A Tiger-Lover’s Guide to India – National Parks, Films, Volunteer Programs And More

A Tiger-Lover’s Guide to India – National Parks, Films, Volunteer Programs And More

For many of us, who grew up humming and giggling to the tunes of Jungle Book’s iconic title track, it was Rudyard Kipling’s Shere Khan — a fictional Bengal Tiger motivated by his evil intentions to kill Mowgli — that initiated our fascination with the big cat. At least for me, that’s how it all began. This was followed by a timely family vacation to the Kanha National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, where Shere Khan finally came to life and was no longer restricted to the somewhat fictitious animal kingdom in my mind.

Watching the big cat meander through the shadowing thickets of Kanha, emanating splendour quite unlike anything I’d seen before, was as close as I would ever come to reliving Mowgli’s life. Decades later, I have certainly gotten past my fascination with Shere Khan, but can I say the same about the tiger species? Probably not.

India is a great place to be intrigued by tigers. With almost 2,226 tigers (according to the official census in 2014) spread across almost 50 tiger reserves in the country, the national animal has been on the receiving end of conservation tactics ever since Project Tiger was launched in 1973. From Machli, Ranthambore’s fearless tigress who continued to receive international attention even after her death, to Pench National Park’s Collarwali Baghin, who has lived a surprisingly long life — our tigers are not just a statistical number. They come with their own unique stories of adventure, endurance, and survival.

But we haven’t always been kind to the animal that is a symbol of our national identity. With rapid urbanisation and depleting forest cover, our tigers, in many protected areas, have been critically labelled as an endangered species. And we’re fighting tooth and nail to turn this around. From government initiatives to various NGOs that are actively involved in preserving not just the tiger – the Royal Bengal Tiger, to be precise – but also its natural habitat, India has certainly come a long way in giving birth to emerging tiger warriors who have dedicated their lives to understanding and conserving the Bengal tiger (the Panthera tigris tigris).

Whether it’s Hans Dalal’s life on a farm on the outskirts of Tadobha Andhari National Park or India’s ‘Tiger Princess’ Latika Nath and her pioneering study on tiger conservation in the early nineties, this country offers a plethora of opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the world of tigers. In fact, the government itself has been calling out to its citizens to come forward and participate in tiger conservation activities. Moreover, the amount of tiger-centric literature and cinema (who can forget Kaal?) produced in the past few decades is phenomenal.

So read on for a list of all things tiger that you can do to kick-start your tryst with the big cat.

National Parks To Visit

Named after the Pench river that cuts through this tiger reserve, the verdant forests of Pench National Park are what inspired Rudyard Kipling’s timeless Jungle Book. Also the location for BBC’s spy the jungle series, Pench is home to a number of wildlife species including the tiger. Safaris happen twice a day – early morning and afternoon. Surrounded by various other like the Kanha, Tadobha, and Bandhavgarh National Parks, Pench organises a 7-day Pench Tiger Tour which takes you on multiple safaris exploring several areas of the national park ensuring that the odds of sighting the prestigious tigers are ever in your favour.

Sprawling across the Pauri district in Uttarakhand, Jim Corbett National Park is not only India’s oldest national park but also the place where Project Tiger was first launched in 1973. It is home to a sizeable number of India’s tiger population, which can be easily spotted during the months of Winter. The National Park is open from mid-November till June, although certain tourist zones might be open throughout the year as well. As one of the few national parks that allow overnight stays in the wild, a trip to Corbett is incomplete without spending at least one night at the Dhikala Forest Lodge, which also allows for tiger sightings. The Corbett Tiger Reserve, located within the national park, can be experienced by signing up for the on-the-spot elephant safaris.

Imagine sailing through the dense forests in West Bengal as you pull out your camera to capture the majestic Bengal tiger that’s just sauntering around — such is the experience guaranteed at Sunderban National Park in West Bengal. Home to abundant mangrove forests and the magnificent Bengal Tiger, the Sunderban national park is pegged to have at least 76 tigers.

Ever since then, many more have been captured on camera. The best time to visit the National Park is between December and February every year. The boat services, available with air-conditioning as well, are operational throughout the day and run by trained members of the West Bengal Tourism Department Corporation. The national park also organises a special wildlife tour that takes you through the best of East India’s biodiversity by visiting several nearby national parks and tiger reserves.

Located in the majestic Satpura ranges, the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is home to more than 22 species of mammals and 250 species of birds – including many tiger species like White Tigers and Bengal Tigers. A beautiful panoramic sight consisting of lush green meadows, steep ridges and undulating forest land, Bandhavgarh has been known for its tiger population since even before it was officially declared as a tiger reserve. While you can experience the picturesque location in the comfort of a vehicle by opting for the jeep safari, the elephant safari is the ideal way to trace the tiger’s footsteps and eventually, catch a glimpse too! The best months to visit this Tiger Reserve are between October and March, as that’s when the monsoons rejuvenate the forests, making the environment suitable and alluring for both, humans as well as the local fauna.

Ranthambore National Park. Image Credit: Travel Triangle

Home to one of the highest number of tigers in India — a total of 43 according to the 2010 census — Tadoba National Park is a lesser-known wildlife sanctuary. Covered in a mix of bamboo thickets and hilly terrains, providing appropriate shelter to many animals for the most part of the year. Owing to Tadoba Lake and a number of waterholes located throughout the park, the possibility of spotting a tiger here is manifold. Moreover, Tadobha is never as crowded as its other, more-popular counterparts like Kanha, Ranthambore etc. In fact, if you visit during the summer, the chances of spotting a tiger are extremely high as they often venture out to quench their thirst. We’d recommend the 7-day Tadoba Land Safari Tour which is specifically curated keeping in mind the tiger enthusiasts, as it takes you through not just Tadobha but nearby national parks like Pench and Nagzira as well. The Moharli zone is known as the best tiger spotting zone; it also has the best stay options for tourists.

The land of Machli — the courageous tiger queen who was immortalised by humans — Ranthambore National Park is known for its large number of Royal Bengal Tigers. Almost every tiger here has some kind of a legendary story associated with it, making the experience even more thrilling. From star-crossed tiger lovers (not really) called Laila and Majnu to a tiger named Daddy, Ranthambore boasts of a streak (that’s what a group of tigers is called) unparalleled by any other national park in the country. Safaris are available regularly from October to June every year. In fact, you can choose to travel in either a 6-seater jeep or a 20-seater canter, depending on what you prefer. They also have tiger-specific trails and tours for the passionate ones. A favourite of most wildlife photographers in the country, Ranthambore is the perfect way to sneak into the wild and witness the majestic Bengal Tiger in all its glory.

Located in Mandhla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, Kanha Tiger Reserve is abounding with many iconic and rare flora and fauna species. Out of the 2226 tigers living in India (according to a 2014 census), Kanha is home to almost 100. So, mathematically speaking, you’re most likely to spot a tiger here (even multiple times, if you’re lucky). Dotted with appropriate budget and luxury lodgings that do not burden the natural ecosystem of the park, Kanha’s conservation measures like the relocation of villages, prevention of cattle grazing, anti-poaching measures etc. have been phenomenal in reviving and maintaining the tiger population in the aftermath of Project Tiger. Make sure you apprise yourself of essential eco-guidelines laid out by the park authorities before visiting.

Books To Read

While Indian conservationist and writer, Valmik Thapar, has produced plenty of literature focused on the big cats of India, Tiger Fire stands out for it showcases the best of photography, art, and non-fiction writing on tigers in India. From Babur’s real-life encounter with a tiger in the 16th century to in-depth studies on reviving the fast-declining tiger population in India, this book features works of many renowned (and otherwise) tiger enthusiasts like Jim Corbett, Mughal Emperor Akbar, Fateh Singh Rathore etc. Moreover, the book also explores the relationship of tigers with not only humans, but also with other animals like the bison, leopard, and the mighty elephant. One of the most ambitious works of literature, Thapar’s own expertise on the subject is reflected in the thorough research of the book.

A phenomenal coffee table book by renowned wildlife journalist Shivang Mehta, A Decade With Tigers is a predominantly photographic journey of the Indian tiger, complemented with ample research and personal tales of survival by the author himself. This book gives a human touch to the animal by portraying their stories of survival and as ambassadors of Indian wildlife. However, tigers were not always this popular. The past decade has seen a sudden peak in the number of professionals and media interested in the Indian Tiger – a phenomena deconstructed through Mehta’s photographs of wildlife and the wilderness associated with them.

While our earlier two listings are perfect for understanding the larger landscape within which the Indian tiger exists, A Tiger’s Tale narrows the experience down even further by studying the lives of specific tiger families in India’s renowned Ranthambore National Park. Both Anup and Manoj have spent six years studying the tigers of Ranthambore by personally going and spending months in the National Park. A product of in-depth study of the creature complemented with almost 120 coloured photographs documenting the tigers of Ranthambore, this book is an exploration of the Indian tiger’s tale of survival in a world created by its own biggest enemy — man.

Documentaries To Watch

XI. World’s Most Famous Tiger

In August 2016, Machli, the wild tigress that inhabited the magnificent vistas of Ranthambore National Park, died a natural death at the age of 19. Having lived longer than most wild tigresses in the country, Machli made headlines across the world for the colourful life she had lived. Killing crocodiles, fighting against male tigers, and raising cubs – all in the process of losing her eyesight and canine teeth; Machli continued to persevere. Directed by 4 time National Award Winner S. Nallamuthu, World’s Most Famous Tiger is a tribute to Machli’s undying courage that continues to live even after her death. In fact, the filmmaker spent 9 years studying and filming the life of this iconic tigress.

Krishnendu Bose’s national award-winning documentary is a critical study of the animal-human conflict, how far we’ve taken it, and the bleak future that awaits us. Highlighting the conservation measures taken up in the light of India’s ambitious and much-needed Project Tiger, the documentary takes us through the wildlife in several national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves across the country. Moreover, the film shifts the focus from tigers living within these protected areas to those living outside of it – which, in fact, is the grim reality. It examines the hurdles faced by these tigers, the motivation behind their decision to wander outside, and what happens when they actually do.

With rapid urbanisation and increasingly detrimental effects of depleting forest cover, more and more tigers today are forced to move out of their reserved areas and wander on the outskirts of human-dominated territories like villages. A masterpiece by Krishnendu Bose yet again, The Forgotten Tigers is a visual record of the lives of these tigers. The documentary also examines the developmental pressures faced by these tigers, forcing them to move out of their natural habitat.

Filmmaker S. Nallamuthu. Image Credit: NewIndiaTimes.com

Places To Volunteer At

In a world where most tiger reserves and national parks have been reduced to commercial holiday destinations, the Periyar Tiger Reserve stands out for its eco-tourism efforts and its inclusive volunteer programmes. Located in districts of Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta in Kerala, Periyar Tiger Reserve has long held a reputation for going all-out in its tiger conservation efforts on account of being home to almost 35-40 tigers. While they may not always have volunteer programmes open to all, you can always submit your details on their website for any future programmes they might conduct.

You can sign up for the volunteer programme here.

Periyar Tiger Reserve. Image Credit: Youtube

XV. National Tiger Conservation Authority And Wildlife Institute Of India

Every year, the Government of India embarks upon an ambitious census journey of estimating the total number of tigers in India. While the most recent survey, which took place in early 2018 and made use of pioneering technology in the form of mobile applications, is already old news, we’d still recommend keeping an eye out for the next one as certain state governments and forest departments tend to ask for volunteers to participate in the tiger census. And honestly, what better way is there to immerse yourself in the world of the Indian Tiger.

An organisation that works in both rural and urban areas, Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF) aims to participate in wildlife conservation activities through education and awareness. Many of their volunteer programmes are dedicated solely to the Indian tiger. From conducting awareness programs in villages to training programmes organised for Forest Guards, LWF organises several programmes throughout the year. So whether it’s field work that you’re into or imparting education through training camps and academic modules, LFW is a great place to start off for the variety of options it offers. You can peruse through their projects here.

Founded in 2001, Tiger Research And Conservation Trust (TRACT) seeks to undertake tiger conservation activities in the Tadobha Andhari Tiger Reserve, in Chandrapur region of Maharashtra. In order to understand human impact on nature, TRACT mostly undertakes projects in human-dominated areas so as to ensure a space of cohabitation for both, tigers and humans. From working with the forest departments to monitoring carnivore populations and undertaking surveys, TRACT’s operations are not for the newcomers. Some prior field experience is mandatory, along with a minimum 2 month time period of availability.

You can find more information on their website.

The Corbett Foundation undertakes tiger conservation interventions in tiger reserve corridors located in Central, North, and North-East India. With a team of almost 90 ‘green warriors’, TCF’s approach towards the cause is holistic in that it looks at ensuring sustainable livelihoods, habitation restoration plans, and conservation of India’s abundant biodiversity. From participating in social media campaigns to releasing literature to initiating solar fencing to protect crops in national parks, TCF’s projects are diverse and hence, they are always looking for volunteers and interns willing to immerse themselves in the world of the tiger.

You can register for their volunteer programmes by visiting their website.

Feature Image Courtesy: simcountry.wikia.com

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