Bandhavgarh National Park - home to the largest density of tigers in India
Kanha National Park - Inspiration for The Jungle Book
Best time to visit is between Feb - April
As my love for Wildlife had previously taken me on several African safaris I decided it was time to head over to India and follow in the footsteps of Mowgli to discover the real life “Jungle Book”.
I was keen to secure a sighting of the elusive Tigers, so I split my trip between two national Tiger parks, Bandhavgarh and Kanha both located in Madhya Pradesh, Central India.
The Bengal Tiger once roamed the earth in its hundreds of thousands however, there are now no more than 2,500 left in the wild. Despite conservation efforts, the population of this endangered wild cat continues to decline and is one step away from being critically endangered on the ICUN Red List.
Despite the efforts of India’s Tiger reserves and WWF to protect these magnificent creatures, they are still being illegally hunted for trophies and Chinese Medicine. Although this illegal trade is one of the largest threats to the tigers, other factors having an impact include the loss of their natural prey and also deforestation which has resulted in the loss of natural wildlife corridors across India. Adult Tigers are solitary animals and having too many concentrated in one area often results in fatal territory conflicts.
The sad fact is until people stop their disgusting demand for the animals of our world how will Tigers, Rhinos, Sharks, Gorillas, Pangolins and the list goes on…. ever be truly protected?
The best time to visit the reserves is between February – April, it may not be as picturesque as the long grass has wilted and fallen flat however, the landscape and wildlife is more exposed thus making the Tigers "easier" to spot. Both parks are closed in the Monsoon season, July - October.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh is one of the smallest parks in Madhya Pradesh which may have you wondering why I chose this park. This is due to it having the highest density of Tiger population in India, meaning good things do come in small packages.
Although often referred to as the jungle, it was not how I had pictured it and the landscape reminded me more of a British forest.
As its reputation portrays the Tiger remained elusive on our first three game drives leaving me with slight worry that we might not even catch a glimpse of the Tigers in Bandhavgarh.
As with all Safari’s it’s all about being in the right place at the right time and we certainly were on the eve of our departure to Kanha. Laying there lapping up the afternoon sun in the middle of the road was a 2year old cub. Even though our Naturalist kept reassuring me the Tiger was just a cub, I could not believe its size!
After our first sighting they all seemed to come out to play, albeit one being more of a fleeting glimpse in the distance.
The Tiger's stripes gives them unbelievable camouflage, so even though we think we did not spot any Tigers on our first few drives, they were probably in the grass staring straight back at us!
Aside from the star of the show the wildlife is so diverse including animals such as the Jackal, spotted dear, leopard and even the striped Hyena. With over 250 species of birds both the national parks were a bird lovers paradise.
The downsides of Bandhavgarh is it can feel over crowded with other safari jeeps due to the smaller park size and when nature calls, opt for the bush and avoid the toilets in the picnic area at all costs as it appears they are a testing ground for nuclear turd bombs!
Scroll below to see where we stayed - Mahua Kothi
Kanha National Park
It's no wonder Kanha was the inspiration behind the original Jungle Book with its wild grasslands, bamboo forests and snaking streams. It is one of the largest national parks in India with one of the most successful Tiger populations, however the bigger the park the further they roam.
I highly recommend you spend at least 2 days in which ever parks you choose to double your chances of seeing a Tiger during your stay. Again, it was all about being in the right place at the right time and although we spotted some wonderful creatures on our first day it wasn’t until the day after that we saw our first Tiger in Kanha.
The Tigers certainly do not go hungry in Kanha with an abundance of prey including the Chital, Barking deer and the Swamp deer which was saved from near extinction.
Whilst you are keeping your eyes peeled for that glimpse of orange you may just come across sloth bears, Indian Cobra, Guar, Jackal and Indian wild dogs.
With a perfect end to our trip we were treated one final time when a Tiger emerged from the forest and gently padded towards us in the golden sunset.
Whilst driving around the park you may come across the memorial for Lapsi Shikari. Folklore suggests he was an expert hunter whom never missed a target, but one particular Tiger continuously outsmarted him. In one final attempt to lure the Tiger, Lapsi used his own wife as bait in the forest, however as the Tiger approached, the man that never missed a shot, missed! In an attempt to save his wife, Lapsi jumped down from the tree to stab the Tiger but in the chaos all three lost their lives.
Catching a glimpse of the last remaining Bengal Tigers is an experience that will stay with you forever!
Scroll below to see where we stayed - Banjaar Tola
Where to stay
There are a number of stunning hotels to choose from however I chose to stay at Mahua Kothi and Banjaar Tola as not only are they part of the Taj group but they also have an affiliation with &Beyond, a safari company that I have admired for many years for their dedication to the care of the land, care of the wildlife and care of the people. They deliver 5-star African Safaris and they bring the same level and style to India.
Unlike some of the other hotels in the area the Taj Safari lodges have their own resident naturalists who have been trained by &Beyond to the same high standard as their guides in Africa. The reason I mention this is because you will find some of the local hotels do not offer a full safari experience meaning you will need to hire an external private guide, which from witnessing their behaviour in the parks they appear to be more like aggressive taxi drivers.
Set amongst 40 acres of private forest and grassland, the luxurious lodge submerges itself and the twelve ‘Traditional Kutiyas’ within the trees for a true jungle experience. The luxury guest huts are decorated in richly coloured shades of saffron and burnt orange along with locally hand crafted trinkets and textiles.
There is an outdoor pool shaded by the Mahua trees for a quick dip between drives, however you may want to reconsider wearing a bikini around the pool unless you enjoy over enthusiast local tourists taking photos of you whilst you sleep!
On our last night we came home to a sweet smelling rose petal bubble bath, ice cold drinks and sweet treats! As we stepped onto our private courtyard to head to dinner our butler was standing there with the biggest grin before revealing a private surprise al fresco dinner lit by lanterns and candle light.
Banjaar Tola offers a completely different living experience to that of Mahua Kothi and was by far my favourite. A luxury tented lodge also run by &beyond and The Taj Group have 18 luxury tents situated on the banks of the Banjaar River. Each morning I opened the huge glass doors out on to the river to the most amazing sights and sounds of the wilderness. Do not let the word “tent” scare you as this was a million miles away from being a camping trip! When they say luxury, they mean Luxury!
The traditional Indian cuisine served on the open air decks was to die for and what you would expect to find in a true Indian kitchen. During our stay we were all taken to a secret spot in the jungle where we were treated to traditional feast with the local tribes. Dancing around the open fire with the local people in their rich coloured outfits made me think of one of my favourite films, “Jewel of the Nile”.
How to get there
Getting to Bandhavgarh International flight: British Airways: London Heathrow to Mumbai
Domestic Flight: Spice Jet - Mumbai to Jabalpur
Private Car Transfer: 4.5hr drive from Jabalpur Airport to Mahua Kothi, Bandhavgarh
Getting to Kanha National Park
Private Car Transfer: 5.5hr drive from Bandhavgarh to Banjaar Tola, Kanha
Private Car Transfer: 6hr drive from Kanha to Nagpur Airport
Domestic Flight: Air India: Nagpur to Mumbai
International Flight: British Airways: Mumbai to London Heathrow Whilst driving through India your eyes will be treated to a feast of colours and extraordinary experiences, such as the iconic India cattle road block.