Indian Wildlife is conserved in protected areas that are notified by the Central and State Governments. The PAs have been notified as National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves based on the status of the ecosystem. The tiger reserves are created to conserve the big cat in its natural habitats. Tourism is well developed in most of the National Parks; hence they are the best places to see the tiger in the wild.
How to go for a tiger safari in India?
Tiger is a charismatic and a powerful carnivore. People from all over the world wish to see this nature's wonderful creation. Tigers are best seen on safaris organized in India.
There are more than 26 tiger reserves in India and newer one's are created every year. These are forests with substantial tiger population. The Project Tiger Program a Central Government initiative assists the reserves in the process of conservation.
The old, well managed reserves have larger population of the carnivores. Such forests should offer a better chance to see the elusive animal in the wild. Or do they?
Clear your doubts?
Let me tell you tigers are not at all man eating animals in normal circumstances. They only kill their natural prey for food. There are few accidental deaths (man killing) in Indian forests every year. But usually the human body is not consumed by these animals hence they are not declared as man eaters. Man eating is an aberration since we are not part of the predator's food chain. As a matter of fact they avoid human beings and move out of the way on the first instance.
Coming back to the point, tigers are very shy and elusive animals. Their morphological features accord remarkable camouflage in the wilderness. The yellow orange color of their fur along with white markings and dark black stripes breaks the light falling upon them. Thus they are able gel with their surroundings very well. The habitats they live in are table top mountains, dense forests and tall grasslands in the uneven plains. This terrain makes them very difficult to sight as there are many places to hide.
Expert tracking skills are required to track and sight tigers. In most of the tiger habitats on foot tracking is not allowed hence the task becomes more difficult. In many protected areas where the canopy is very thick and tracking apparatus is not in place, tigers are not easily seen.
There are few parks in India where tiger sightings are very good. These are the parks which have become very popular for tiger tourism.
The Most Visited Tiger Reserves
Where to go?
The most visited destinations are Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench in Central India. Corbett in Uttarakhand and Ranthambhore also receive a large number of visitors.
The top three reserves in Madhya Pradesh offer the best tiger sighting in the wild. These destinations have a very high density of tigers in India. The sightings are excellent but not hundred percent mind you. You still need some luck to see the big cat in the wild. However a three night stay increases your chance to see one on jeep safari or on an elephant ride. But in any case be prepared to face disappointment. If your approach is holistic you will have a wonderful holiday - tiger or no tiger.
These tiger reserves are home to many mammals commonly found in Central India. They are also very good birding destinations. Commonly seen animals are the Swamp Deer, Sambar Deer, Bison, Spotted Deer, Wild Boar, Langur and the Barking Deer. Animals like Sloth Bear, Wild Dog and the Leopard are not easily seen. These animals give you the thrill of life when you do come across them.
Accommodations: The hotels and resorts around the tiger reserves offer accommodation ranging from budget to five star categories. You can choose the stay as per your budget and personal choice. Accommodations are available in deluxe room, private cottages and luxury tents.
Food: The resorts are well equipped with all facilities including restaurants that serve Indian and Continental Cuisine. You can try the local eateries as well - they are less costly.
Accompaniments: Carry all your personal needs since some medicines, beverages and toiletries may not be available locally. Carry cash though many resorts accept credit cards and travelers check. A good pair of binoculars, spotting scope and some books on Indian wildlife and birds will help you a lot.
How to Reach:
You can fly down from New Delhi or take an overnight train to Jabalpur in MP. Kanha and Bandhavgarh are four to five hours drive from Jabalpur Airport and Rail Head. For Pench you can fly down to Nagpur and drive about two hours to reach the reserve.
Ranthambhore and Corbett Tiger Reserves can be reached from Delhi by rail and road.
Open Jeep Safaris in tiger parks of MP
The best way to see tigers in the wild is to go for a tiger safari in the reserves. The safaris are organized on open jeeps by the forest department. A permit has to be acquired after paying the gate, vehicle and forest guide fees.
The permit can be availed on the spot or booked earlier. Since there is a restriction on number of vehicles in each zone it is better to avail the permit in advance. The booking can be done online at MP Online Portal set up by the MP Government.
Arrangements can also be made by the hotel management where you have decided to stay. If you are going through a tour operator you can ask him to book the tiger safari for you. The jeeps are available for hire but your hotel will arrange one for you.
In Kanha and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves the tourism areas has been notified as zones. The prime zone at Kanha National Park in MP is the Kanha Zone. While at Bandhavgarh National Park the Tala zone is most coveted. Hence a high fee has to be paid for these zones.
Even at Pench Tourism is controlled so booking tiger safaris in advance is the right thing to do. In all these reserves the best season for excursions is from November till 1st week of June. The chances of monsoon arriving earlier means no motor able road will remain.
Please avoid festivals like Holi, Diwali, Xmas, New Year etc since there are too many tourists in the park then. You have to carry lot of warm clothing during the winters as these place can be unbearably cold. The rides take place early in the morning and then in the evening till the Sun sets.
* Note Parks are closed on every Wednesday evening in MP.
*Parks are closed from !st July to 16th October every year in MP.
The park excursion fee remains the same throughout the year. But you can avail discounts from the hotels, resorts and jeep owners during the lean period. A lot of bargaining is necessary. The package tour cost should come down if your travel is arranged by tour operator.
When you contact a resort online ask for 15% discount straightaway. This sum goes to the agent who is not in the picture in this case.
This is a unique an interesting tiger safari that increases your chance to see the majestic animal. Every morning much before dawn trained elephants along with their mahout leave for the jungle in search of the big cat.
Their job is to track the tiger and then block its movement by cordoning it. Once the animal comes to rest tiger show is announced at the park office. Those wishing to experience this ride and see the tiger have to obtain a ticket from the park office.
As per your turn, you are taken on elephant to the spot where the tiger is resting. The few minutes that you get are sufficient to film or photograph the majestic animal. This is a short ride but enjoyable by all means.
On tiger show you can get the closest to the big cat. But the thrill is missing, tiger sightings in an open jeep is more exciting and carries an element of surprise.
In few reserves you can take long rides on tame elephants in the jungle. These are costly rides and not always available. Long elephant rides offer an experience of jungle from close and an opportunity to observe wildlife in its natural habitat.
At present these rides are available at Corbett and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves.
If you are interested in taking a ride on the elephant then book a long ride in advance if available. . The tiger show does not take place with regular frequency. You may not wish to miss out this experience. The management of your hotel should be able to assist you in this.
What you can do besides the safaris?
The best way to enjoy you tour to these wilderness heavens is to partake in all activities. During the park excursions observe all elements. Admire the landscape; look for birds, reptiles and small animals besides the mega fauna.
You get time between the safaris. What can you do?
Take a village tour.
Visit local markets, fairs and festivals.
Try local recipes in village dhabas.
Visit handicrafts shops to buy interesting products.
Visit local hospitals and schools, donate if you can.
Enjoy cultural performance by tribal.
Partake in tribal dance.
Go birding in the nearby forests.
Enjoy trekking with your hotel naturalist.
Visit the interpretation centers.
Watch wildlife films.
Interact with the rural folks learn about their culture and lifestyle.
Take night safaris on common roads to see nocturnal animals.
*Note: Night Safaris are not allowed inside the park.
Make your wildlife safari a holistic adventure and not just a tiger chase. Some of the activities fall under responsible tourism that involves the local communities. Remember they are a vital element in nature conservation. A sympathetic attitude towards them leads to success in conserving the environment, protection for wildlife and the habitats.
My Exciting moments
The first tiger I saw was at Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh in India. I was about 17 then and had a vague idea of this animal. I thought of it as blood thirsty, cruel and inveterate man killer.
I did not witness anything of that sorts when I encountered a tigress at Kanha. We were on an elephant and the tigress was sitting on the edge of a water hole. Except for some warning growls the big cat was at peace with herself. I observed the animal for quite some time and was surprised by her demeanor. The tigress showed no inclination to harm us at all, she only made sure that there was a safe distance between us.
The sight of the World's most charismatic animal was thrilling beyond my belief. After some time the tigress got up walked towards the forests and vanished. That first sighting changed my impression of the big cat for life.
My most heart throbbing experience in the wild was at Bandhavgarh National Park in MP. The first sign of a tiger in vicinity is the cry of an alarmed animal. As a protective instinct the prey animals cry out loud to warn others of the predators presence. This is a unique spectacle worth witnessing.
That day we heard just that and stopped our jeep. The place was Churbohera meadow a grassy swamp land that is preferred by the carnivores as hunting ground.The moment gets on your nerves amidst that electrifying silence.
We could net see the tiger, but as soon as it began to roar, we knew that it was somewhere in the grassland. After some time the big cat stopped roaring. We had to wait a long time since then, till the tiger emerged from the grassland. It came right towards us walked some distance in front of our jeep, and then with one leap vanished into the dense thickets.
Was this a deliberate act to greet us? Well we will never know?
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