Five of the best forests for tiger spotting in India
With the wildlife viewing season in India in full swing, now is the perfect time to see tigers. Here are the best places to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures
Tiger spotters in India have cause for jubilation this year.
After years of depressing reports about poaching, shrinking habitats and overall alarming reduction in the number of tigers in India, there is finally good news. The latest tiger census, completed towards the end of 2014, shows a 30 per cent increase in numbers from the last census in 2011; up to 2,226 from a low of 1,706.
The wildlife season has just begun in India and goes on until June. Most national parks have just reopened after the torrid monsoon months, making it the perfect time to go in search of this magnificent, elusive beast.
Although spotting a tiger in the wild is a matter of luck, here are a few dedicated tiger reserves that offer the best chances to get up close and personal with them. Apart from tigers, these forests are home to other animals, including the langur (monkey), chital and sambar (deer), wild boar, wild dog, gaur (Indian bison), blue bull, fox and sloth bear.
This is one of India’s largest national parks, and thanks to its easy accessibility from both Delhi and Mumbai, also one of the most popular. The landscape here is usually dry and brown, bounded by the Aravalli and Vindhya hill ranges. Sightings in this forest are made easier by the presence of three lakes, which tigers frequent regularly to drink water. Once you have had your fill of the wildlife experience, head to the 10th-century hilltop fort close to the entrance.
How to get there: the Rajdhani Express train connects Mumbai and Delhi with the station of Sawai Madhopur, 20 kilometres away.
Where to stay: enjoy the pleasures of glamping at one of the plush air-conditioned tents at Aman-i-Khas (aman.com)
Once the hunting ground of the maharajahs of the region, Bandhavgarh is today counted among those reserves with the highest density of tigers. It gets its name from a hillock in the park, which is also home to the Bandhavgarh fort, believed to be over 2,000 years old. This central Indian park, spread over 100 square kilometres, is also dotted with small temples and shrines. Go on a conventional jeep safari or climb onto an elephant for an exciting forest foray lasting one to two hours.
How to get there: the nearest airport is Jabalpur, a four-hour drive of less than 200 kilometres. Or take an overnight train from Delhi to Umaria, just 35 kilometres away.
Where to stay: Samode Safari Lodge (samode.com) comes with 12 private villas and a spa to unwind after a hard day of tiger tracking.
This forest is where Shere Khan’s descendants from the well-loved classic The Jungle Book roam. With its splendid diversity of landscapes, especially the large open meadows, Kanha is considered one of the most beautiful forests in the country. While this forest is known primarily for tigers, the other significant animal is the hard ground swamp deer known as barasingha. In one of India’s most successful conservation efforts, this species was revived from the brink of extinction.
How to get there: fly to Jabalpur from Delhi and hire a cab for the three-hour, 170km drive to Kanha.
Where to stay: Kanha Earth Lodge (kanhaearthlodge.com) has won awards for its sustainable architecture, and combines the best of rustic charm and city comforts.
National Park, Uttarakhand, in Corbett (uttarakhandtourism.gov.in)
Jim Corbett National Park, established in 1936, is India’s first and named after the legendary British hunter (of man-eating tigers) turned conservationist. Corbett has a stunning location, in the foothills of the Himalayas and right by the Ramganga river in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. Corbett is a favourite among bird watchers, sheltering nearly half of all the bird species found in India. Early morning safaris are also a great time for sighting large herds of elephants by the river.
How to get there: the best option is an overnight train from Delhi to Ramnagar, less than 15km from the park.
Where to stay: Jim’s Jungle Retreat (jimsjungleretreat.com) is committed to ecotourism and is situated right by the edge of the forest.
It is said that in Tadoba, the question is not whether you have seen a tiger during the safari, but how many. Tadoba was off the popular tourist trail until a few years ago, when it came to the attention of wildlife lovers, with its excellent sightings of entire tiger families. This is one of the few forests in India to stay open throughout the year, even during the monsoon months.
How to get there: fly to Nagpur from Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore, from where the park is 100km away by taxi.
Where to stay: with only 12 guest cottages, Svasara (svasararesorts.com) comes with warm hospitality and personalised service.
In the latest tiger census, the south Indian state of Karnataka - where Nagarhole is located – has the highest number of tigers. Nagarhole (official, but unused, name Rajiv Gandhi National Park) also has the largest concentration of Asian elephants in the world and is an excellent habitat for Indian leopards. Keep your neck craned up to spot them perched on tree branches. Head into the jungles on a jeep or explore its fringes with a unique boat safari on the Kabini river.
How to get there: Nagarhole is an easy six-hour drive (225km) from Bengaluru. The closest railway station is Mysore, less than two hours away.
Where to stay: right by the Kabini, the décor at Orange County (orangecounty.in) is inspired by the tribal villages around the forest.
Tips for tiger tracking
The official forest guides who accompany every safari jeep are experienced and astute. Follow their lead and stay patient through their many starts and stops inside the jungle. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs of the tiger, like pugmarks, alarm calls and territorial markings. And finally, plan for as many safaris as possible during your time at the destination to increase your chances of sighting a tiger.