India's Wildlife Safari: A Hidden Treasure

Margaret Maire

24 Apr 2018

NWS client Margaret explores India's Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks

Arriving in Delhi at 1am, we were transferred to our hotel for a short evening's rest. The next day was “free”, so we asked the concierge to arrange a guide and driver to take us to a couple of interesting sites and a nice place for lunch – success!

On our second day in India we drove to Agra, where we would spend one night at another very nice hotel. This was different from what was listed on our itinerary but lovely.

Very early on the third day, our guide took us to the Taj Mahal at sunrise. We appreciated getting there before the long lines and the heat. There for about two hours. Later transferred to the airport for a delayed flight (45 minutes) to Khajuraho. Immediately met by a driver. About a 6-hour ride to Tree House Hideaway. Arrived around 10pm so skipped the meal that was prepared for us and just had some soup, as our “tree house guide”, Ashish, would go over some things, escort us to our tree house and explain the “workings” of everything there: full electricity, phone to call to the main lounge, Wi-Fi (good reception) and air conditioning, nice warm bathroom for showering (great shower)! Also had a huge balcony; however never enjoyed it as we were gone so much. Need flashlights at nighttime to get around; are provided.

Ashish met us on the fourth day at the main lounge building, and off we went for our first of five safaris here. A two- or three-rowed jeep is your transportation - easy to see wildlife from here. Mornings are very chilly, so wear long pants, shirt, and sweatshirt or jacket. They provide blankets to cover with and even a hot water bottle to keep you warm. In a couple hours the sun's heat will transform the day from cool to very warm. Remember your sunscreen and cap. Each morning we left about 6am and returned about 11am. Picnic breakfast in the park: cheese sandwiches, fruit and banana bread. Ashish would drive and do some talking.

Another guide/tracker is picked up before entering Bandhavgarh National Park

. We saw different deer, many bird varieties, jackals, sloth bears, cattle, bison, wild boar, lots of monkeys with babies - very special for photography. Back to the resort for a late lunch, rest and off again on the afternoon safari. Again, it's hot so apply sufficient sunscreen. Gone from about 2pm-6:30pm. More sightings of many animals and birds. When we returned to Tree House Hideaway, we had time to clean up before a late dinner. During our third and final night we were treated to some local dance and encouraged to participate, and we did... fun! That next morning was our fifth and final safari. At this point we had seen no tigers, even though I knew it wasn't a guarantee. THEN... for the last 1 ½ hours in the park a mother and her cub appeared. They just walked around our vehicles and laid near us. Photography was amazing! Words just can't even describe how beautiful these Bengal tigers are.

Now just a bit of information about our guide, Ashish. He was so kind, helpful, patient and knowledgeable. He and his wife live right at the resort, so if you go here you might be lucky enough to get him. Bandhavgarh is huge with lots of windy, hilly and bumpy roads, so a word of caution: if you have any back issues (like I have) tell Ashish right away, and you can sit in the front. It's still bumpy but better than the seats in the back. Don't worry about not sitting up high. Everyone has a good view. Also remind him about a hot water bottle to put on the back of your seat when you leave in the morning. And don't hesitate to ask him to stop for picture-taking.

Clothing: I wore the same pair of pants/tights for all safaris. Short sleeves in the late morning until late afternoon, then back to the jacket. It's chilly towards the end of the afternoon safaris. It's also quite dusty, so would be good to bring some sort of lightweight scarf to cover your nose and mouth. We didn't do this and wish we had. We were alright though... just “ate” a lot of dust. Food: I struggled as I didn't care for Indian spices. I don't want to take anything away from the quality of the meals... prepared and presented beautifully by top-notch staff. I managed to find enough to eat so did fine.

Moving on to our next three nights, Shergarh Tented Camp at Kanha National Park. Another long drive to get there, but that's just what you have to do. The routine was almost identical to Tree House Hideaway: five safaris, with three in the morning and two in the afternoon. Leave very early, picnic breakfast in the park, return to camp for rest, late lunch and off for afternoon safari, returning around 6:30pm. Jeep was about the same. Our guide was Raj - very knowledgeable and excellent at spotting wildlife. The first three safaris we saw the Bengal tigers... incredible!!!! Also some great peacock pictures as the males oftentimes were performing a “courtship dance”. What a beautiful bird!

We named one of our safaris the “nursery safari”, as there were so many monkeys and deer with their young. Roads weren't quite as rough as Bandhavgarh, so I sat in the back of the jeep a few times. Still chilly early mornings, then gets very warm, then back to being chilly before returning to camp in the evening. Still as dry and dusty. Don't get discouraged by my description of the dust. It won't affect your viewing or picture-taking – only an issue when driving.

About Shergarh Tented Camp: Very casual and comfortable. The “manager”, Neville, saw to our every need. This is a smaller staff so got to know them a little better. They do everything they can to make you comfortable and feel special; wonderful people! Our tent was spacious and always clean with air conditioning, huge beautiful shower and nice patio. Wi-Fi was a “negative” as it was located outside, a ways from our tent and dining area. Reception good; location bad. Lunches were always inside and dinners outside, at different locations. Lots of candles - very pretty. Meals were served buffet-style, with Neville and his staff always explaining what each dish was and if the food was a bit spicy (for my benefit). Kanha’s sunsets were beautiful.

In summary, I would recommend this length of safari, no less. In hindsight, if flight times had lined up, I would have preferred to go directly to Agra, skipping the overnight in Delhi. Then perhaps add another night at one of the two camps. Drives between locations were comfortable but long. There's always snacks and water provided though. Do have a clear sense of driving distances when planning this trip so your agent can create a plan that suits your needs.

This is the fourth trip I have booked with Natural World Safaris, after the Brazilian Pantanal, Madagascar and Antarctica (the latter of which I will be visiting in December 2018). Having good, accessible communication with the company/agent is essential, as many questions come up before and after the reservations. Every driver, transfer and guide was where we expected them to be and on time. Dealing with unfamiliar airports, large and small, can be a bit frightening. Again, everything was taken care of - absolutely no problems for us. Make sure to book months in advance and get suggestions from NWS on best times of year for your particular interests.

Thumbs Up To NWS!

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