It is safe to say that the moment someone talks about a safari, for most of us, the first instinct is to think of Africa.
Whether it is the Masai Mara in Kenya or the gorgeous Serengeti of Tanzania, with the abundance of wildlife that the region boasts of, an African safari is surely on most of our bucket lists!
But what if I tell you that you can have a remarkable safari experience in the land that will never fail to mystify you! Known for its diversity, across religions, cultures, languages and even terrains, India has it all. From beaches, metro cities, mountains, deserts to lush green jungles, you name it, and you’ll find it.
With more than 20 out of 29 states being home to incredible species of flora and fauna, it is certainly perplexing to choose where to meet and greet the wild beasts. Though every national park in India offers its own unique experiences, we recommend the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) for getting up close and personal with the striped beauties. Located in central India, this state is plentiful with National Parks and tiger reserves, offering you just the amount of thrill that you seek.
With Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, and Panna national parks in MP and a little bit of luck up your sleeve, you are sure to catch a glimpse of the tiger! However, if paying a visit to the king of the jungle is on your agenda, Gir Wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat is your best pick!
We had the pleasure of visiting Kanha National Park a few months ago, and woah, what an adventure it was. Having booked our experience with Taj Safaris, we knew we were in for a luxurious rendezvous with the wild. Well, let’s keep our stay at the Taj Banjaar Tola, Kanha for another time.
So nestled in our luxury lodge amidst the Kanha buffer zone, we were all set for the first thing on our itinerary – an early morning bird watching walk in the core area of Kanha National park. (Check out which birds we spotted here.) On a freezing December morning, before the sun rose to wake the world, off we were with our naturalist, Varun Mani to explore the jungle on foot.
In no time, we found ourselves being over shadowed by gorgeous, tall Sal trees as if fiercely protecting the entire territory. Varun handed us binoculars to start bird spotting and as much as I was already in love with nature and its creations, I never knew I had a hidden fascination for aerial species in particular! Walking our way into the jungle, happily trying to spot feathered creatures, every time Varun would say ‘good spotting’ we would each gleam like an 8-year-old whose just earned a star in his notebook! Both of us were on an unspoken competition of who gets more stars. Having said that, I am going to admit, that though Pushki was better at spotting the birds, I surpassed him in spotting humongous spiders!
As repulsive as I thought spiders were, we were in awe seeing how beautiful symbiotic relationships can be – how the spiders weave a geometrically perfect web and how high up and massive those webs are!
Did I tell you we spotted freshly wriggled-out-of snake-skin as well? (No, I was not looking forward to that one.)
On our little adventure we saw massive termite hills, learnt about crocodile bark trees, sal borers, strangler trees and much more. And just when we were in our happy zone admiring the beauty of mother earth, suddenly we heard monkey calls from around us.
To give you hindsight, these are the calls that moneys make to alert the other unsuspecting animals of a tiger’s presence in the vicinity.
And we were on foot.
And boy, he was close.
Standing still, waiting for the tiger to cross our paths, and wondering whether to run or just stand and stare –were by far, the longest 10 minutes of our lives. As luck would have it (good or bad, I’m not too sure), we didn’t see him. Though we did see fresh paw prints very close on our path. And this was the trailer to the much awaited safari!
The same afternoon we were booked for a safari and like every other person, we wished to get up, close and personal with the big cat. Turns out, this was not our day. Disappointing, huh? But hey, hang on… We had another safari coming right up!
The following day, having woken up at 04:00 AM, refusing to let go off the warmth of our bed on yet another chilly morning, my only birthday wish was to finally see the tiger. So we set off in our jeep once again, hot water bags keeping our hands warm, taking in the scent of the early morning dew, we brushed past the gates and were greeted by a timid family of spotted dears and barasinghas (also known as ground swamp deer). ‘Barasingha’ translates to ’12 horns’ in English and is the name coined for the endangered 12 horned deer found in Kanha.
One and a half hours into the safari, we spotted a pair of jackals, peacocks running around, a wild dog bravely sitting in the middle of the track, wild boars and sambar deers, but no sight of the tiger.
Just when I thought we’re not lucky enough, with no alarm calls and therefore no anticipation, there HE was…
Relaxing in the middle of our path…right in front… offering clear, unobstructed views up close. In no hurry to disappear between the dense vegetation, we saw Chhota Munna (as they fondly call him) scent-marking trees, somersaulting in the mud and finally walking away after losing interest in our boring faces.
We found out later that, that day out of all jeeps that visited the Mukki zone of Kanha for a safari (approximately 30) we were the only lucky ones to get a sighting. The trepidation while he was in front of us, the pride we wore on our faces all day and the joy that was so evident, is indescribable. What a perfect birthday treat that was for me.
We came back as evolved individuals – more aware and educated of the wild, sensitive to the dwindling population of wildlife and more appreciative of the wonder that is nature. They say, if a holiday leaves a strong impact, it’s surely done right!
So, just take our word, and head on to India for a safari before the endangered become extinct.
Have you had a safari experience in India? Where did you go? What did you see? Did you get to meet the big cat? Tell us in the comments below!
Up next: Sometimes a misconception is so well-etched in our minds that often one doesn’t feel the need to verify facts. Acting upon one such misconception, we travelled all the way to Santorini, expecting something and surprised to find something else instead. Only to realise how foolish we were to not have Googled the meaning of this one simple 7-letter word. Any guesses, guys?