How To : Plan a trip

National Parks / Tiger Reserves in India
India is home to 80% of wild tigers in the world. While there are 75 National Parks, 50 of these are notified as Tiger Reserves as well.
While some of the tiger reserves are located in remote areas and in some the tracking and sightings of tigers are difficult due to lack of road network and infrastructure, some of them have become very popular for wildlife lovers and photographers.

  • Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand            
  • Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan
  • Kaziranga National Park in Assam
  • Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh
  • Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh
  • Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh
  • Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra
  • Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh
  • Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra
  • Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka
  • Bandipur National Park in Karnataka
  • Sunderban National Park in West Bengal

Tracking and Sighting of tigers
While one can visit any of these National Parks and enjoy the safaris, we have observed that

  • Tiger sightings vary from park to park and season to season depending on certain natural elements
  • Apart from tiger and other wildlife sightings, the overall enjoyment of a wildlife tour / holiday requires careful advance planning of 3 – 6 months for a more fulfilling experience.

While planning a trip, the following needs to be considered

  • Objective of visit
  • Time of visit
  • Duration of visit
  • Parks zones and safari routes
  • Resident tigers and cubs
  • Park topography and photography
  • Safari management

Objective of visit
First Timers or less demanding : May visit a park with the primary objective to experience the thrill of seeing a tiger. Tadoba, Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh or Nagarhole could be options based on where the person is living or traveling from and the duration of the trip.
Someone touring north India, or living in North India may find Corbett  or Ranthambhore more convenient for a short trip, while someone living or travelling in south may find Nagarhole or Bandipur (or both) an attractive option.
Again, for someone who has failed to see a tiger while visiting one of the parks earlier could be advised to visit Tadoba, where the chances of seeing tigers are almost guaranteed.
Knowledgeable and careful planner : Know exactly what they want from their trip. They are interested in tigers, but also understand that tiger sightings are not guaranteed. They are redy to be disappointed but at the same time they do not wish to miss out on other wildlife.  Some could be interested in elephants ( Corbett, Kaziranga, Nagarhole, Bandipur), Rhinos & Primates(Kaziranga), Sloth bear ( Satpura, Tadoba, , Panna, Ranthambhore), birding (Corbett, Kaziranga, Nagarhole), Wild dogs (Tadoba, Pench, Nagarhole, Bandipur).
Photography Enthusiasts : Need more careful planning about seasonal light, interesting terrain, predictability of wildlife and naturalists who will be able to position the car without being told. Best options are (Corbett, Kaziranga, Ranthambhore, Satpura, Nagarhole).
You may find it interesting that we are not recommending Tadoba for photographers even though it guarantees tiger sighting, has varied wildlife – leopards, sloth bear, wild dogs etc.. the reason for this are two – the terrain is uninteresting and the light is universally harsh through the year. I have never come across a serious wild life photographer visit Tadoba twice.

Time of visit:
Most of the parks open from the 1st of October to the 30th of June.
Preferable time to visit the parks is between November and March, mainly to avoid the summer heat that starts in mid April.
The period between November and March is excellent for photography as the sunlight is golden warm and the foliage is colorful as well.
November – March is the best time for birding as well.
During the summer months (April to June), when the temperature soars  , sighting tigers become relatively easier than it is in winter – spring , but photography enthusiasts need to also consider that :

  • Due to the excessive heat, the tigers become less active, slow and prone to rest in shade or water
  • They keep their mouth open to perspire. Doesn’t look good in picture.
  • The light is too harsh for good quality photography.
  • The tigers change their winter coat (in the north and central Indian parks) which is thick and orangish in winter to summer coat which is lighter and yellow.

Duration of visit
We recommend at least 6 safaris (3 Nights) in a National Park to have a good chance of seeing tigers and 8 safaris (4 Nights)  if you want some good photographs.

Parks Zones and safari routes
Many of the parks are divided into zones to manage safari traffic. Not all zones are wildlife rich. You have to book safaris in advance to make sure you are in a good zone.

  • Corbett – has 2 main zones – Bijrani and Dhikala. We recommend only Dhikala.
  • Kaziranga – has 4 zones – Kohora, Bagori, Agortoliand Burapahar. All are good, but we recommend Agortoli.
  • Ranthambhore – has 10 zones, we recommend Zones 1 – 6 and sometimes zone 10.
  • Bandhavgarh – has 3 zones – Tala, Magdi and Khitauli. We recommend Tala and Magdi.
  • Kanha – has 4 Zones – Kanha, Mukki, Kisli and Sarhi. We recommend Kanha and Kisli. In Kanha the zones are so far apart that one as to change hotels to access another zone.
  • Tadoba – has main and buffer zones – All are good, but  we recommend the buffer zones.
  • Nagarhole - has two zones: Zone A consists of a woodland area, and Zone B is a riparian zone on the Kabini backwaters. Jeep safaris can cover only one of the zones at a time .

Some of the parks restrict the safari routes within a zone in a way, that makes the safari inconvenient.
Tadoba – all safari cars have to move in a large circular route. You cannot turn your car back.
Bandhavgarh – within the Tala zone, there are multiple routes. Safari cars are assigned a route that they cannot change and they have to complete the route and not turn back.

Resident tigers and Cubs :
Tigers have area of dominance where they live and hunt.  When they have cubs, they try to stay near water sources and as the cubs grow up, they need to hunt frequently. Their movement becomes very predictable. It gives you better chance of sightings and interesting subjects.
Its advisable to check which park and zone has cubs and their age. The cubs separate from their mother between 20 – 26 months of age. So, if someone tells you that they had great sightings with cubs in Bandhavgarh this year and the cubs are about 8 months of age, its unlikely that they are going to stay with their mother if you are planning to visit next year.
This year, almost all the major parks had multiple tigresses with 3 – 5 cubs ! Probably because they had more opportunity to mate during the 2021 lockdown period when the parks stayed closed or very few tourists visited.  

Park topography and safari experience
One of the most important aspect of enjoying the safaris is the scenic beauty and topography of the park. Generally those parks which have hills, large waterbodies / rivers look more attractive and photogenic. The changing topography keeps you attentive, and also provides great background for the wildlife you are trying to photograph.
Corbett, Kaziranga, Ranthambhore, Satpura, Panna, Nagarhole & Bandipur scores well in this aspect.

Safari management:
Safari management has three aspects : Engaging knowledgeable drivers/naturalists, Selecting the right zone for safari, making sure your car is at the front of the queue while entering the park.
Engaging a knowledgeable naturalist is the key to tracking tigers. A good naturalist would have greater understanding of the terrain, movement of tigers (and other animals), excellent eyes and an enthusiasm for wildlife.
Most of the parks allow a choice of naturalists to accompany the guests, however some has some restrictions : At Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Tadoba & Pench, one naturalist is assigned to each car as per the roster of the forest department. This naturalist has to seat at the back of the car. This creates multiple problems :

  • The park assigned naturalist tends to be novice and lack knowledge.
  • The naturalist seats at the back, so there is no communication with the driver.

To mitigate the situation we add a naturalist of our choice to seat with the driver, but this means one seat less for the guests.
In Nagarhole and Bandipur teh safaris are sahred, The naturalist & the safari car is assigned by the forest department 
In Ranthambhore, the car is assigned by the forest department. We can add the naturalist of our choice.