With the dwindling population of tigers all over the world, there has been a renewed focus on the conservation of this magnificent animal. India has taken a giant stride towards this with the formation of Project Tiger, a pioneering effort by the government of India in 1973. The mission of the project was to ensure a viable population of Bengal tigers living in their indigenous habitats and also to protect them so that they do not go extinct.
While the tiger population in the country has dramatically dwindled from what is was at the turn of the 20th century, the success of the project has ensured that at the moment there are at least 2226 tigers in the country, and hopefully the decline has been arrested.
With the widespread publicity of the danger the tigers have been facing and the very limited viewing opportunity available in urban zoos, many adventurous tourists are engaging in tiger safaris in the large number of tiger reserves that have been established. Some of the best places to get up and close with the legendary Royal Bengal Tiger are:
TadobaNational Park, Maharashtra
Despite having a relatively low profile in comparison to its more publicized contemporaries, Taboda, or the Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve, as it is officially called, offers tourists some of the best opportunities in the country to spot the magnificent tigers in their natural habitats. The park is located in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra that is easily accessible fromNagpur. Despite the protected area being quite expansive, it is relatively easy for the tigers to be spotted because not only is the tiger population quite large but also the vegetation and the topography makes it more favorable.
The best time for spotting the striped beasts is in the summer when the large tracts of grasslands and bamboo thickets dry up. During this season, the tigers also naturally congregate at the many watering holes as well as the famous Tadoba Lake. Tourists can see the entire reserve all-round the year, except in the monsoon when you need to stick to the main roads only.
Apart from tigers, the reserve provides exciting opportunities for spotting the Indian leopard, hyenas, sloth bears, jungle cats, as well as a great assortment of the deer family like chital, barking deer, four-horned antelopes, spotted deer, sambar, etc. There is also over 195 varieties of birds and an astonishing 74 species of butterflies for visitors to revel in. The variety of vegetation is enormous, and the changing colors during the various seasons are a great delight to behold.
KanhaNational Park, Madhya Pradesh
After you’ve had your fill of Tadoba, you can head to the Kanha National Park that too has quite a good reputation for tiger-sightings. The park sprawls across the Mekal Range’s central highlands covering a mammoth 940 km2. If you are patient and have good fortune it is possible to spot tigers basking in the mellow winter sun or coming out to lap water from forest streams.
The pristine forest of sal trees and large undulating grassy meadows are the perfect habitat for a large variety of deer such as the Indian Gaur, the Barasingha, spotted deer, barking deer, sambhar, swamp deer as well as the four-horned deer. Other common denizens of the forests include reptiles like cobras, rat snakes, pythons, kraits, vipers as well as grass snakes while every now and then turtles can be sighted. The thick forests are ideal habitats for a large number of bird species, as well as insect life that come to life during the monsoons.
SatpuraNational Park, Madhya Pradesh
Situated in the central highlands of Madhya Pradesh, the Satpura National Park is among the newer tiger reserves and thus remains largely unknown in the traditional tourist circuits. Covering an area of 524 sq. km., the park is home to a large number of tigers and leopards that find the dense forest cover much to their liking as it is easier for them to mark out their own territories. Since the tourist traffic is still relatively less, and the intrusion of human beings almost negligible, the animals roam about quite freely.
The best time for tiger-spotting is in the summer as the otherwise lush vegetation dries up, and the tigers come more often to the watering holes. The sight of these magnificent beasts swimming languidly in the waters of the Sonbhadra River can leave you completely spellbound. Among the other wildlife that can be seen are hyenas, wild boars, bears, foxes, wild dogs, porcupines, black bucks, mouse deer, barking deer, sambhar, chital, chinkara, gaur, and flying squirrels.