…to see the Bengal Tigers in 2006. And, I really think that was a wonderful intro to safari experience for many reasons. Firstly, the tigers are going extinct so there was some pressure to see them sooner than later. It was said they will be gone by 2025. (I hope that that number has changed). Secondly, it is much more reasonable in India than in Southern Africa, for example. Thirdly, it is a nice break from the frenzy that is India and allows you to recharge before returning to the chaos.
I poured through sources to choose which park to go to and decided on Bandavgarh in Madhiya Pradesh for 3 nights. I chose this park because apparently the viewing landscape is better, they have a larger population of tigers than other parks and you can ride elephant into the brush to get an up close and personal sighting. By the way, while we were there Discovery Channel was in one of the other jeeps in the park recording and photographing, so I think we chose well! My companion for the trip kept shouting at them “Mine is bigger!” (he meant his camera… and it was smaller).
We took a train from Agra to Umaria. You can also fly nearby which should be pretty reasonable if you don’t want to do the trains. Although, I will say that the trains alone are a trip and a half. Being in close quarters with the locals was something I will never forget and while it was super intimidating in the beginning and gross at times, I grew to absolutely love it and wouldn’t have done it differently. But, I do disclaim that it is not for the weak of heart.
There should have been a car waiting for us upon arrival but they no-showed. So, there we were looking around like fools wondering what to do. Luckily, there was a local bus with chickens on top and they were beckoning to us. We asked “Tiger’s Den Bandavgahr?” they just bobbled their heads and waved for us to get on. We threw our bags on top of the bus, next to the chickens, and got in. Everyone stared at us like we were from Mars (this is normal in India– they stare and it’s not meant to be rude, it just is). While we wondered if we were headed in the right direction.
At some point they motioned to us, pulled over, threw the bags down from the roof and we clambered out of the bus. There, miraculously, was a sign pointing to Tiger’s Den. Now, of course we could have been pissed that the car didn’t come. But, the point of India is to know that things will always happen as they do and nothing will change that. (Plus, I love the fact that I have literally ridden a chicken bus.)
Upon entry they brought us some nice wet, fragranced cloths to clean the road off and a refreshment while the footmen took our bags off to our cabin for us. The place is wide open grounds with little cabins and the 2 main structures that house the kitchen, dining room and reception. It is located just next to the park so at ride times we can be among the first in the park to get good spots and intel.
The huts were clean if a bit basic. We sat outside on our little patio with our duty-free vodka and mixers and waited for the afternoon ride. Meals and safari rides are included typically in lodges but alcohol is extra, so we planned ahead. (Also, keep in mind that alcohol is highly taxed in India so if you like your libations I recommend that you buy in duty free for your voyage).
Our first run: We climbed into the back of a jeep-like vehicle with our hats, bandanas to cover our mouths and cameras in hand. There was a driver and a naturist in the vehicle. We entered the park and they explained every tree, every leaf, every monkey, it was like a national geographic episode. The drivers had walkies to keep in contact with other drivers and there are guards that walk the park at night and throughout the day to keep track of the tigers and protect them from potential poachers. As a result, they had a pretty good idea of where they were or at least in what vicinities.
The safari itself is a lot of driving around, searching and waiting. We are waiting for (at least) one of these cats to poke it’s little head out and dance for us. And, that is at the cats discretion so you can imagine… We were very lucky that we saw tigers multiple times. We chose our time of trip to India based on the tiger viewing and we were rewarded accordingly. And what made it even more likely is the fact that in Bandavgahr the park works together with an elephant tribe and their humans. So, when a tiger is spotted we can go into the brush on elephant in order to get closer and see the tiger clearly. *I have to point out that the ability to get off road on safari is key. If you have to stay on road for rides then your chances of animal sightings are much, much slimmer and very challenging.
The next morning, before even the birds opened their eyes, they woke us with some tea and biscuits in our rooms. We brushed our teeth and jumped in the jeep. A full breakfast was served upon return from our game ride. Then, we napped, woke up and hung out played games, talked with our neighbors and had some day drinks until the early evening ride. There is lunch served as well.
Overall, I absolutely loved our Indian Safari. It was very reasonable, ~$100 per person per day, including 2 rides daily into the park and all meals and a wake up coffee/tea with biscuits pre-rides in the AM, and laundry! (which we believe they cleaned in the river because there were some rocks in the pockets. I think that’s so cool and they were spotless so don’t judge) The elephant rides were extra and paid directly to the tribesmen. The cottages were clean, the air conditioning and fan worked and the shower functioned as well. The owner was very personable and the food was delicious.
A note on the elephants: There is a lot of controversy regarding the riding of elephants for commercial tourism. These particular elephants live their entire lives with this tribe and have for generations. They are not hit, are fed well, have their families with them. We actually went to their camp to feed them and hang out with them. There was an older elephant that was blind and they couldn’t ride her anymore but they still fed her and cared for her, so that to me says it all.
Tips to Bring With:
- Bug spray, full chemical versions
- Bandana to cover mouth from dust when in park
- Hat for sun blockage, with a tie to keep it on
- Good camera for moving shots
- Sun Block
- Alcohol (if you imbibe)
- Patience and an open mind
Tips for Safari:
- Choose a lodge located near the park entrance
- Be prepared to amuse yourself in between game rides
- Expect and understand that actually seeing the tiger (or animal in question) is not a guaranteed. You will be waiting and driving around praying to the Safari Gods for sightings.
- Plan your trip for the proper season!!! You want the brush low and low water levels, normally end of the summer season. We went in March & it was perfect.
- This one looks nice, if I go back I think I would stay here-http://www.natureheritageresort.com/
- I stayed at this one and it fit the bill but a pool would have been welcome–http://tigerdenbandhavgarh.com/
- For answers to any possible question on India– http://www.indiamike.com/
- National Parks India– http://www.nationalparksindia.com/