7 ways to improve your chance of spotting tigers in India
Sher Khan, here we come
You spot the pug marks. A langur sounds an alarm call nearby. The forest around you goes silent. The guide asks everyone to stay still. A few minutes later, out walks a majestic tigress from amidst the thick foliage of Uttarakhand’s Corbett Tiger Reserve. What happens next can only be compared to a Bollywood meet-cute. Time stops. The winds change course. You notice every detail of the diva in front of you — the swag in her walk, the way she flicks her tail when you get too close, the grace with which she sniffs the air for danger, even how she marks a tree with her scent. Having been to several national parks in India in my mission of spotting tigers in India, I can tell you that no two sightings are alike. And just like your abysmal math marks in school, you won’t be allowed to forget not meeting one, either. Mention your trip to anyone, and the question you will be asked is, “Sher dekha kya?”
Luckily, the latest census marking 50 years of Project Tiger puts their numbers at an all-time high of 3,167, making India home to more than 70% of the global population.
So, if you’re ready for a date with Sher Khan this summer (here are some other must-visit places for animal lovers), here’s how to give your hopes of spotting tigers in India a little more than luck by chance.
Your guide to spotting tigers in India
- Select the right national park: Boost your chances by heading to a national park with the maximum density and number of tigers. Too lazy to ask Google baba for help? Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand is a good place to start. Other safe bets would be Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. Almost all national parks in India are divided into multiple zones — core (deep in the forest) and buffer (surrounds the core zone). Some let tourists book the zone they want to take a safari in online, and others are allotted at the park itself. A little research in advance can help you figure out where the tiger has been most active in recent months. The core zone of Dikhala in Corbett Tiger Reserve is favoured by the big cat at the moment, while buffer zones in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve also work. Just like us, tigers, too, have routines and favourite hangouts in the forest. For instance, the Ramganga riverbed at Dhikala in Corbett National Park is a big hit with one particular tiger. With a little patience and luck, you just might see him.
- Know the right season to visit: “Scorching summers (March to June) are the best time to spot a tiger in the wild, especially in zones with water bodies. This is especially true for national parks in central and north India,” says Laeek, a guide-driver in Corbett Tiger Reserve. Not that tigers are a no-show in the winter months. We spotted four tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park on consecutive cool November mornings while wrapped up in layers and dreaming of hot coffee back at the hotel.
- Timing matters: Tigers tend to hunt at night, when the parks are shut. They also remain active in the early hours of the morning and late evening, when temperatures are not that high. “So your best chance to see them is during daybreak and close to sunset, especially in the summer months,” says Imtiaz, a guide at Katarnia Ghat Wildlife Sanctuary. Hit the snooze button too many times in the morning, and you may miss your date with the big cat.
- Listen to the forest: The tiger is the apex predator in the jungle, which means you’re not the only one looking for him. “Learn what a langur or sambar deer’s alarm call sounds like. Some birds too are known to make distinct calls when a tiger is on the prowl,” says Imtiaz. Another way to know if the tiger has been on the move is to spot his pug marks on the soil by the road and near water bodies. That way you will be reassured that you are on the right track.
- Pick the right vehicle: Many national parks offer two types of vehicles for a safari — a gypsy and a canter. Always pick a gypsy. They cost more, but are quieter and can go deep inside the forest. “Canters, being bigger, tend to stick to the main roads, which can reduce your chances of seeing a tiger, especially if the forest is dense and has no water bodies by the road,” says Laeek.
- Stay in the core area: Try to stay at one of the forest rest houses within the core zones of a national park. Safaris usually take up eight hours of the day, and you will not want to waste time commuting to and from your resort. Not only will it tire you out, being late may cost you a sighting.
- Choose the right guide and driver: Experience and skill make all the difference in the corporate and real jungle. Your guide and driver will know a tiger’s routine and take you to the right place at the right time. Read a few reviews online or speak to your hotel staff to choose someone who can boost your outcome.
That’s it. You are now ready to meet the striped cat. Safe travels.