Are you excited about your tiger safari in India? You want to go see tigers in the wild? While it is indeed thrilling to spot a tiger in the wild, you will enjoy your trip more if you understand the ground realities. Here are some tips, some do’s and don’ts of going on a jungle safari in India. Some of the tips are for rank first timers too. So do read my thoughts on your “What to expect on a tiger safari in India” questions!
It is not a Zoo
You are going on a wildlife safari inside the jungle. There are no guarantees as to what you will see. There are no tigers waiting for the tourists at the gate of the national park! So do adjust your expectations accordingly.
You May or May not Spot a Tiger
I went to national parks for five years before I saw a tiger. My husband saw one on his very first safari. It is largely luck. I have heard of forest guides going without seeing a tiger for a month or so, even though they go to the forest frequently. As it is not a zoo, there is no certainty of a tiger sighting.
Carry an ID
Many national parks insist on seeing an ID once again at the forest gate. Ask your lodge and if they advise, do carry an ID with you on the safari. Not every park insists on the ID at the time of the safari but it is better to ask.
Jeeps are Given Routes to Follow
National parks in India mostly have zones and a jeep is supposed to keep to the zone and route assigned to it. This is done to scatter the jeeps throughout the forest so that the animals don’t get affected.
There is More to the Jungle than Tiger
If you want to see only the tiger, you might come back disappointed. But there is much more to the jungle than the tiger, birds, deer, wild boar, jackals, wild dogs and the list goes on and on. There is also the leopard which I have not seen till date in the wild! Widen your interest and you will always feel happy to go to the jungle.
In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle Small Beautiful Things Live too
Next time you are in the jungle look for a bird that has nine colors called the India Pita, or try looking for the Paradise Flycatcher. Look for wild mushrooms or orchids, ask about the trees, ask about the animal behavior! Trust me, you will enjoy your safari more that way.
India is Different from Africa
Don’t compare the Indian and African Safaris. In Africa they have a bush, it is easier to sight big game. On the other hand, the Indian forest is another story altogether.
In India we Have Forests with Thick Undergrowth
In India, we have dense forests, there is a thick undergrowth. And tigers are animals of stealth, they are masters of camouflage. Both combined, tiger sightings a become a matter of luck!
I have seen More Tigers in Summer Months
In the harsh Indian summers the undergrowth dries up. There are only a few watering holes in the forest, so chances of spotting a tiger increases, but that is strictly my opinion. I have seen more tigers in summer. I also like the summer season because there are less vehicles in the park. But you need to find a lodge with air conditioning because the days would be really hot.
Many National Parks in India Close During the Monsoon
Not all, but many national parks in India are closed to the tourists during the monsoon. So do check out before you go.
Listen to you Guide, Naturalist and Driver
You forest guide and driver go to the forest daily. Chances are they live in the nearby village in close proximity to the jungle since they were a baby! They know about the forest much more than you do. So when they ask you to keep quiet or make no sudden movements, pay close attention. They have your welfare in mind. Bigger lodges like Taj Safaris have dedicated naturalists for the guests if you chose to avail their services.
The Fun is in the Conversation
The safaris are long and there are periods when nothing much is happening. Talk to the driver and the naturalist, they have stories to tell! Ask them what is their best sighting and see what they have to share. A naturalist told me a tigress charged his jeep when he had two guests with him. He had a tigress running towards them and no space to back the jeep as there were other jeeps behind him! The tigress changed course at the last moment!
Park Rules are to be Followed
You are not allowed to walk in the jungle, you can’t get down from the jeep, period. Smoking inside the jungle is an offence. You cannot play music inside the jungle. And why on earth would anyone want to do all of these inside a jungle? When your guide says no, it means no and there is a reason for it.
Your Lodge is Close to the Jungle, Pay Attention
The lodges are close to the jungle, in the buffer areas! Animals do not know the difference. When the lodge staff asks you not to go out at night, they are talking sense. If you wish to play loud music, the forest vacation is not for you.
Safaris mean Getting Up in the Mornings too
The animals move in the cooler hours. They still follow the sun. So if you wish to go on the morning safari you need to wake up at an insanely early hour and be at the park gate at 5.30 am!
There is so much to the forest that is new to us, if we care to look beyond the tigers. Just poke your nose around, while firmly seated in the jeep and ask questions. The forest may reveal a lot of secrets through your guides and naturalists!
Do Not Litter
This one is pretty obvious, I may not even state it but sometimes we need to, particularly in India.
You Can’t Get Down from the Jeep
It is the rule of the park, you can’t get down from the jeep, other than at the designated areas. It is for your own safety.
There is no Offroading in Indian Parks
The tiger might be hiding just off the road but the vehicles can’t leave the designated path. That is a rule and the vehicles will follow it or they will get fined or worse impounded for the season.
Dress in Colors that Blend with the Jungle
This is another obvious one, though we may not have clothes like the people who work in the forest. But still, try to blend in. Strong perfumes are a no.
Arguing with Your Guide will Not Lead to Tiger Sighting
Have you been with a group in your jeep or canter which argued with the guides and the jeep driver because they didn’t see a tiger? It leads to unhappiness all around. Go back to the start of the article, you are not visiting a zoo! There is no guarantee of a tiger sighting and arguing with your guide will not produce a tiger out of the thin air!
Jungles are Away from Supply Lines
If your favorite brand of cheese is not available at the fancy lodge you are staying, please remember the lodges are far away from the supply lines.
In the Jungle there are Bugs
In the jungle there are bugs and they try to enter the lodge rooms too. So be prepared to find a few at close quarters. It is possible you may sight a snake silently moving away. In other words, be careful of your surroundings.
Be Happy with What You Saw
So what if you didn’t see a tiger, come back for another safari and your luck might change. And in the meanwhile enjoy the flora and fauna you actually saw!
Enjoy the Fresh Air
If you live in a big Indian city, just enjoy the fresh air, we can’t get it for love or money in the polluted city!
I am aware that most of you already know what I am talking about. But this is on an off chance that someone who actually needs to read this will read it too! Go and enjoy your tiger/jungle safari. And don’t stop at one, go back to the jungle. Be the guest that guides will love to have in their jeep.
When the alarm went off at 4.30 am I groaned, it could not be 4.30 already! However as we were traveling in a group, I got up somehow and stumbled down on time to go to the Kudumbigala Monastery and Kumana National Park near Ampara in Eastern Sri Lanka.
I am not a morning person. Given a choice I will never wake up early in the morning. I am grumpy to the core when I am out at an early hour. Even the elephant sighting right by the road at Kuamana National Park did not wake me up completely.
But it was the view from the Kudumbigala Monastery hillock that did the trick, suddenly the day turned magical. I was no longer grumpy. It was worth getting out at 5.00 am just for this view.
After returning from the small hike to the Kudumbigala Monastery we sat in our jeep in shade. A green bee eater gave us company. In the shade it was almost pleasant! As we had gone for the hike the day was getting hot. I was wondering about the sightings on our jeep safari. Wild animals do not like heat but there was no other way to fit in both, the monastery and the park, in the same morning.
I love going to the jungle, I love the feel of the jungle. If I get to see big game I consider it a bonus. Otherwise I am happy birding. Kumana National Park has a large number of water bodies, which adds to its bird population and its charm.
As the day was getting hot, big game went hiding. However, there was plenty to enjoy if you love the jungle. This monitor lizard was happily sitting in the sun, probably without a care in the world!
Kumana National Park is full of birds. I saw a lot more than I could capture and there were still more in the park which we couldn’t even see properly. I would see a flash of red or yellow but it would be gone before I could blink let alone ask my guide about it.
There is a watch tower within the park. It is a designated area where we could get out of our vehicles. By now a few of my group mates were dozing off, this break woke us all up!
Kumana National Park has large herds of wild buffaloes. Their horns and whole demeanor looks scary. In spite of seeing so many, I wonder why took this picture of the one standing alone and it has come out the best too!
A strange thing happened on this safari. Because of the early morning start, all my group mates were fast asleep when a group of wild boars crossed our jeep. I have hardly ever seen anyone falling asleep on a jeep safari in a jungle before!
My group mates slept through the antics of the crested hawk eagle too! I guess the guys went to check out a beach party after dinner, whereas I crashed as soon as possible.
I knew I would fall asleep later when we sat in the air-conditioned bus and headed to Batticaloa, our next stop!
PS. I was invited by Cinnamon Hotels Sri Lanka on this trip.
The MD of Chhattisgarh Tourism, Mr. Santosh Misra described Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary ‘as a state of mind.’ I entirely agree with him. I would add that it makes for a very pleasant state of mind!
I got to see Barnawapara as a day trip which is an highly unsatisfactory way to see it. I would love to spend a few days at the Hareli Eco Resort. This is the water body by the resort was where Anuradha Shankaran and I sat for hours in the sun chatting away pleasantly. And even though I have not stayed at the resort I had the key to one of the rooms for the day. Whatever I saw of the room, I liked it.
Right by the waterbody we spotted a common kingfisher, an egret and a few other birds. Monkeys walked past us in a peaceful manner. The sun was out and it felt that all was fine with the world. The cell phone signals drop at Barnawapara and I wonder if it contributes to the feeling of well being!
We traveled to Barnawapara from Sirpur and it is just 17 kilometers away if you know the correct route. Our driver didn’t and we of course had no clue. But we reached at Hareli in the end thought the circuitous route, enjoying the serene drive. When we reached at the resort, it was time for a late breakfast or early lunch. I still remember the delicious aaloo paratha the staff made for us.
We did take a ride within the Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary. It is one of those places which is not crowded, yet. You can also take your own vehicle inside the park. The route we took was small. One of the invariable questions that follow a visit to a wildlife sanctuary is that what did you see?
I would start with this bunch of yellow toed green pigeons. But more than that for me entering a forest in itself is a luxury. I can take deep breaths and inhale only oxygen. In the city if I do the same I end up with a lot of petrol fumes! And when I visit a wildlife sanctuary the more important question to ask is what the other jeep saw? Well, they spotted a sloth bear.
I have been always been in awe of the people who live on the fringes of the jungle. This girl was cycling back to home I guess, on the safari route! I wonder if she has encountered wild animals on the way? I wonder if she gets a little scared at times?
I would say go to Barnawapara if you are looking for a quiet vacation. I would also say go there before it gets crowded.
Have you ever wondered how do they go about tracking a tiger? We were sitting in a jeep deep inside the zone 5 of Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan. This was the zone where in the morning two tiger cubs had been spotted. Above the noise of the the Gypsy I couldn’t hear a thing. Suddenly the driver and Anish said, there was an alarm call of a langoor going on. The driver sprang into action and within no time we are close to the langoor which was giving the call. We could still see nothing. There was no tiger close by. As for scanning the area in front of us, it was vast, it included a nala and a hill as well. There was nothing even remotely resembling a tiger that I could see. All this excitement was happening on the Aircel’s #saveourtigers trip.
The driver, Vinod suddely said, “Woh kya hai?” He followed the gaze of the langoor and located the tiger. Leave me on my own and I would have not heard a thing, much less sight a tiger! All I managed was to botch up the shot when the tiger looked back for a fleeting second.
You have seen the side profile of the same tiger before. When I looked at the pictures I was quite heartbroken, but then I learn another lesson. Earlier, before 2013 when I had not seen a tiger ever, I would often wonder if the signs the guide and the driver look for were of any use. The guide would always get excited about the pug marks. I had seen pug marks on almost every trip,it would just not lead to the tiger. So, after a while I completely stopped getting excited about the pug marks. Remember my first real safari was in 2009 and I saw a tiger in 2013. Now that was a long wait.
Then there was this business of alarm calls. I clearly remember my trip to Kanha. Deer were giving alarm calls like their life depended on it, well hold a minute their life actually depended on it. It was late in the evening, the tiger was taking its own sweet time in coming out in the open and it was the park’s closing time. So alarm calls or no alarm class, we were forced to head back.
When Chhavi and I were at Sariska, the alarm call business was going on again. After a while it stopped. they told me the predatory decided to sit down somewhere in hiding. After all it had no obligation to anyone to come on the road and reveal itself! In Sariska the tigers are collared and yet nothing stops them from sitting deep in the woods rather than close to the tourist jeeps.
But then whenever I have spotted a tiger (a grand total of 4 tigers, managed pictures of two only) alarm calls have played a role. Even pug marks revealed the tiger moment at Pench.
So the next time your jungle experts talk about alarm calls and pug marks, don’t think of them as folklore just because you have not sighted a tiger yet. I have been in both situations where the experts tried to locate it via pug marks, calls etc and when they are collared. In the collared case, all the guide did was to make phone calls to various people who had tracking devices. I think the alarm call, pug mark way is much more fun. And remember as Anish says “a guaranteed tiger sighting is only possible in a zoo.” Now tracking a tiger is altogether a different game!
PS. Bhagte Tiger Ke Punch Hi Sahi means just managed to catch the vanishing tail of the tiger.