Planning any holiday is all about getting the details right. Even more so, when it comes to a wildlife holiday, which requires any traveller to keep a close eye on a range of factors, including seasonal changes and incumbent weather. Whether you are travelling solo or with a group, it helps to do your research before signing up for a safari. Madhya Pradesh, in particular, has a high density of wild birds and animals, apart from just the Royal Bengal Tiger population, in its national parks and forest reserves. Anyone who is not a veteran of the wildlife circuit might be justified in feeling overwhelmed at the options available.
The following, therefore, is a guide to simplify your planning. Before your safari vacation to M.P. or any other popular wildlife destination in the country, be sure to keep these points in mind:
The best time for sightings in national parks is during the summer months (April-early June). This is when the grassland is dry and the foliage is at its thinnest and spotting predators, big cats or even other animals when they are out and about is easier. However, this is also the hottest time of the year (temperatures can go up to 40 degrees in peak summer) and an afternoon safari sun is rather uncomfortable. Morning safaris are optimal during the summer; the cool temperatures prompt tigers and other animals to wander out of hiding, especially in search of water.
Sanctuaries and national parks are closed during the monsoon (July-September), though it is advisable to check the exact dates as they vary by park. While post monsoons are not the ideal time for sightings, it is a great time to experience the jungle in all its glory and perhaps hone your birding skills.
There are 103 National Parks in India of which 50 are tiger reserves. Almost 70 per cent of the world’s tigers are in India with 13 per cent of them in Madhya Pradesh itself, based on 2015 reports of the tiger population in India. For first-time travellers, the best thing to do is to choose a national park that’s closest to their home. However, the more experienced travellers would do well to move beyond the usual suspects and try a new park, from spotting the famous One-Horned Rhinoceros in Kaziranga, Assam to the Sloth Bear in Satpura, Madhya Pradesh.
Madhya Pradesh has nine national parks and six tiger sanctuaries. If it is your first time on a wildlife safari, start with a more popular park with a higher density of tigers and other animals as these usually have different safari packages to choose from, including accommodation and jeeps. Bandhavgarh National Park, which has the highest density of tigers in the world, or Pench National Park, the source of inspiration for The Jungle Book, are both picturesque parks to start your safari adventures. Panna National Park which is less than three hours from Khajuraho in northern M.P. is another great option, especially if you want to combine a little heritage with a wildlife holiday. If you are with family and travelling to a more remote park is difficult, Van Vihar in the heart of Bhopal is a lovely albeit small sanctuary that offers jeep safaris as well as bicycles on hire.
Major national parks typically have a range of options, from luxury resorts to eco-lodges and even the occasional homestay. States like Madhya Pradesh, which have a high focus on wildlife tourism also have a number of State Tourism Safari Lodges which not only offer good value for money but are at excellent locations in popular parks like Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench, as well as in lesser-known safari destinations such as Satpura, Panna and Sanjay-Dubri National Park.
It is a 160 km/4 hr drive from the closest airport at Jabalpur. The closest railheads are at Jabalpur (160 km/4 hr) and Raipur (200 km/approx. 5 hr) by road.
MP Tourism Baghira Jungle Resort (Doubles from Rs4,990, inclusive of all meals; for bookings contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 7649277244)
It is a 160 km/4 hr drive from the closest airport at Jabalpur. The closest railheads are at Jabalpur (170 km/4 hr) and Katni (95 km/3 hr) by road.
MP Tourism White Tiger Forest Lodge (Doubles from Rs4,490, inclusive of all meals; for bookings contact email@example.com or call 07627-265406)
It is a 120 km/3.5 hr drive from the closest airport at Nagpur. The closest railheads are at Nagpur (95 km/3 hr) and Chhindwara (90 km/3 hr) by road.
Taj Safaris, Baghvan (www.tajsafaris.com; doubles from Rs27,000, inclusive of breakfast; for bookings contact 02266011825)
MP Tourism Kiplings Court (Doubles from Rs4,590, inclusive of breakfast; for bookings contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07695-232830)
It is a 220 km/5.5 hr drive from the closest airport at Bhopal. The closest railheads are at Itarsi (110 km/3 hr) and Chhindwara (130 km/3 hr) by road.
Forsyth Lodge (forsythlodge.com; cottages from Rs22,000, inclusive of all meals; for bookings contact email@example.com or call 9810093312)
MP Tourism Madhai Bison Resort (Doubles from Rs4,490, inclusive of breakfast; for bookings contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is a 40 km/1 hr drive from the closest airport at Khajuraho. The closest railheads are at Satna (90 km/2.5 hr) and Jhansi (185 km/3 hr) by road.
MP Tourism Madla Jungle Camp (Doubles from Rs2,990, inclusive of breakfast; for bookings contact Jungle-Camp-Madlaemail@example.com)
Hoshner Reporter is a travel and documentary photographer and co-founder of The reDiscovery Project. He is currently working on a long-term project focused on capturing the history and culture of India through its people, festivals and monuments.