8 Reasons to Go on Safari in India

Published 30 March 2016

Lauren Burvill

Lauren Burvill

Naively, a safari holiday to me had always evoked Lion King-esque visions of Africa. Sprawling plains filled with zebra, wildebeest and big cats. It had never even occurred to me that Africa wasn’t the only place in the world to undertake a safari. That all changed though on my first visit to India; I practically fell in love with the country's jungles and wildlife. Here are just a few reasons why you’ll love it too.

Our Naturalist on safari in Ranthambore

Our naturalist for the day (Image: Lauren Burvill)

Safaris are operated by ‘naturalists’

As I learnt on my safari drives in Ranthambore National Park, a safari is very different to a tour, thus a tour guide is very different to a naturalist. When you book one of our safaris in India (operated by Creative Travel), you’ll be taken around in a 4X4 by a trained naturalist, which is someone who not only knows the national park, but has in-depth knowledge and expertise when it comes to the park's inhabitants and, most importantly, how to find them.

Tiger footprints in Ranthambore

Tiger footprints (Image: Lauren Burvill)

For example, during our drive, our naturalist was constantly listening out for certain bird calls in order to track tigers (birds often warn the rest of the jungle when a predator is near), and pointed out footprints and marks on the ground of certain animals.

Tiger in front of safari jeep

tiger in front of a safari 4X4 (Image: Lauren Burvill)

If luck is on your side, you’ll see a tiger

India is home to 70% of the world’s wild tiger population and recently the National Tiger Conservation Authority announced a 30% increase in the population since 2006. Even with these positive numbers though, I was told countless times by locals not to expect to see a tiger. I was set to do a safari in Ranthambore, a very popular safari park due to its close proximity to the Golden Triangle, and as a result not the most promising park to see tigers (Bandhavgarh National Park and Sunderbans National Park are said to be better).

Tiger behind grass in Ranthambore

My first sighting of a tiger (Image: Lauren Burvill)

Suffice it to say, on the morning of my first drive, I wasn’t holding my breath. As we entered the park I was casually looking around at the terrain when all of a sudden I spotted a mother Bengal tiger behind some long grass, right near the road. In complete shock I managed to mutter the words: ‘there it is…’ Luckily our naturalist for the day heard my faint comment and the car came to a grinding halt. For three magical minutes we watched in silent awe as the tiger wandered blissfully beside our 4X4 before crossing the road in front of us and running off into the jungle. It was one of the most pinch-worthy moments of my travels.

How to do it?

I travelled on our Glimpses of Taj & Tiger Journey itinerary which includes three game drives in Ranthambore National Park.

Tiger crossing the road in Ranthambore, India

A tiger crossing the path to the national park's tiger zones (Image: Lauren Burvill)

They take conservation seriously

Interestingly, what made my serendipitous tiger sighting all the more special was that we hadn’t even reached our dedicated zone for the day. While the wildlife of the national park can move about freely, different groups are allocated to specific zones of the park each day to prevent overcrowding.

Tiger reserves themselves are also increasing in numbers too. In the last five years tiger reserves have grown from 35 to 48, helping to boost the population to over 2,200. There have even been success stories of tigers moving freely between reserves which have helped to avoid inbreeding.

Leopard in Nagarhole National Park, India

A leopard at Nagarhole National Park

Tigers aren’t the only jungle cats to see

While tigers may be the most famed animals of the jungle (and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book), they aren’t the only big cats to be seen in India. In many of the national parks, Ranthambore included, leopard sightings are common while black leopards (which are often commonly referred to as panthers) are more likely to be seen in southern India.

Asian lion in India

An Asian lion

I was also amazed to find out India is home to Asiatic lions, which have smaller manes than their African counterparts and can typically be found in the Gir Forest of Junagadh. Lynx and jungle cat are also common.

Rhino in Kaziranga National Park, India

A rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park

You can see rhinos in Kaziranga

One-horned rhinos to be precise. Kaziranga National Park, located to the north-east of India in the state of Assam, is home to two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses. These incredible creatures have two noticeable differences compared to their African kin; they have plate-like armour hides and of course, only one horn.

Asian Elephants in Kaziranga National Park, India

A baby Asian elephant with its mother in Kaziranga National Park

The best way to spot rhinos is on a safari drive of Kaziranga National Park, where you’ll also have a strong chance of seeing Asian elephants, Asian water buffalo, swamp deer and even tigers.

How to do it?

Our Rhinos of Kaziranga itinerary includes four safari drives in the park as well as a dolphin boat safari.

Peacock in Ranthambore National Park

A peacock at Ranthambore National Park (Image: Lauren Burvill)

The birdwatching is amongst some of the best in the world

As my first trip to India I had already anticipated that I’d see a lot of people. What I didn’t expect though, was to see so many birds. There are an incredible 1,314 species of bird in India, of which 42 are endemic. Even in Delhi, birds are everywhere. In Ranthambore I was blown away by the amount of peacocks I saw, and in the evenings in Jaipur the sound of parakeets chirping was incredible!

Kingfisher in Ranthambore National Park

A kingfisher in Ranthambore National Park (Image: Lauren Burvill)

For more rare or unique sightings, India has everything from eagles to flamingos, pheasants, nightjars, quails, plovers, herons, cranes and even hornbills.

How to do it?

With the help of our in-destination experts Creative Travel, we can tailor make a birdwatching itinerary for you (with a local guide) based on your particular interests.

Monkeys in the tree in Ranthambore

Monkeys at Ranthambore National Park (Image: Lauren Burvill)

Seeing monkeys and deer are a given

Chances are if you’re travelling to India, even if you’re just going to one of the big cities, you’ll see monkeys. India is home to 13 species, the most common of which is the rhesus macaques, which I saw a lot of in Delhi. While on safari in Ranthambore, I saw plenty of black-faced long-tailed langur monkeys.

Sambar deer in water

A sambar deer in Ranthambore National Park (Image: Lauren Burvill)

Typically, wherever we saw monkeys on our safari drives, we also saw deer close by. As our naturalist told us, the deer often stick with the monkeys as the monkeys will make noises if they see predators coming. Smart deer! Also: huge deer! I was amazed by just how big they were. The deer in question were actually sambar deer, which can weigh up to 546kg.

A wild boar in Ranthambore National Park

A wild boar in Ranthambore National Park (Image: Lauren Burvill)

A safari can be tailored to your interests

With over 100 national parks and an incredible amount of wildlife to be seen, a safari in India can be tailored to your interests. Highlight animals that can be seen in India that I haven’t mentioned yet include sloth bears, black bears, hyenas, wild boar, honey badgers, Indian bison and Asian antelope.  

Safaris can also focus on specific types of animals, for example spider safaris, snake safaris or even migration patterns. Whatever your interests, India has a safari to suit you.

Talk to one of our Experts today about creating a tailor-made safari in India. For more ideas, see our India holiday itineraries. 

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