If you’ve managed to catch the recent Jungle Book movie, you’ve probably already fantasised about visiting the jungles of India and spying a tiger in the wild. Well, as someone who has actually experienced such a wonderful sight, I can honestly say it’s a fantasy that you should definitely turn into reality.
It was 8am when we began. My travel group hopped into a private open-air Jeep with a driver and a naturalist from Creative Travel. The sun was still rising and we were all wrapped up warm, struggling to fight off the sleepiness. We entered the jungle and immediately found ourselves surrounded by monkeys and peacocks. We continued on towards our ‘zone’ for the day. Ranthambore National Park is split up into sections where only a few 4X4s are allowed each day, so as not to disturb the park’s inhabitants. Before we’d even reached the zone though, I spotted her.
A tiger in the distance walking behind some long grass. In disbelief I pointed her out to the driver and we came to a halt. For the next five minutes we were all captivated as the female Bengal walked alongside our Jeep before crossing the road, marking its territory in front of us, then darting back into the jungle. I can honestly say it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had.
Here are my top tips to help you see a tiger too:
Visit between January and April
In terms of weather, the best time to visit India is from September to April. But for ultimate tiger viewing, I recommend visiting in the warmer months between January and April. Before January the jungle is lush with long grass and plentiful water. This means that, while it’s incredibly beautiful, the thick vegetation makes it more difficult to see wildlife. From January onwards though, when temperatures heat up to around 30 or 40°C, the water dries up and much of the jungle inhabitants congregate around larger watering holes making them easier to spot.
Head to one of the national parks
India has a whopping 48 tiger reserves which are governed by Project Tiger, a national tiger conservation authority, so there are plenty of opportunities to spy tigers in the wild. In terms of accessibility, some of the most popular parks to see tigers are in the state of Madhya Pradesh, located just south of Agra, a city on the famed Golden Triangle route and home to the famed Taj Mahal. Some of the most popular parks to visit in this area include:
– Ranthambore National Park (where I saw a tiger)
– Bandhavgarh National Park
– Kanha National Park
Go on safari with a naturalist
There’s a big difference between a tour guide and a naturalist, as I learnt on my safari while in Ranthambore. Tour guides are knowledgeable about the park and the tigers, but naturalists take this knowledge one step further by being able to track animals in the park.
From spying footprints to listening out for bird calls, our naturalist on the day of our safari managed to point out tiger prints on the ground, spy animals in the distance, and identify different avifauna. As our naturalist taught us, bird calls are very importance for tracking tigers because birds often alert the rest of the jungle when they see a big cat.
Stay at a jungle camp
If you miss out on seeing a tiger on safari, you may increase your changes by staying at a jungle camp. As with camps like Khem Villas in Ranthambore, tigers have been known to wander the grounds (at a safe distance of course), particularly in summer when looking for a quiet spot to cool off in.
And while a jungle camp may sound like you’re sleeping in a tree, camps like Khem Villas bring incredible romance and luxury to the bush via spacious tents and cottages that feature large plush beds, polished wooden floors, and en suites with rain showers or even open-air showers. Khem Villas also has a spa with a plunge pool on-site, a lake with resident crocodiles, and incredible dining where everything served is grown and prepared within the camp grounds.
Keep your eyes peeled
It may seem like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to follow it. When I serendipitously spotted a tiger in Ranthambore National Park, I was the first one to do so as most of the people in my truck were looking at their cameras. Granted, we’d only just boarded the truck and we hadn’t even officially entered the ‘tiger zone’ of the park, but still. That’s the exciting part of going on a jungle safari in India, you just never know when you might see a tiger.