Tiger safaris explained

Tiger tiger

India’s size, landscape and fantastic national parks and tiger reserves all play a part in offering travellers an enchanting wildlife experience. This is by far the best place to spot the elusive Bengal tiger in the wild, with half of the world’s population of wild tigers found in India. Here, our specialist Ric shares his experience of heading to Bandhavgarh National Park in search of tigers.

If you’re inspired to follow in Ric’s footsteps and go in search of tigers in one of Central India’s national parks, take a look at our In Search of the Tiger itinerary for inspiration.

What’s a typical day like on a safari at Bandhavgarh National Park?

Bandhavgarh opens at 6:30am so it was an early 4:30am rise for me, followed by a quick cup of coffee and a biscuit before heading straight for the park. There are no lodges within Bandhavgarh but most are less than an hour’s drive away. The excitement starts to build as you drive along in the morning darkness, eagerly anticipating the day’s events. After reaching the park we picked up our permits, jumped on board our vehicle (there are about 4 to 6 people per jeep) and began our route. Bandhavgarh is split into four zones with set routes in each zone – you’re strictly not allowed to leave the trails! Joining us was a park ranger and a naturalist guide who was also our driver. Huddled under warm blankets we drove along miles of pathways and saw Bandhavgarh’s incredible forested landscape, passing by hills, cliffs and grassy meadows. We spotted beautiful deer and a host of colourful birds, whilst always keeping an eye out for the elusive Bengal tiger. Although tigers are undeniably the main draw, our guide made sure to give us a rounded experience of Bandhavgarh’s wildlife and scenery, from its birdlife to the smaller mammals that share the park’s ecosystem. At about 9am we stopped at a scenic spot to have breakfast – omelettes, muffins, chapatti and hot tea – before getting back on the road energised and ready for more wildlife spotting. We finished our drive at about 11am and went back to the lodge to enjoy a delicious spread. You can spend the rest of the day relaxing, exploring or going back to the park for an afternoon safari. It depends on the time of year but these usually start at 2 or 3pm and finish at sunset.

Shard of light shining through the trees

The jungle is very enchanting with shards of light shining through the trees

Did you see any tigers on your trip?

On my first drive around Bandhavgarh our group was lucky enough to see three different tigers. The first tiger we saw came right up to our jeep, curious but unfazed by our presence. He prowled around us a few times before disappearing into the thick jungle as quickly as he had emerged from it. It was a truly unforgettable experience. Guides will sometimes follow a group of elephants who cleverly help to identity where the tigers are located. They are let into the park about 15 minutes before it opens to start navigating.

I managed to get a few good pictures of the tiger before it retreated back into the jungle

I managed to get a few good pictures of the tiger before it retreated back into the jungle

What’s the difference between morning and afternoon safaris?

Because you usually have longer in the morning you tend to see more animals, however wildlife sightings are always unpredictable and it’s best to go on as many drives as possible (morning and afternoon) to get the most out of the experience. You will usually follow a different route in the afternoon to the one you went on in the morning.

What was your favourite moment whilst on safari in India?

One of one my favourite experiences by far was tracking the tigers. This involves looking out for pugmarks (animal prints) and stopping to listen for alarm calls from deer and langurs. A bit of
patience is needed for this; we sometimes stopped for 10 minutes at a time in complete silence just to listen. It’s definitely worth the wait and is a truly thrilling experience – even better if you manage to track down a tiger!

Spotting tigers hiding amongst the foliage

I loved spotting tigers like this one hiding amongst the foliage

How does an Indian safari differ from an African one?

I have been on a lot of African safaris as well as Indian ones, and they both offer totally different but equally exciting experiences. In India you tend to have to go on more game drives and work a little harder to see wildlife, but it’s so much more rewarding when you do. Coming face to face with a Bengal tiger in the wild is one of the most exciting and memorable experiences I’ve ever had in all the safaris I’ve been on.

What if you wanted to see more than just a tiger?

The guides can often arrange your trip to suit your specific interests. For example, if you’re interested in bird-watching just let your guide know and they can take you to certain areas of the park where birds are more common. Alternatively if you want to see more scenery than wildlife there are certain routes in each park that are better for this.

I could spend hours just admiring the jungle scenery

I could spend hours just admiring the jungle scenery

How long should you go for?

For people who want to see the best of India’s wildlife I would advise seven days over two different parks. This way you can really take the time to appreciate the safari experience and India’s different landscapes.

What to pack

  • Warm layers  tiger season runs from October to April, so you need to prepare for a chilly start and end to the day. Most game drives are in open jeeps, so we advise packing a jumper or fleece, as well as gloves and a hat in December and January.
  • Light cotton clothes  when the day warms up you’ll want light weigtht layers. Neutral colours such as khaki, green and beige are advised.
  • Sun hat and sunscreen – when driving around for a number of hours in an open jeep this is essential!
  • Comfortable footwear
  • Pair of binoculars – these are a must so you don’t miss out on any of the wildlife.
  • Torch – in some rural areas electricity can be unpredictable so a torch can come in handy.
  • Cash – lodges and hotels in remote areas are unlikely to accept credit cards, so you’ll need to take enough cash to cover extras such as drinks, tips and souvenirs.
  • Memory cards and camera batteries – photo opportunities on an Indian safari are endless so make sure you are well stocked up with memory cards and spare batteries as they are not easy to get hold of once you’re out in the jungle. 

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