is somewhat busier. Flights into or out of Bandavgarh and Panna are through Khajuraho where you visit the spectacular UNESCO heritage temples of the Chandella dynasty, among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art including the famous Kamasutra erotic carvings not to be missed if you fly into or out of the region from this side.
HOW MANY DAYS ON SAFARI
The more time you dedicate to safari in India the more opportunities you will have to see and photograph tigers. And each sighting varies. Sometimes tigers are walking away in the opposite direction, visible from a distance or in the bush, and only seen in fleeting moments. Other times they are close and directly facing you either walking or resting. So, the more encounters the better opportunities for photographs. Among our tiger encounters (pictured below) one walked broadside to our jeep, another walked away from us (but towards another jeep), and a third walked away from another car right towards our vehicle in the sunlight.
WHERE TO STAY
The choice of lodges is not only about the amenities but a combination of factors to consider: 1) their location in relation to particular entrance gates in the parks, 2) the type of guests who stay there (we prefer a very select group of lodges and camps who cater to more experienced travelers with a dedicated interest in natural history and tiger conservation), and 3) where we personally know the proprietors and guides who have dedicated their lives to tiger conservation and who know how to provide the best chances of finding and photographing tigers.
On our 2019 Founder's
Anne and I spent our last night in India sleeping in the star bed raised 15 feet above ground in a farmer's field next to the camp. Jamtara was established in close working relation with the community so they will benefit from ecotourism associated with protection of tigers. The farmer whose land the star bed is located earns rent every time a guest chooses to sleep there and he earns more income more reliably from tourism than from agriculture. There are many lodges to choose from around all these parks, but only a select few that offer the best value and experience for travelers with a serious interest in nature, community, and conservation without the pretense of excess or the austerity and discomfort of budget accommodation.
WHO TO GO WITH ON SAFARI
Where you stay is also a matter of who takes you on safari. Each lodge secures its own park permits and operates its own vehicles with resident drivers and guides.
Now, the staff and naturalists at all three properties are among the most experienced guides and dedicated conservationists of Madhya Pradesh. Amit's cousins, Dimple and Tarun, manage Kanha Jungle Lodge as gracious hosts treating guests like family in their jungle home. Their Indian cuisine is delicious, and Dimple offers cooking lessons and sari demonstrations.
Picture - left: Our in-country tiger expert and conservationist, Amit Sankahla, whose family story is featured in the National Geographic PBS documentary special "Tigerland" to be aired March 31, 2019.
Picture - middle: Wildland Founders, Kurt and Anne Kutay, with Dimple and Tarun, managers of Kanha Jungle Lodge.
Picture - right: Nine years ago Wildland sponsored local resident, Vinod Ayam, to participate in a guide training program designed to further link communities to benefit from tiger conservation through ecotourism.Vinod has become one of Kanha's top naturalist guides and a well-respected role model in his community. He takes Wildland travelers on safari when you stay at Kanha.
Like anywhere else in the world, rare wildlife sightings in the bush are hardly ever guaranteed. Part of the joy of safari in India is the hunt for the tiger, for sure. But there's so much else to see in the forests and grasslands of
And there are many other National Parks of India worth visiting. Depending on your itinerary we can integrate other tiger reserves and national parks. Ranthambore is the most highly visited park easily accessed in Rajasthan with good chances of seeing tigers. Kaziranga in the eastern state of Assam is best known for the Indian "Big Five" including tiger, elephant, buffalo, swamp deer and large herds of one-horned rhino. The Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat state is habitat for a healthy population of Asiatic lions. Jim Corbett, Satpura
WHEN TO GO ON SAFARI IN INDIA
We had many conversations with photographers, guides and biologists about the best time to visit the parks and it essentially boils down to your aims. Overall the season for tiger viewing in India is from October through April. Photographers tend to focus on April when it is very hot and dry (consistently in the upper 90's F) because tigers tend to spend more time in and around limited sources of water. Because of the high temperatures in April the forests are quieter, tigers tend to be more lethargic, and all other animals including birds are less active throughout the day.
October-November it is beautifully green when migrating birds are especially abundant and daytime temperatures are
WHEN TO BOOK YOUR SAFARI
Indians are traveling domestically visiting their parks more than ever. November-December is a popular festival season when Indian families book the lodges and April is most popular among photography groups, so it's important to book your reservations far in advance because rooms are blocked and permits sell out during these months first. It is best to book your safari in India at least 8-12 months in advance, especially during these peak months.
Our guide put us in the perfect position where the tiger emerged from the bush in Pench National Park. As it approaches closer and closer, Paul bends down in front of the camera to quickly grab his wide angle lens because the tiger got too close for his telephoto!