An India Tiger Safari Diary 2013

Claire Freeland

26 Mar 2013

My India Wildlife Experience

My India experience started with a 4 hour wait for Visas in Victoria, but definitely do not let this put you off, a tiger safari in India is well worth doing!  Having flown into a rather fog (well smog)-laden Delhi, our first destination was the heavily-populated City of Agra and the magnificent Taj Mahal.  It lived up to expectations – beautiful, majestic and commanding, set surprisingly on a river bank and in the centre of the City.  It is crowded but nothing to worry about – my best recommendation though is to visit the much less busy “Mini Taj Mahal”, an absolutely beautiful building set on the opposite river bank with the most incredible wall paintings. Agra itself is a busy town and you need to be ready for culture-shock. Its bustling, manic, dirty, noisy (endless horn-hooting) and with livestock absolutely everywhere, it really is rather over-whelming.  But if you take it for what it is and accept the most incredible sights you will no doubt see, it is not only enjoyable, it will leave a lasting impression of Indian city life. Try not be offended by the amount of staring you are going to encounter and the vast amount of photos that may be taken of you, I think that perhaps the locals are as mesmerised by you as you are by them and their beautiful city. 

Our next stop was Agra train station for our overnight train to the tiger reserves. Biggest recommendation here is to book first-class, you will no doubt appreciate it. On arrival in Katni and after negotiating the over-crowded and heaving train station, a 4-hour drive got us to the first of our tiger reserves – Bandhavgarh, arguably the better and most beautiful of the two we visited. Our accommodation here was at the superb Treehouse Hideaway and I honestly can’t fault anything.  

The staff, food and property itself are absolutely wonderful and judging by feedback we got of other properties in the area, this is definitely the place to stay.

So to our first day in search of tigers...A 5.30am alarm call and coffee will wake you and its a race to get to the front of the line at the meeting point for the reserve gates. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter whether you are at the front or the back of the line. Since the changes, the organisation is excellent and now with far fewer vehicles being allowed access, you do not feel you are one of thousands trying to achieve the same thing. Yes, there are plenty of other vehicles and despite being slightly worried about some of the photos found on the internet prior to my arrival in India, they really do not worry you. Somehow (contrary to what I feel in Africa), it does not seem to matter that there are other explorers in search of these beautiful creatures. Perhaps it is their majestic beauty and elusivity (and be assured, they are elusive!), that if you are lucky enough to get a sighting, you are happy to share it with others and be part of something so amazing and so memorable. We were lucky... a fleeting tiger sighting within our first hour, we were very much the envy of other less fortunate guests at the lodge. We enjoyed our 3 days and 3 nights at Treehouse Hideaway in Bandhavgarh, and in encountering 5 tigers (including two cubs), we could not have wished for more. Absolutely superb...

On Day 4, we enjoyed a beautiful drive onto Kanha, a larger tiger reserve about 5 hours away. The countryside was absolutely stunning and the many local villages we passed through were colourful, vibrant, happy and bustling due to the many Saturday markets being held. We headed first to Kipling Camp, which is set close to the main Kisli gate so providing excellent access to the reserve. An enjoyable camp which is perhaps holding on slightly too much to its success in the 80’s/90’s but which offers great home from home accommodation at an affordable price. If you are looking for high levels of comfort however, this camp is not for you. If you are looking for a UK run friendly base, then look no further.

Kanha reserve is also beautiful and whilst it felt as though the tigers were perhaps even more scarce, we were treated to the most phenomenal viewing imaginable. A tiger coming out of the water, lying down in long grass just in front of our vehicle to then walk the length the 50 yards it took for 2 vehicles to move aside in order to let him through. The drivers and guides gracefully obliged and the huge and utterly beautiful male tiger took advantage of the gap he seemed to know would open up on his behalf. The smiles on our faces could not be wiped off for hours.. It was at this point that I made the decision not to waste time on taking too many photos, but to instead concentrate on what was happening before my eyes. Savour the moment and remember it, it truly is worthwhile. And appreciate the harmony that has somehow been created between man and beast – how it works, I’m not really sure, but the tigers, locals and tourists all seem to respect each other entirely.

For our final 2 nights, we moved onto the other side of Kanha, to Shergarh Tented Camp on the Mukki side. This was built and is now run by a lovely English girl, her husband and their two lovely children. It cannot be faulted. The tents are beautiful, extremely comfortable and the bathrooms absolutely palatial. The relaxed informal atmosphere of Shergarh is super and I would recommend a stay here in line with Treehouse at Bandhavgarh. If I could pick one slight downside to this camp is that as it is based on the Mukki side of the reserve, you may encounter a slightly longer drive to get to the main core zone. Having said that though, its worth it for its beauty and serenity and it was in the Mukki zone where we missed my first potential leopard sighting by a matter of seconds – story of my life really!

We know though that we were so extremely lucky to have encountered the sightings we did. You will hear many stories of people not seeing the tigers and getting down about it. Be under no illusion, they are hard to find and this is what perhaps makes it so special when you do see one. There is however so much more to see and enjoy – the wide-ranging wildlife is fantastic and whilst it is not perhaps to the levels of the plains of Africa, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Natural World Safaris got our booking down to a “T” and their knowledge and recommendations were absolutely second to none. We listened to them and booked what we were told to. It truly was excellent, operationally brilliant and run by professionals both in the UK and India. Thank you – here’s to the next trip...

Tips: Bring a straight-forward camera (you need to be quick!) / Face mask or scarf for the bumpy and very dusty roads in open-top vehicles / Hot-Water Bottle / Layers of clothing, gloves and scarf for early morning game drives / Safari or sun hat for very hot afternoons / Don’t take offence to the staring or people trying to sell you stuff / A strong nerve for pretty erratic and speedy driving / An ability to accept culture-shock!

And finally... do it, book now, it really is worth it. 

Comments

Natural World Safaris

4/4/2013 7:00 PM

We agree, it's such a beautifully written blog on India. One of our consultants is currently in India on a FAM trip, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for new India blogs from him! From the NWS Team

ellie street

3/4/2013 5:00 AM

Sounds totally wonderful, I'm saving up already!

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