Once upon a time hunting trips were a big deal. The bigger the game, the better it looked hung on the wall or placed as a rug. Defeating a ferocious wild animal sealed one's spot on the greatness' ladder. Many species got extinct only because of human intervention; the majestic Bengal tiger or Panthera Tigris Tigris is one kind who is only too familiar with all these. Though now slowly reeling back from the brink of extinction, the charismatic and fierce Bengal tiger is still struggling to make a strong and permanent foothold in the wilds of India. Home to 70 percent of tigers in the world, India is indeed a tiger hotspot. Sounds great, right? Let the numbers not fool you, tigers live a fragile life. We need to be more mindful of that. India is also home to 50 Tiger Reserves governed by Project Tiger under National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)--one of the main reasons why we still have tigers in our country against all odds.
Spotting tiger in the wild is definitely something writing home about. No matter how many times one has seen a tiger in the wild, every time the experience is different and exciting. There's something in that stride and intense gaze that leaves a person completely in awe (and mercy). Reminding our readers again to be mindful of nature, forest and its denizens, here are some great places where you can spot these big beautiful cats. Travel and spot responsibly!
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
One of the most popular tiger reserves in India, Bandhavgarh National Park stands out when it comes to spotting the majestic Bengal tiger. The park's three zones--Tala, Magdhi and Khitauli--together has the highest density of tigers. The park is located in Umaria district, Madhya Pradesh. Of the three zones, Tala is the most popular one and is the park's main zone. A personal favourite, Tala's tigress Spotty (named after a T-shaped marking on her left eyebrow) is a visual treat. Spotty and her cubs are every visitor's favourite. The best time to visit the park for the tigers is from February to June; the park is closed from July 1 to October 15. Besides tiger, the park is great for birds. Birders, are you reading this?
Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Also the largest national park in Central India, Kanha Tiger Reserve (Kanha National Park) is where you should be if you love the big cats. If the jungle and its denizens are good enough for Rudyard Kipling to feel inspired to pen down the classic Jungle Book, it's good enough for everyone. The land of Mowgli, Sher Khan and Balloo is a must-visit, not just for the tigers but also for the beautiful sal forest and rich avifauna. The park has four zones in the core area, namely Kanha, Kisli, Sarhi and Mukki. The park is open to visitors from October 15 to June 30 every year.
Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
The park is located in Sawai Madhopur district in Rajasthan and was an erstwhile favourite hunting ground of the royals of Jaipur. Ranthambore National Park, spread over an area of 392sq km is one of the few national parks in India where it is easy to spot a tiger in its natural habitat. There are 10 Zones in total, out of which Zone 4 is the most popular one as this was Macchli's home, Ranthambore's most famous and beloved tigress.
Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra
The park straddles two states--Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Pench (Madhya Pradesh) also shares the same spot as Kanha in terms of being an inspiration to Rudyard Kipling for his classic. The park is a beautiful combination of dense sal forest, vast and undulating grasslands and waterbodies. Male tigers like Raiyakassa and BMW (because of his markings) and female tigers like Collorwali and Baghinala are star attractions here at Pench. December to April is the best time to visit Pench.
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
Located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, we all know and have heard of Jim Corbett National Park, the oldest national park in India. The park is important when we talk about tigers because it was the first to start the Project Tiger initiative. Jim Corbett National Park was established in 1936 and was then known as Hailey National Park. The dense forest of Jim Corbett National Park is no doubt a good home for the tigers but is also a challenging one for those who want to see these cats in wild. Tiger spotting is slightly tough here because of the dense forest and tall grass that serves as excellent camouflage for these cats. The park stays open from October to June every year.
Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal
Located in West Bengal, the Sundarbans National Park is also a Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve. The densely covered mangrove forest is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. The reserve's star attractions, the tigers, have managed to earn the title of 'man-eaters'. Well, don't encroach on their privacy! Leave them be and admire them from afar. Tigers are endangered and Sundarban Tiger Reserve is an important home but sharing this home with them are other endangered species like saltwater crocodile, olive ridley turtle, hawksbill turtle, horseshoe crab, Ganges river dolphin and river terrapin. The park is also a great birding destination. Best time to visit Sundarban Tiger Reserve is from December to February.
Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh
The best of Terai, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is one of the finest looking forests in India. Thanks to its beautiful sal forest, tall grassland and water bodies, the forest is a delight. Add to that the majestic Bengal tigers. It was here that the famous hunter-turned-conservationist Billy Arjan Singh re-introduced hand-reared zoo-born tigers back into the wild. Apart from the tiger, other species to be on the look-out for are the hispid hare (once considered extinct but rediscovered in Dudhwa), the critically endangered swamp deer, Bengal Florican, to name a few. The best time to visit the park is from November to May.
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra
The reserve is located in the Chandrapur district in Maharashtra and is the state's oldest and largest wildlife park. The teak and bamboo forest forms a part of a landscape that comprises of marshlands and rugged cliffs. Tadoba is not only great for tigers, but also for panthers, sloth bears, wild dogs, to name a few. The best time to spot these wildlife beauties is from February to May.