Best place to see tigers
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When you look at the locations of tiger reserves in India, still the best place to see tigers in terms of sightings and safari backup, they spread out in a line from the north to the south of the country. It is almost as if these beauties have created their own catwalk stretching through the heart of their habitat. Striding elegantly, slowly and coolly centre stage, through all the mayhem of human existence. Fans may argue over whether the lion or the tiger is the king of the jungle, but when you see just how much land they cover in India, the tiger is definitely ruling the roost.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh, in Madhya Pradesh state, is often combined with a trip to Delhi and the Taj Mahal. Very dramatic, with much drier landscape than some of the other parks, and a massive rocky outcrop and Bandhavgarh Fort at its core, thought to be 2000 years old. Around these lie eroded rocks and ruins, caves and chasms, home to the whole gamut of gorgeous wildlife.
Tiger safaris are in their infancy here, and so it is essential to travel with a responsible tourism operator who combines the explorative hikes into the Jigme Singe Wanchuck NP with other remote densely forested mountain regions of this untouched country. It is also important to note that there is approximately only a 5% chance of seeing tigers, so be prepared for the fact that sightings are rare in Bhutan, although there is a wealth of other wildlife.
Corbett National Park (India)
This is the first born, really, as Indiaís first national park, created in 1936, and where Indira Gandhiís Project Tiger began in the seventies. Set in the Himalayan foothills, it has extreme mountain temperatures, so be prepared to wrap up in winter and sizzle in summer. The Ramganga River adds to its biodiverse beauty, creating a landscape fecund with other fauna such as leopard, elephants, crocodile, sloth and black bears, as well as over 500 species of birds.
Kanha National Park
Bang in the middle of India, in Madhya Pradesh, this is a natural concoction of grassy plateaus, open misty plains and bamboo forests. About a hundred tigers live here and, along with the leopard, rule the roost as the main predator. The forests are also habitat for the rare swamp deer as well as the sambhar, chital, monkeys and mongoose. A family favourite, this is one of the safari locations where you can camp.
Although sightings of tigers are less common than in India, you are able to explore Chitwan and Bardia National Parks on foot and also via canoe, as well as by jeep. Chitwan is located only half a day from Kathmandu and is also known for its populations of leopards, sloth bears and over 500 one-horned rhinos. Bardia is located in a more remote area of western Nepal, so you will need your explorer hat on.
Panna National Park
With the Ken River running through it this park, in Madhya Pradesh state, is peppered with prettiness. With ancient rock paintings, ruins from the Gondwana period, acacia trees with omnipresent birds, a different species at every turn, this park is a stunning place to stay. Take a boat trip on the river, or a night safari where you have a better chance to spot tigers which are, sadly, much rarer here than in other parks.
Pench National Park
Although not so well known for its tiger safaris, it is the park that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book. It is often offered as an optional extra on tiger safaris, as the tigers are less visible here, but leopard do come out to play. You will forget about all your worries and strife here though when you take in the bird populations, with over 250 species thriving at the parkís reservoir.
Ranthambhore National Park
Donít just tie this onto the end of a trip to Indiaís Golden Triangle. Located in Rajasthan, with its magical mixture of Bengal Tigers and Baloo style sloth bears, tropical forest and ruined temples, this is not a place to hurry round. Although famous, it isnít a zoo with tigers at every turn. Itís a wonderful wildlife wilderness, now highly protected, compared with its history as the private hunting ground of the Maharaja of Jaipur.
You will need a big tiger in your tank to make it to this remote part of Russia. Travel with a responsible operator and the rewards will be great, being early explorers into the taiga forest of far eastern Siberia & Amur. Home to 400 Siberian tigers and many Amur leopards, these are still the rarest big cats in the world, therefore sightings are low, which is why tracking them is an important part of this trip.
Shared between India and Bangladesh, this extraordinary landscape is the largest mangrove forest in the world and one where you can be lucky enough to see tigers from the water. There are approximately 500 of them living in the tangled web of roots and branches here. There is also a plethora of primates, crocodiles, Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins to be seen here too. An Attenborough-esque adventure if ever there was one.
Tadoba National Park
Located in the Maharashtra state of central India, you are jumping right off the well-trodden tourist track here. Also known as Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, it was named after the god "Tadoba" or "Taru", worshipped by tribal people living in the regionís dense forests and around its eponymous Andhari River. These people still live here and several are now being trained as naturalists and field guides for tourists coming to see their sacred place.
Where to watch tigers
RESPONSIBLETRAVEL.COM'S SUPPLIERS RECOMMEND
Paul Goldstein , top tiger safari guide and expert at one of our leading suppliers, Exodus:
ďThe best parks for seeing tigers are Ranthambore, Karna, Bandhavgarh and Tadoba. For tiger safaris, it is important to give yourself more time in one or two places than just a tour that ticks of four or five reserves, because there are big distances between them. Also, be prepared for appalling bureaucracy in the parks. You just have to be patient. Most importantly, itís about moments. It might just be one moment as a tiger walks through a beam of light and then looks straight through you. Itís not just about chalking off six of them.ď
Shanane Davis, Director of our supplier, True Luxury Tours, specialising in Rajasthan:
ďWe have the only privately owned wildlife sanctuary in India as all the sanctuaries were nationalised. We are also offer, unusually, walking safaris as well as night safaris, so it is similar to safaris in Africa. You can see the animals up close on foot during the morning, and then at night by jeep. We also have the highest number of Asian wild cats in the country, as we have brought back the numbers ourselves, so we are proud of that. For other wildlife seekers, I highly recommend Pench and Tadoba National Parks where they have tight controls over the numbers of jeeps allowed in per day, and they donít have minibuses like in Ranthambhore. The mangrove forests of the Sunderbans are also amazing of course.Ē
Julian Matthews, founder and chair of tourism action charity Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFTigers) and Tiger Nation, both aiming to use tourism to support tiger conservation more effectively:
"Really, tiger tourism only exists in Nepal and India. Unless you are an avid adventurer, you could go to Siberia or Malaysia, but chances of catching a glimpse are small. Mind you, thirty years ago that is what India was like, with tigers being wholly nocturnal, being hunted and under pressure from grazers and agricultural practices. The reality today is that because tigers borne in tourism zones do not now have these human disturbance pressures, they are now diurnal, and habituated to the jeeps and guards that are a part of their daily landscape. There are now 47 tiger reserves in India, but 98 percent of visitors go to fewer than ten of them, the most well-known ones. These well visited reserves have the key source populations of tigers, and indeed many are now Ďtoo fullí of tigers, and more land is needed to be restored to cope with the tiger overflow, a major conservation headache to the Forest Ministry."