Wildlife travel in India for a traveller is often about having an opportunity to sight the elusive Royal Bengal Tigers. Let me share with you some of the lesser known facts about wildlife travel in India that may help you plan your holiday better.
Best Parks for Tiger Sightings
There some parks that consistently offer great tiger sightings.
Tadoba (Maharashtra – 120-160 kms from Nagpur) – The most prolific park in Central India for tiger sightings. Moharli, Kolara and Navegaon are three park ranges, all having excellent premium lodges and good for tiger sightings.
Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh – 200 kms from Jabalpur) – Another prolific park in Central India for tiger sightings. Tala and Magadhi are two ranges to opt for. Bandhavgarh has excellent lodges including high-end ones.
Ranthambhore (Rajasthan – 180 kms from Jaipur) – The most popularly visited park for tigers. There are 8 zones, of which 1 to 6 are most preferred for tigers. Ranthambhore has an extensive set of lodges, from mid-priced to high-end.
Corbett (Delhi – 250 kms from Delhi) – Bijrani Range in Corbett has prolific tiger sightings, even though it may be a bit touristy. Corbett has the most extensive range of stay options that includes high-end, experiential, mid-range and even one inside the park.
Best Park Experiences
Some parks are known for their park experiences, along with the fact that they have tigers that are sighted there regularly.
Kanha (165 kms from Jabalpur) – Kanha is the largest of the Central India parks and one that has a wide range of wildlife, birdlife and offers a superb overall park experience. The evergreen forests are good to travel even during peak summer when temperatures reach mid-40 degree celcius. Kanha and Mukki are two ranges to opt for the best park experience. Both Kanha and Mukki side, there are excellent lodges from mid-range to premium.
Kabini (80 kms from Mysore) – Kabini or Nagarhole National Park or Rajiv Gandhi National Park (all mean the same) is set on the Kabini reservoir, renowned for its leopard and black panther sightings besides being a prime birding destination. It is also perhaps the best maintained of all parks. The safari tracks, the reservoir backdrop and limited accommodation (that means fewer jeeps), ensure a superb park experience.
Kaziranga (200 kms from Guwahti) – Kaziranga is the best park in Eastern India, renowned for its grassland, Brahmaputra riverside and one horned rhinos. Kaziranga has the highest density of tigers but they are infrequently sighted. Kaziranga is perhaps the least touristy of all major parks and it is possible to have exclusive sightings of a rhino or a wild elephant herd for hours without being hindered by other jeeps.
Corbett (Dhikala Range) – While Bijrani range is touristy, the Dhikala range is exclusive and experiential. Dhikala is the only range in India with 20+ FRH (Forest Rest Houses) for guests to experience. Dhikala range comprises evergreen forests, large water bodies and wildlife at its wild and untamed best.
Other Renowned Parks
Some parks are renowned for their tiger or lion population and visited as standalone wildlife getaways or in combination with other prominent destinations nearby.
Bandipur (80 kms from Mysore) – Bandipur lies on the Bangalore – Mysore – Ooty route and is a popular ex-Bangalore getaway (230 kms). Bandipur has always had a good population of tigers. However, fewer lodges and prominence of Kabini in the same region means that Bandipur remains less popular.
Pench (90 kms from Nagpur) – Pench is one of the prominent wildlife destinations, a popular wildlife getaway and one that is combined with other wildlife destinations of Central India. Deciduous forests of Pench mean that the park experience for the 2nd half of the wildlife season is not as good and the presence of Tadoba and Kanha in the region means that Pench remains less popular.
Panna (50 kms from Khajuraho) – Panna was one of the prolific parks for tiger sightings before it became a major poaching target. The park has since then recovered in terms of its tiger population (with some tigers relocated from Kanha). Today it one of the best parks to visit for sighting highly endangered vultures and is visited along with Khajuraho or as a standalone wildlife getaway.
Sariska (130 kms from Jaipur) – Sariska was one of the prolific parks for tiger sightings before it became a major poaching target. The park has since recovered and now has some tigers relocated from Ranthambhore. Sariska is one to visit as a standalone wildlife getaway from Jaipur / Delhi / Gurgaon.
Sasan Gir (160 kms from Rajkot) – While all other parks above are renowned for their tigers, Sasan Gir is renowned for being the only habitat of the Asiatic Lions in the world. Sasan Gir is one of the popular holiday destinations and a popular ex-Ahmedabad getaway / wildlife getaway.
Entry permits are required to be booked in advance and form a major bottleneck for a wildlife traveller. Every zone has a limited number of jeeps that are allowed for entry and once they are fully booked out, even if you have a lodge and a jeep booked, without the entry permit you cannot enter the core area (or even buffer area in case of Tadoba). Permits open anywhere from 30 to 120 days (depending on the park) in advance for online booking. Permit bookings are typically on first come first served basis and therefore, it is a must to ensure entry permits booking for prime dates (long weekends, Diwali, Christmas period dates) as soon as online reservations open.
Length of Travel
Length of travel recommended could be different for different profiles of travellers as under:
- Holiday Travellers – 2 nights – 2 Jeep Safaris
- Wildlife Getaway – 2 or 3 nights – 4 to 5 Safaris
- Photographers – 4-7 nights – As many safaris possible
Oct – May is generally regarded as a good season for wildlife travel in India (even though most parks are open Oct – June) with some exceptions as under:
- Kabini and Bandipur (Both Karnataka) are open all through the year
- Kaziranga, Nameri and Manas (All Assam) are open November to April
- Jhirna Zone of Corbett open throughout the year
- Dhikala Zone of Corbett is open from 15 Nov to 15 June
Lesser known Tiger Sanctuaries
Maharashtra – Around Nagpur, there are a number of wildlife areas where tigers are sighted frequently such as Tipeshwar, Bor, Umred Karhandla and Nagzira. These are visited by regular wildlife travellers and as local wildlife getaways.
Madhya Pradesh – Satpura National Park (150 kms from Bhopal) is one of the newest parks and one that is renowned as a prime bird watching destination, and for sloth bears and leopards. Tiger sightings are less frequent. Satpura offers the widest range of different safari options and is one of the prime wildlife getaways and one having the most exclusive and experiential lodges.
Orissa – Simlipal National Park (120 kms from Jamshedpur) is a large park renowned for its waterfalls and park experience. However, topography of the park and its size are such that tiger sightings are less frequent. The park only has FRH (Forest Rest House) as a stay option and therefore remains the least visited of them all.
Uttarakhand – Rajaji National Park (50 kms from Haridwar) is for bird watchers and offbeat travellers. Tigers are infrequently sighted. Rajaji National Park is one of the popular getaways ex-Delhi and visited along with Haridwar and Rishikesh.
Assam – Manas and Nameri in Assam are two parks that have tigers. Nameri is one of the two parks (along with Satpura) where you can walk inside the core area of tiger territory, which is the only safari option and therefore visited as part of a holiday circuit or by bird watchers or by offbeat travellers. Manas is renowned for its experience and tigers are sighted but is kind of cut off from the rest of the circuit and therefore visited only by well-heeled wildlife travellers.
Wildlife Other than Tigers
Besides tigers, other renowned wildlife species in India are Asiatic Lions (Sasan Gir), One Horned Rhinos (Kaziranga), Leopards (Kabini is where they are sighted the most often), Black Panther (Kabini), Gaur (Across parks – White Gaur seen in Satpura), etc.
Full day Safari
Full-day safari is one for the photographers and well-heeled wildlife travellers. Full-day safari involves travelling across park ranges and spending the entire day in the forests.
- Full day safari is 3 to 4 times costlier than regular 2 park safari costs for a day
Different Types of Safaris
A Jeep Safari (or game drives as it is called internationally) is the most common safari option. Let me list other options offered by some of the parks.
Elephant Safari – Kaziranga and Satpura are two parks that offer them on a regular basis. Other parks such as Pench, Corbett, etc. have an elephant safari option but it is very expensive and subject to the availability of elephants from the Forest Dept.
Boat Safari – Kabini and Satpura are two parks that offer boat safaris. The eastern range in Kaziranga has a boat ride in the Brahmaputra river.
Walking Safari – Satpura and Nameri are two parks where you can walk inside a core area of a tiger territory (popularly known as Walking Safari).
Canoe Safari – Satpura is where you can Canoe / Kayak your way close to alligators and birds that are situated around the reservoir.
Guide Vs Naturalist
Guides are generally the major differentiator in a wildlife trip. It is compulsory for every jeep entering a park to be accompanied by a Forest Guide. These guides are allotted on a rotation basis and there is no control which guide gets assigned to whom. Typically, 6 persons (excluding the Driver and Guide) are allowed per jeep inside the park. Well-heeled travellers would look to either hire the services of an experienced driver or a good naturalist (by adding him as one of the 6 persons) to ensure that the safari experience is not dependent on the allocation of forest personnel.
Tigers and Probability of Sighting
Tigers are solitary and highly territorial animals. They can take upto 10 sq km of area. So, considering that safari tracks would cover a limited part of this vast area, tiger sightings are a matter of chance. Nobody can claim to guarantee a tiger sighting. However, experience guides / naturalists have understood tiger behaviour and are therefore able to track them. During winters, tigers come out in early mornings for a bit of sun. During summers, tigers are sighted around water bodies. So, there are always good reasons for tigers to be seen walking on safari tracks any time of the year (except when it is raining). Generally, 4 Safaris at a tiger centric park will ensure you have a good probability of one good sighting.
Elements of Wildlife Travel Cost
Wildlife travel generally is not well understood in terms of its costs. So, let me put a graphic below that explains it.
Access Cost: Flight or Train
Transfer Cost (From Access point to Wildlife Destination and back)
Safari Cost: Safari Permits + Guide / Naturalist + Jeep-Driver
Hotel / Resort / Jungle lodge with meals
Role of Travel Agencies in Wildlife Travel
Specialised travel agencies such as Nivalink / Holxo are central for a traveller to organise a seamless wildlife holiday. This is one area where Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) fail to deliver the expertise along with the best rates. We book safari permits, engage good drivers / jeeps, recommended good lodges and have transporters at access point that do transfers at any hour of the day. We are also able to get travellers to engage the services of a naturalist. Our team members have personally travelled to most national parks, done safaris in different park ranges and experienced the parks during different seasons of the year. Our travel planners regularly handle wildlife travel and fully understand the underlying issues to take care of them on behalf of wildlife travellers to ensure a seamless holiday / getaway.