With over 29 years of experience, our Steppes India experts can guide you on how to best experience your tiger safari holiday. We craft extraordinary tiger safari experiences for bespoke itineraries and fixed group departures, that take into account the nuances between the parks, take advantage of the best chance of being in the right place at the right time, that are sensitive to local issues and avoid the many pitfalls that create sub-standard tiger safari experiences.
Steppes Travel is a proud to be a member of TOFT, (Travel Operators for Tigers ) who, in conjunction with Global Tiger Patrol, supports a sustainable approach to tourism in the wildlife reserves. This means that you can be confident that your tiger safari holiday is being operated in a responsible manner and will benefit the local villagers and the wildlife within the tiger parks you visit.
TOFTigers is an organisation founded by a former Steppes Director, Julian Matthews, in 2006 in the light of concerned tourism operators. The campaign aims at all involved in the tourism industry - from government bodies to park directorates, from communities to tour operators such as Steppes Travel - to plan and support tourism to save tigers and their habitat. We consult frequently with Julian Matthews on all issues relating to wildlife tourism in India and the development of our wildlife programmes.
Where to Go on your India tiger safari
Tiger numbers and sightings fluctuate from season to season so the best advice is to talk to one of our experts to get the latest figures and our current thoughts.
Historically, the best places to see tigers have been Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Ranthambore however Steppes clients visiting Pench, Tadoba and Panna are also experiencing successful sightings.
Each of India's national parks offers a slightly different experience. Ranthambore’s close proximity to the cities of Rajasthan sees high numbers of visitors. This has created a volume of traffic and noise however a newly implemented zone system and the opportunity of purchasing private all-day permits, allow for a more exclusive safari experience.
Kanha has two gates for entry and exit points, which allows guides to drive from one side of the park to the other and for gentler and more intimate wildlife experiences.
Panna, still relatively unknown, is only a short half an hour drive from Khajuraho Airport. Over the last few years sightings of tiger have been very good. Above and beyond tiger, Panna offers dramatic scenery and a huge variety of other fauna from leopard, sloth bear, fabulous birds, crocodiles and more. The beauty of Panna is that is it still uncrowded and uninhibited by zones. An excellent base is the Sarai at Toria, run by Joanna Van Gruison and tiger scientist, Raghu Chundawat, author of acclaimed book 'Rise and Fall of the Emerald Tiger'.
Nagarhole National Park in the south Indian state of Karnataka offers the visitor a spectacular wildlife experience without being as 'tiger-centric' as some of the parks in central India. Home to a large and thriving population of tigers, Nagarhole also boasts leopard in good numbers, an elusive black panther, wild dogs, elephants, deer and lots of bird species including hoopoe, peacock and serpent eagle. The best place to stay near Nagarhole National Park is Evolve Back Kabini.
Tadoba, Pench, Dudhwa and Satpura offer a free zone for driving, without set routes. In addition to game drives Satpura and Dudhwa offers walking and river cruising. These parks are the newest additions to the Indian National Park circuit and being off the tourist track see less volume of tourists. It can be said there is still more focus on wildlife conservation versus tourism at these destinations. Other parks of note are Kaziranga in North Eastern India, perhaps not so well known for its tiger density but a beautiful park none-the-less, rich with one-horned rhino and wild elephant and Sasan Gir in Gujarat, home to the last remaining Asiatic lion.
How long should I stay on tiger safari?
The longer you stay the better your chance of not just seeing tiger but having good tiger sightings. As a minimum we would recommend that you have three nights on safari thus giving you two full days of game drives.
What can I expect from a typical day on a tiger safari
Before you are up and dressed the mahouts will already have been in the jungle with their elephants listening for sounds of deer and monkey alarm calls so they have a good idea where the tiger might be heading. After early morning tea, head off for your morning game drive. Make sure you wrap up warm as it can be quite cold first thing in the mornings. Some lodges supply hot water bottles and blankets on the seats of the jeep. Depending on where your lodge is situated, the drive to the park gate can be anything from 10 minutes to 40 minutes in duration. Park entry times vary depending on summer or winter season, but the gates normally open at 6am/ 7am – closing again between 9.30am/ 10.30am. All vehicles need to be out of the park before the gate closes after the morning game drive, unless you have gained special permission. Breakfast will normally be taken in the park with lunch back at your lodge. The early afternoon is free before heading out for a second game drive when the park re-opens, usually around 2 or 3pm. The park again closes before dusk, approximately 6/7pm. Back in time for a sundowner before dinner. Meals are served back at the lodge – often al fresco around a fire pit, with classic cooking methods.
Am I restricted to morning or afternoon game drives only?
There is a full day permit in place that allows access to the park 15 minutes before the park opens and 15 minutes after it closes. It also allows you to move freely within the park, with no strict route. Although it has a rather steep government price tag attached, it is the greatest way to maximise your time. This can be organised in the majority of parks, but is subject to permit acquisition.
What happens when a tiger is sighted
The reality is that the busier parks, such as Bandhavgarh, may have up to 20 jeeps on a tiger sighting. To avoid this situation do opt to travel to the less visited parks and keep outside the peak season of February. If you can stand the heat, travel in off peak May and June, and benefit from some great hotel savings. We can advise when public holidays are in India to ensure these dates are also avoided where possible.
Is there a better day to visit a National Park?
We will plan your itinerary to avoid weekends and Indian public holidays. Use the weekends for travelling, to avoid the growing demand from domestic visitors at this time. The National Parks Authority for Madhya Pradesh has announced that all National Parks in the State will remain closed to public access on Wednesday until further notice. This order will affect Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Panna Reserves. Alternative activities such as walking, bullock cart rides and village interactions can be enjoyed on these afternoons.
What vehicles are used for game drives?
There are two principle ways of seeing tigers and other wildlife in Indian parks. Either from an open-sided vehicle, ranging from a four seater Gypsy (jeeps) to a 20 seated bus known as a canter. We do not recommend the latter.
I have read about a tiger show - what exactly is this?
A ‘Tiger Show’ is process by which the park authorities ferry clients on the back of an elephant to ‘see’ a tiger that is resting/settled in the undergrowth. There is often a queue of Jeeps waiting for the 50 metre elephant ride which demeans both the experience and animal and often leads to disappointment. We do not condone tiger shows.
Can I book a private guide for my game drives?
Yes, is the short answer. We at Steppes Travel can offer private guiding services in order to guarantee a constant level of service and expertise throughout your park visits, particularly if you are visiting a number of different National Parks. As a Steppes client you will have access to our black book of tried and tested Indian naturalists who can accompany you on your national park visits and ensure high standards. Special interests, such as photography and bird watching can also be tailored more specifically with a private guide in place.
What is the accommodation like in Indian safari parks?
Accommodation ranges from small simple lodges to luxury African style camps, offering a range of dining options and spa facilities. The naturalists are lodge-based, and all have been trained to a high standard, such as the 'Taj & Beyond' training programme, originating from Africa. We will help you find the best lodge to suit your taste and budget.
Top National Parks of India
With India’s tiger population calculated in 2008 at an all-time low of approximately 1400 tiger left in the wild, tiger conservation practices have finally begun to have an impact with a recorded increase to around 2200 in 2015. India is estimated to be home to around 70% of the world’s tigers, 80% of which have a unique photograph. Collecting data on tiger numbers involves taking plaster-casts of pug marks, camera trapping in order to identify individuals by their face and body markings as well as looking at prey density in different areas. Poaching and encroachment on forest assets are the main problems that parks constantly face. The survival of the tiger in his natural habitat remains in a critical state. The on-going protection of the few remaining prime habitats is not just crucial, it is perhaps India's final chance.
Latin name: Panthera tigris
The tiger can be found in scattered and fragmented populations in 13 countries, from India to Southeast Asia, and in Sumatra, China and the Russian Far East. The tiger occurs in a wide range of habitats including tropical forests, tall grass jungles, coniferous woodlands, mangrove swamps and dry thorn forests. However, in general, the tiger requires dense cover, access to water and sufficient large prey.
Tigers are readily distinguished from other large cats as they are the only striped cat. The tiger has a distinguishing reddish-orange to yellow-ochre coat with a white belly and black markings. Each tiger has different stripe patterns and therefore these are used as an identifying method. The different subspecies vary in their body size, coat colour and markings with the Sumatran tiger being the smallest and darkest, while the Siberian tiger is the largest and palest. The tiger is well adapted for hunting large prey, with powerful jaws which enable the tiger to kill their prey quickly.
The tiger is a solitary animal which spends most of their time alone. The male tiger has a larger territory that overlaps several females, with whom the male tiger will then mate. Scent marking allows tigers to communicate with each other providing information on its identity, sex and reproductive condition. Mating occurs all year round with the female giving birth to a litter of two or three cubs. The cubs learn to hunt and kill from around six months but remain reliant on the mother for at least 15 months, after which they will disperse to find their own territory. Hunting mainly occurs at night with its main prey being deer and wild pigs. Unlike other cat species, the tiger is a competent swimmer and will readily enter the water and can often be found lying in rivers during the midday heat to cool down.
Conservation and threats:
Human activities are the principal cause of declining tiger numbers. Hunting was a major cause of mortality in the past, both for trophies and as part of organised pest control measures. Habitat loss has occurred throughout much of the tigers’ environment and is relentlessly threatening their survival; as land becomes rapidly developed to meet the increasing demands of the Asian population, tiger populations have become isolated in outstanding fragments of wilderness.
Within India there are currently 21 tiger reserves, although these are progressively vulnerable by human pressures on the land. The key to the survival of the tiger is the conservation of large areas of adjacent habitat, but protection of this species is complicated by its man-eater reputation and by the threat it poses to livestock.