The rich forests of Madhya Pradesh form about 25 per cent of its land area. Within these forests, under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, 25 sanctuaries and nine national parks were established, covering an area of 10,862 sq km. Madhya Pradesh also accounts for almost 20 per cent of India’s tiger population. By virtue of being a sanctuary for India’s National Animal, it has been deemed a ‘Tiger State’. However, the vast tracts of forested land are also a refuge for barking deer, leopards, cheetal, wild boars, blackbucks, nilgais and crocodiles.
Special care has been taken to preserve MP’s status as the de facto asylum for the tiger. Out of the nine national parks in Madhya Pradesh, six function as tiger reserves as well. National parks, defined as areas demarcated by the state for conservation purposes, are mostly open to tourists. They are a Class II type of protected area, and are safeguarded by statutory laws. The parks that are also marked as tiger reserves restrict tourists from accessing their ‘core’ zones—areas where the concentration of tigers is highest. These zones are ‘reserved’ for the wildlife to live without any human intrusion. The state has its fair share of wildlife sanctuaries as well, which are natural retreats where wildlife is protected by the state from predation and hunting.
Visitors keen to go tiger-watching should particularly concentrate on Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna, Satpura and Pench national parks. An eclectic mix of wildlife and historical sites, Madhav National Park is another treat for nature lovers, while the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary has also been deemed a tiger reserve now. In addition, the National Chambal Sanctuary, home to gharials and the rare Gangetic Dolphin, is fast gaining popularity.
There are some things to remember before you plan your trip to one of these sanctuaries. All parks have divided their tourism zones into subzones. Permits are issued for only one zone at a time, and some parks charge different fees for different zones. Private vehicles are no longer allowed in Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. Only local vehicles, registered with the park management, are allowed to conduct safaris. For these three parks, all visits have to be booked online at mponline.gov.in. These sanctuaries are extremely popular, so book your entry tickets before booking the hotels.
There is no per-person safari rate in any of the sanctuaries. You will have to pay for the full vehicle, irrespective of the number of people in it. A maximum of six people per vehicle are allowed. While the prices mentioned in this book were current at the time of print, please confirm before you visit since rates change yearly. Camera fees are no longer applicable. Special full-day photography safaris are charged separately.
The state’s tourism rules permit walking, hiking, camping and watching animals from machans or hideouts, but all these activities are park specific. For instance, Bandhavgarh has some watchtowers where visitors are permitted, and Satpura has kayaking and walking safaris—something that is not permitted in any other park. Tiger shows rarely happen anymore, but you can book elephant safaris in some sanctuaries. Again, confirm these details with the park authorities before visiting.