Tigers and Birds of India's Central Highlands
India is home to more than half of the world’s remaining tigers, and of these 450 or so make their home in the Central Indian Highlands which account for almost half of India’s forests. These forests have long been associated with tigers, this landscape providing inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’ with its fables of Shere Khan. Today, the region hosts a cluster of India’s finest tiger reserves, offering excellent opportunities for sightings of Bengal Tiger, and perhaps the best chance for this species’ survival.
Our comprehensive exploration encompasses four of these reserves, each distinct in terms of their atmosphere, landscape and habitat, and accompanying cast of other mammals and birds. We begin in the northernmost of these, Bandhavgarh National Park, arguably the country’s most famed tiger reserve. Game drives in open jeeps will take us through dry deciduous woodland, bamboo brakes and wide valleys flanked by rocky escarpments dominated by the imposing Bandhavgarh Fort as we seek for our first encounters with Bengal Tiger with a host of dryland birds including Jungle Bush-quail and Crested Bunting to distract from the abundant large mammals. Beginning our journey south, we halt next at Kanha National Park, one of India’s oldest, largest and most effectively managed tiger reserves. Here, the park’s distinctive wide meadows offer excellent grazing and hunting grounds; alongside tiger, we will find Gaur and the Barasingha or Swamp Deer for which the park was originally established, while luxuriant moist deciduous woodlands hold a good selection of woodland birds such as Black-hooded Oriole and Heart-spotted Woodpecker. Continuing our southward journey, our next destination Pench National Park offers a rich birdlife in a mosaic of habitats dominated by distinctly dry deciduous woodland that gives way to the Pench River and its reservoir. India’s highest density of herbivores supports good populations of both tiger and Leopard, and some interesting birds including Mottled Wood Owl and White-eyed Buzzard. Finally, we make our way to Tadoba National Park to explore the forests, meadows and bamboo thickets within the basin of Tadoba Lake. Here, we hope to encounter our final tigers of the tour, together with some more secretive mammals including Sloth Bear and Ussuri Dhole, and a good selection of birds in the park’s varied habitats.
This tour offers a comprehensive overview of the exceptional mammal and birdlife of central India’s forests, passing through a variety of landscapes and the traditional farming communities of India’s rural heartland. Tigers in this region have become somewhat habituated to jeeps and visitor disturbance, and memorable close encounters can be expected. Pre-monsoon months are especially productive here, with mammals increasingly drawn to water sources and resident birds accompanied by a host of passage migrants.
5 April - 16 April 2020
(also available as a custom tour)
Ground price: £ 2985
Single room supplement: £ 635
Deposit: £ 500
The price includes: Accommodation, all meals, bottled drinking water, all ground transport, all birding/wildlife activities as described, entry fees, guiding, pre-tour information, species checklists.
The price excludes: Flights, visa fees, travel insurance, drinks other than water, tips and any other expenses of a personal nature.
Maximum group size: 8
Accommodation: Comfortable rooms in wildlife lodges, all with private facilities.
Tour grading: Easy to moderate. Most birding and wildlife viewing will be from open jeeps with little walking involved; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field, with long days in warm conditions.
Key species: Tiger, Leopard, Jungle Cat, Sloth Bear, Ussuri Dhole, Gaur, Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Northern Plains Grey Langur, Rhesus Macaque, Mottled Wood Owl, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Painted Francolin, Painted Spurfowl, Jungle Bush-quail, Indian Pitta, Savanna Nightjar, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle.
Day 1: Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh National Park
Arrivals this morning into Jabalpur Airport in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Spend the remainder of the day driving to Bandhavgarh for a three-night stay, with time for some late afternoon birding around our lodge.
Days 2-3: Bandhavgarh
Occupying gently undulating land in the Vindhya Hills, Bandhavgarh’s Sal forests are a vital refuge for a good population of tigers. Despite being a somewhat isolated forest fragment, the park hosts a density of tigers that in parts equates to one per every 5 sq km with an estimated 22 or so living in the core area. Our daily and afternoon jeep excursions into the reserve will focus on the core zones of Tala, Magdhi and Khitauli, where alongside Tiger we can also expect to see Leopard in more peripheral areas, Jungle Cat, Small Indian Civet, Golden Jackal, Chital, Sambar, Nilgai, Northern Plains Grey Langur and Rhesus Macaque. The predominantly dry habitat hosts a good selection of associated birds, including Great Thick-knee, Emerald Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Bay-backed Shrike, Blue-headed Rock-thrush, White-capped and Crested Buntings, Jungle Bush-quail, Spotted Owlet and Savanna Nightjar.
Day 4: Bandhavgarh to Kanha National Park
After a final morning safari at Bandhavgarh we drive south into the Maikal range of the Satpura Hills to Kanha National Park, one of India’s oldest and the region’s largest tiger reserve for a three-night stay. As we drive we will enjoy a selection of India’s more widespread birds, such as Spotted Dove, Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Red-wattled Lapwing, Jungle Myna, Black Kite and Egyptian Vulture.
Days 5-6: Kanha
Kanha’s landscape is dominated by open ‘maidans’, or meadows, which punctuate the moist deciduous forest. Popular converging points for herbivores, these meadows and are highly conducive to wildlife sightings, particularly in the drier summer months. Our two daily game drives will take us into the park’s Mukki, Kanha and Kisli ranges, where we hope to encounter Tiger alongside the Barasingha or Swamp Deer for which the park was originally established, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Ussuri Dhole, and with luck more elusive Sloth Bear and Leopard. The park’s luxurious forests support a good selection of birds, butterflies and reptiles all of which make Kanha enjoyable and productive and encourage an all-round appreciation of this region’s wildlife. As we explore the park in search of tigers and other mammals we will also encounter birds such as Painted Francolin, Painted Spurfowl, Red Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Plum-headed Parakeet, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Coppersmith Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Crested Hawk-eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard.
Day 7: Kanha to Pench National Park
After a final morning game drive at Kanha we drive south to Pench National Park for a two-night stay.
Day 8: Pench
Together with Kanha, Pench is part of a contiguous stretch of forest, of vital importance as others become increasingly fragmented. Our two game drives will take us into distinctly dry deciduous woodland that opens out into the floodplain of the Pench River and its reservoir, whose waters are a lifeline for wildlife in dry summer months. An estimated 65 or so Tigers reside here, accompanied by Leopard, Indian Wolf, Sloth Bear and the highest density of herbivores in India, dominated by Chital and Sambar and with smaller populations of Gaur, Chinkara (Indian Gazelle) and Chousingha (Four-horned Antelope). Birdlife is rich in the mosaic of habitats, with birds of dryland and woodland such as Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-throated Sparrow, Brahminy Starling, White-eyed Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle and Mottled Wood Owl complemented by waterbirds including Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter around the reservoir.
Day 9: Pench to Tadoba National Park
Leaving Pench this morning we continue our drive south out of Madhya Pradesh and into neighbouring Maharashtra to Tadoba National Park where we have our first game drive this afternoon.
Days 10-11: Tadoba
At Tadoba, the dry deciduous woodlands of the densely forested hills merge into the grassy meadows of the Tadoba Lake basin, the lake itself providing water security for wildlife throughout the dry summers and acting as a protective buffer between the reserve and the extensive farmland beyond. The Tiger density at Tadoba is high, and we can expect some memorable last sightings during our stay here. The varied habitats also support a rich diversity of other mammals; sightings of Dhole, Sloth Bear and Leopard are regular here, together with a selection of smaller mammals such as Ruddy Mongoose and Common Palm Civet with the usual supporting cast of herbivores and the chance of more elusive Striped Hyaena and Indian Giant Flying Squirrel. The park also offers excellent birding, with Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-rumped Shama, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch and Orange-headed Thrush in the forests, Indian Pitta on summer passage and Grey-headed Fish-eagle around the lake.
Day 12: Depart Nagpur
We will leave Tadoba by mid-morning to drive to Nagpur. Departures from Nagpur this afternoon.