Seeing a tiger in the wild is the dream for every wildlife enthusiast. Just the sight of giant paws on the soil, leading toward the unknown, dense green cover all around, sounds of birds chirping in the distance can be a truly hair-raising experience. And what would be a better way to live up this adrenaline surge than a wildlife safari. Luckily for the admirers of this exotic big cat, India is home 75 per cent of the world’s tiger population, with a 2016 census by World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum pegging their population in the wild at 3,891. To make sure you don’t wander in vain, here is a rundown on 5 national parks in India to spot a tiger :
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
With nearly 100 tigers roaming about freely in the 100 square kilometre area of this wildlife sanctuary nestled between the Vindhya and Satpura ranges along the north-eastern border of MP, you have the highest odds of spotting a tiger at the Bandhavgarh National Park. This one of the 5 national parks in India popular as tiger habitats is also known as a breeding ground for a special variety of leopards and has a rich fauna comprising Sambar, Chital, barking deer, Nilgai, wild boar, four-horned antelope, Indian fox, Indian Bison, and bear. So, you will have enough to keep yourself occupied with until giant cats make an appearance.
Best time to visit: April to June, as rising temperatures force wild animals to gather near water sources, increasing your chances of a spotting a tiger.
Getting There: The nearest airport is Jabalpur, which is 200 km and 4-hour drive away, while the nearest railway station is Umaria, which is 35 km away.
Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
Think tigers, and one of the first places that come to mind is the Ranthambore National Park. Once a hunting ground of the royals of Jaipur, Ranthambore was transformed into a tiger reserve in 1973. It is also a favourite among wildlife photographs, thanks to its picturesque landscape dotted with ancient ruins that are often frequented by tigers and leopards. In addition to tigers, this 1,334 square kilometres of wilderness is also home to leopards, sloth bears, jungle cats, Indian foxes, hyenas, jackals and crocodiles. The wildlife authorities also offer special tiger trail packages here to make sure the visitors do not return empty-handed, making it one of the preferred choices among the top 5 national parks in India for tiger spotting.
Best time to visit: February to May as the chances of spotting a tiger are highest when weather conditions are still pleasant.
Getting There: Jaipur is the closest airport, which is 132 km away, and the railway station in the neighbouring town of Sawai Madhopur is the nearest.
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
A list of 5 national parks in India for tiger sighting cannot be complete without a mention of the Jim Corbett National Park, which offers the perfect blend of the adrenaline rush of spotting the wilds and serenity of unadulterated natural beauty. It also has the distinction of being the oldest national park in the country, established in 1936, that got a new identity in the 1950s, being renamed after famed hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett.
Situated at the foothills of Himalayas, this sanctuary spread over an area of 500 square kilometres is dotted with Sal forest, grasslands, marshes and water bodies, offering an interesting mix of terrain to explorers. Besides tigers, the Jim Corbett National Park is also home to leopards, fishing cats, jungle cats, sloth bears, Bharal, goral, jackals, serow, Chital, Sambar, and barking deer, and a large number of wild elephants that can be spotted on the banks of Ramganga River. Birani, on the eastern side of the park, is the best place to spot tigers as they wander about the numerous water bodies and grasslands in the area to catch preys.
Best time to visit: March to June, as the likelihood of spotting tigers is the highest during this period.
Getting there: The closest airport is Pantnagar, which is 50 kilometres
away, and the nearest railways station is Ramnagar, just 12 km from the national park.
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
For those of us who grew up on a heavy dose of the fantasy world of The Jungle Book, the landscape of the Kanha National Park with its sprawling meadows can seem all too familiar. One of the largest of the top 5 national parks in India, Kanha is home to a varied mix of wildlife including Chital, Gaur, Langur, three-striped palm squirrel, wild boar, jackal, striped hyena, mouse deer, porcupine, and the endangered Barasingha. If you are in luck, you can even spot a streak of tigers, roaming about in groups of 4 or 5.
Best time to visit: April to June is the ideal time for spotting tigers
Getting There: The closest airport is Jabalpur, which is 175 km away, while the nearest railway station is in Gondia, 145 km away.
Sunderbans National Park
Sunderbans National Park, the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest that falls between India and Bangladesh, stands out for its intricate ecosystem, making it the most unique of the top 5 national parks in India for tiger sighting. This network of creeks, rivers, tributaries and mangrove forests is home to the exotic Royal Bengal tiger as well as a plethora of other endangered species that include the Ganges River dolphin, the estuarine crocodile, besides leopards, flying fox, pangolin, macaques, hermit crabs, red fiddler crab, king cobra, rock python and water monitor. Embarking on boat rides through this mishmash of water bodies is always marked by a heady rush of anticipation of spotting a saltwater crocodile or the big cat up close. An occasional chirp of a bird or rustle of leaves the only sounds breaking your concentration.
Best Time to Go: The weather conditions are perfect for tiger sighting from November to March.
Getting There: The nearest airport is in Kolkata, which is 166 km away, and the nearest railway station is in Canning, 48 km away.
Accommodation: Quite a few lodges, camps and resorts have mushroomed around the national park in recent years. Of these, the Sunderban Tiger Camp, Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge, and Tora Eco Resort & Life Experience Center offer the most holistic experience.