India wildlife tours and safaris
An Indian wildlife tour may surprise you. You'll see far more than just the amazing Bengal tiger on your travels through India’s many jungles and forests. In fact, you can meet all the characters from the Jungle Book in real life, whether it is leopard, bear, many forms of deer, fantastic birdlife, rhino, wild elephants, bison and even Asiatic lion – in some ways the variety on offer rivals that of an African safari.
India has a multitude of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries where you can see the many of these species and also experience India’s stunning landscapes and rural heartlands along with its magical culture. In recent years, a range of luxury safari lodges have opened in many of the parks ensuring your wildlife experience is taken to the next level. Obviously many guests love to see a tiger in the wild on safari, yet hopefully this little guide helps to show that India has a wealth of other wildlife that share its forests and jungles, ensuring your luxury safari in India is enjoyable from start to finish.
When is the best time to visit India’s national parks?
Almost all the parks are closed during the summer monsoon, which lasts from July to the end of September, and most parks reopen in October. The monsoon rains ensure the forests renew themselves, meaning it is slightly harder to see the wildlife through the denser green foliage. During the winter months from December to February, it can get pretty cold at night, and especially on early morning game drives, so it is best to come fully prepared. As you move into the spring, the lush vegetation dies away and the sightings get better and better, as you can see further into the undergrowth. From April to June, the temperatures rise, and wildlife is generally brought out to watering holes, ensuring that you see more, yet do remember it gets really rather hot during the middle of the day.
What wildlife is on offer?
The range of wildlife varies slightly from park to park (see the detailed descriptions below), but overall variety on offer is pretty spectacular – and as we always say, it is not just about the tiger! As well as tiger, you can see leopard, Asiatic lion (in Gujarat), deer, wolves, bear, crocodiles, wild dog, monkey, rhino (in Assam), buffalo, wild elephant (southern India) and a huge variety of birdlife.
Rajasthan (Ranthambore & Aravalli Hills)
Ranthambore is possibly the park which is most convenient to include on a vacation to India, with superb tiger sightings on offer and a collection of excellent luxury wildlife lodges. It takes about five hours to get to Ranthambore from Agra (where you can see the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur (the capital of Rajasthan) and can also be combined with other highlights of Rajasthan. The park is exceptionally beautiful, with a historic fortress standing within the park. Tiger numbers have increased slowly since 1973 when it became a National Park, and some tigers are now being moved to other parks such as Sariska, in the hope these parks that once were home to tigers can once again breed a new tiger population. Ranthambore has some superb accommodation options from the luxury tented camps of Aman-i-Khas, Sher Bagh and Oberoi Vanyavilas, to the boutique Khem Vilas. We have a wonderful suggested itinerary – Introduction to India – which includes the classic Golden Triangle and a visit to Ranthambore National Park. This park is possibly the best choice to visit if traveling with the family on a tiger safari.
For guests who just want to see leopard, maybe on a tour of Rajasthan, then consider stopping for a few nights at Jawai Leopard Camp from which leopard is often seen close to the lodge and is located midway between Udaipur and Jodhpur.
The Central Parks (Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Gir, Satpura and Pench)
The Central Parks were the inspirations behind Kipling’s Jungle Book and given their location, these parks receive fewer visitors than Ranthambore. In recent years, a number of new flight routes have made it easier to access the parks, to Nagpur, Jabalpur or Khajuraho. In contrast to Ranthambore you can have your own specialist naturalist to accompany you into the park on a private basis. See our Tigers in Style itinerary for those wanting to experience the Taj Safaris/&Beyond Lodges or our Tiger Safari with Boutique Hotels if you like smaller, more intimate places to stay.
Panna National Park is located close to the amazing temples of Khajuraho and is famous for its dramatic landscapes. A few tigers were relocated here in the past five years and it has two superb lodges, Pashan Garh and the Serai at Torea. Well known for its crocodiles and leopard.
Bandhavgarh National Park is around five hours from Panna and the same to Kanha National Park, and around a three hour drive from Jabalpur Airport with has flights from Delhi and Mumbai. The park is the most undulating of all the parks in Madhya Pradesh and a visit to the top of Bandhavgarh Fort provides guests with superb views. Famous for its large tiger population, it also contains a sizable leopard population. Small numbers of Gaur (Indian Bison) were reintroduced from Kanha a few years ago. The superb Mahua Kothi is the place to stay.
Kanha National Park is to the south of Bandhavgarh and is one of the largest in India, notable for wide open meadows where large groups of deer feed. Naturally due to the large deer population, you find tiger and leopard in good numbers. You can also see number of gaur and with opportunities to spot sloth bear and wild dog. There are two main gates to enter Kanha, the busier is called Kisli where you find the superb Flame of the Forest Lodge, whilst the southern gate is called Mukki where you find Banjaar Tola and Shergarh Lodges.
Pench National Park is located to the west of Kanha (about a four hour drive away) and around two hours north of Nagpur where you have an airport with connections to many corners of India, making Pench the most accessible of the Central Indian Parks. It became famous as the park where the BBC’s ‘Spy in the Jungle’ was filmed, and also as the inspiration for Kipling’s Jungle Book. Pench is characterized with rolling teak forested hills leading to the Pench River which runs through the park. The tiger population is growing, and its rolling hills are home to a good population of leopard. Baghvan is the best lodge in Pench, but the new Jamtara Wilderness Camp is a superb alternative.
Satpura National Park is located to the north of Pench, and close to the Indian city of Bhopal. It is noted for its craggy terrain and narrow gorges, but especially for its superb walking safaris. Two excellent lodges are located in Satpura; Forsyth Lodge and Reni Pani Lodge.
Sasan Gir National Park can be found in the state of Gujarat and is the only place in India to find the Asiatic Lion. It takes seven hours to get here from Ahmedabad Airport (do think about stay at the House of MG for a night!), but if you want to trump all your friends who have seen lion in Africa, then this is the place to visit. The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest is the best place to stay, although Lion Safari Camp is an alternative boutique option.
The Northern Parks (Corbett & Kazaranga)
These two parks are both suitable if you have a real passion for Indian wildlife. Corbett is located to the north of Delhi in the foothills of the Himalayas. It has a large population of tiger, although sightings are very rare. It is however most famous for the amount of birdlife on offer. It links in nicely with a stay at Ananda in the Himalayas, Shakti Kumaon Village Houses and a longer drive to Shimla. Accommodation though is quite simple.
Kazaranga is located in Assam in north-east India. If you want to see rhino in the wild, then this is the place. There is also a large population of tiger, but sightings are rare due to the long elephant grass and marshland which allows them to conceal themselves rather easily. There are also water buffalo, wild elephant and swamp deer living here and the superb Diphlu Lodge to stay at. Combine with Calcutta, Bhutan, Sikkim or a cruise down the Bramaputra River on the Assam Bengal ships for an adventure to this little visited corner of India.
The Southern Parks (Nagarhole, Bandipur, Periyar)
There are possibly more tigers which live in the Western Ghats, the hills which run like a spine along India’s southern west coast, yet these areas are not as developed as well in terms of tourism as the Central Parks. Nagarhole is possibly the best place to see large cats and is located in Northern Kerala / Southern Karnataka with access from Bangalore, Mysore and Calicut. Two superb lodges are located here, Orange County Kabini and Bison Camp. It is a great place to see wild elephant. Safaris are done in jeeps and also in boats along the Kabini Lake. Bandipur is nearby and again has a shy tiger population – there is a good lodge here called the Serai. Periyar is popular with guests visiting Kerala with easy access from the popular backwaters, Cochin and Munnar. The chances of seeing tiger is very low, but monkey and wild elephant are commonly seen. Do look at our Spice Lands of Northern Kerala which incorporates a wildlife safari in Kerala, or the Essence of Kerala which includes Periyar.
Tour Operators for Tigers (TOFT)
TOFT was originally formed by a group of like-minded Tour Operators, and has now expanded to become a pioneering international campaign to support a more responsible and sustainable approach to tourism in wilderness areas in the Indian Subcontinent. For every guest who travels with Scott Dunn on a tiger safari, we donate £20 per person to TOFT.