India is a wonderfully rich place to visit for wildlife and there are an ever-increasing number of places to visit, whether it’s birds or tigers there’s plenty to see. But from experience to get the most from your visit a bit of forward planning can pay dividends and leave you with some truly wonderful memories and not disappointed.
Here are 12 top tips for wildlife trips to India that might help if you’re thinking about visiting either as part of a cultural/wildlife or purely wildlife tour. More details of the most recent trip to three of central Indian tiger reserves can be found at our wildlife photography blog.
1. This can be applied to any wildlife trip but particularly in India and Tigers:- travel with an open mind and look at the broader picture and avoid the trap of focusing on just the one species you could end up being very disappointed and miss so much. If it’s a close up view of a tiger that’s your only priority visit a zoo.
2. Spend a realistic amount of time looking, if you’re planning to visit a particular reserve don’t expect to see everything on your first drive, 5 or 6 drives in most places will produce some excellent results and give you time to see so much more, unless you really unlucky.
3. Do take the time to do your research, as some of the reserves have a reputation built up over a long time, but situations change. Some years ago I visited one of the most famous reserves but due to a recent period of extensive poaching at the time saw only a pug mark over the four days. So it’s worth spending time looking at recent comments on sites like trip advisor.
4. Look a reserves off the normal tourist routes, for example I recently visited Tadoba reserve, away for the traditional reserves of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh but with the four top species of the area still not too shy of visitors. So in the five drives I had multiple sightings of Dholes, Tiger, Leopards and Sloth bear
5. It pays to speak to your guide/driver about getting to the front of the queues in the morning as much of the wildlife will still be close to the tracks that they use as corridors at night, not so in the afternoon as much of the fauna is sheltering from the heat of the day.
6. On a purely practical note, as India has a closed currency, at the airport when changing your cash ask for smaller denominations, I managed to get lots 100 notes, very useful when tipping the park guides.
7. Check out where in relation to the reserves gate the accommodation is, at Tadoba for example it was within walking distance and surrounded by the buffer zone. At other reserves, large villages/towns have grown up around them and if you are looking for a quieter more relaxing stay when you’re not out on drives a little further away might pay off. Despite having to get up a little earlier in the morning a good example is the Flame of the forest at Kanha about ten minutes out of town but set on a bend in the river with wonderful views, total peace and quiet and wildlife on the doorstep.
8. Pick the right time of year to go, some reserves close in the monsoon but when they open after the monsoons the jungles are very lush and green with plenty of water so wildlife is both difficult to spot and will be spread over hundreds of miles. The time leading up to the monsoon period, March, April and May when the vegetation has died back, water is scarce and the wildlife both predators and prey gather in more focused areas around water holes. Also, check if the reserve is closed any day in the week if so this is a good day to travel to your next reserve. Opening times of reserves are not always the same during the week so once again check out these details.
9. If funds permit and you can organize a private jeep as opposed to shared, you will definitely have a better experience in the reserves and if you are a keen photographer a much better set of images on your return.
10. If you do come across a tiger or leopard remember these wonderful creatures are about seeing them in their natural habitat, don’t just go for the camera, it will be more memorable if you take in the whole experience and watch how they behave and interact, especially if it is the first time you have seen one in the wild
11. Avoid weekends and holidays. Reserves and parks that are close to cities fill up at weekend and major holidays and you can end up sitting in rows of jeeps waiting for something to turn up and if something does appear it can be “ a free for all” to get the best view, also lodges tend to fill up, the best bet is to do your travelling at weekends and avoid holidays
12. Dress comfortably you will spend a long time sitting in a jeep so wear comfortable loose clothing in neutral earthy colours. Avoid white and any bright colours, also some dark colours seem to attract biting insects. A scarf is very useful to protect you from breathing in the dust and can provide protection from the sun. Depending on the time of year, you visit wear some layers of clothing as early morning drives can be cold especially travelling in open vehicles. Although many vehicles from the lodges provide bottled water for the drives, it is always a good idea to take some along.