After our couple days of celebrating Diwali with our new friends Adam and I took off and headed about 500 miles south from Delhi towards Bandhavgarh national park, in search of tigers. Ever since leaving Africa we’ve really missed our safaris, so we put tigers on the list of animals to see in the wild. Their populations have been dwindling to very small numbers due to poaching, and some scientists believe they could be extinct in 20-30 years.
After a short plane ride and a four hour ride in a Jeep, we arrived in the tiny Indian town of Tala. Adam chose Bandhavgarh national park to view the tigers because they had the highest population of tigers in all of India. The park had a saying: “In any other Park, You are lucky if you see a tiger. In Bandhavgarh, you are unlucky if you don’t see (at least) one.” We were pretty sure we would have a good chance, but we also knew nothing would be guaranteed.
We both agreed that four safaris would be plenty for us to see some tigers. We broke it up into two morning and two evening trips over the course of four days. Each safari took about four hours, driving through fields, forests, and up mountain sides. After our first two safaris, we ended up seeing three different species of deer in the park, including the rare barking deer, a couple different types of monkeys, and a very pretty bird called the Indian roller.
Two more days of safaris came and went with ZERO tigers. Searching in vain for wild animals becomes a disheartening experience when you come up empty day after day. After four safaris with nothing to show for them, we heard that tigers are harder to see during this season (winter/ dry) and the best time would be when the temperatures are over 100 degrees and scorching hot, because you’ll always know where the Tigers were, near watering holes. The grasses were high and even if we were close to any tigers we never saw them.
We still had our hopes on Kanha national park. This is another park that is home to tigers as well and we were down to our last two attempts. We learned that Kanha was the park that inspired the writer Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book, which later became a popular Disney movie. Unfortunately Kanha had just as much area to NOT see tigers as Bandhavgarh. There were a few more animals we saw here that were fun to see such as owls, . We also saw lots more deer. On the bright side we saw a rare sloth bear, which Adam was only able to get a photo of him running away, but he was so cute for the five seconds we saw him. He looked like a huge teddy bear. He was our highlight of Kanha.
Leaving Kanha, Adam and I left feeling defeated and let down. We knew that seeing a tiger was never guaranteed, but after 6 safaris you would think you’d at least see one! Our inability to see a tiger is also an unfortunate byproduct of the illegal poaching that happens to tigers quite often. Our failure is firsthand proof that their population continues to dwindle. Adam thinks this was the biggest disappointment of the trip so far. We would like to come back again in a few years to see them during the hotter dry season, but by then there may not be any left.