August 2, 2019
Exploring the national parks of Central India – bucket list travel
For most travellers, a first trip to India covers the major attractions – so places like the Taj Mahal, Delhi, Varanasi and Jaipur are likely to feature in an itinerary. Some might also add on a tiger safari in Ranthambhore, given its connectivity to Jaipur and Delhi. One of the most popular itineraries for first time travel in India would be a tour of the Golden Triangle or Rajasthan – such as our Classic Rajasthan tour.
However, a lesser-known part of India that doesn’t get a lot of attention is Central India and its national parks and wildlife safaris. But what is there to see and do in Central India and what can you do there? Can you see a tiger in the national parks in Central India? Are there any good hotels? And where exactly do we mean by central India?
If you are interested in wildlife and nature, we suggest that the wildlife parks of central India be added to your bucket list for travel in India and included into your itinerary. Central Indian parks are also great for first time travellers looking to see more than just the highlights of India and those who want a diversity of wildlife sightings whilst on a tiger safari in India.
Where is Central India?
When we say Central India we are referring to the state of Madhya Pradesh. The region’s closest and best known neighbour is Rajasthan to the north. While Central India doesn’t have the big name cities of Rajasthan, to help you locate it on map, look for Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh.
Central India is synonymous with wildlife and has five well-known national parks. This region is easily accessible from Nagpur and Jabalpur airports. Nagpur airport is part of the state of Maharashtra however just 95km away from Pench National Park in Central India. If you are flying from Delhi or Mumbai, it is a short flight of less than two hours. The other domestic airport that provides easy access to some of the parks is Jabalpur. Temperature wise, Central India is warm in summer averaging to 32-40°C. May is the hottest month. However, the heat is not as strong as what you would find in Rajasthan possibly as a result of this state largely being green. Temperatures in winter are quite pleasant with the nights dropping to 10° and the days averaging between 25-28°C.
India’s Hidden Heart is one of our suggested itineraries in Central India which may give you some inspiration for places to visit in the region that you can include as well as the national parks.
Why you should pick Central India for a wildlife tour
#1 Central India is easily accessible.
It’s easy to reach from cities like Mumbai and Delhi with daily flights to and from Central India which makes travel really easy. The flights are less than two hours making travel even more convenient.
#2 You can do multiple parks in one go
Central India is convenient for wildlife lovers as it is home to five National Parks (Satpura, Pench, Kanha, Bandavgarh and Panna). These are also Tiger Reserves; meaning conservation of tigers is top of the list of priorities. It is not an absolute must to visit all the parks at one go but you can do 3-4 parks within your private tour of Central India. Keep reading and you’ll find our suggestion for 3 parks that are worthy of visiting in one go.
#3 Central Indian parks are diverse
Ever thought that visiting multiple parks in the same region can get boring?
Not in Central India that’s for sure. Each park has such diversity in terms of fauna and flora that you will hardly see any similarities. For more details about the national parks in central India – visit our Wildlife Tours of India page for detailed information about each park.
#4 The promise of tiger sightings
Yes! The Big Cat is the king and commands most of the attention of visitors. These parks are tiger reserves dedicated to the conservation of this beautiful majestic animal. Bandhavgarh National Park for instance has the highest density of tigers, therefore great for tiger sightings. Though a tiger sightseeing can never be guaranteed, there are certain times of year when the chance of spotting a tiger in the wild in India is greatly improved. Ask us about when is the best time to travel in India for the best weather. For tips and information about India’s weather in general – our India FAQs page may be useful for you.
#5 Overall great wildlife sightings
Although the national parks in Central India are famous for tiger sightings there are equally great sightings of larger mammals including, leopards, sloth bears and gaur. Smaller mammals that are rare elsewhere such as Asiatic wild dogs and hard ground swamp deer (Barasinghe) are sighted regularly. There is also a good variety of migratory and residential birds in all these parks.
Three parks at one go – a wildlife tour of India including 3 national parks in Central India
We asked ourselves what the best parks are to visit if we had two weeks for a wildlife tour in India. Although all five parks in Central India are equally great, we chose three based on diversity, accessibility and sightings. These are the three parks we recommend seeing together.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh National Park is 1600 sq.km with 790 sq.km as the core zone. It is one of the most popular national parks in India for tiger sightings due to the high density of tigers, thanks to continuous efforts to conserve the big cat. The Bandhavgarh means `brother’s fort’ (Bhandhav – brother, Garh – Fort) and relates to a story where King Rama gifted the park to his brother to keep an eye on Lanka (Sri Lanka). The park is rich in ancient ruins that are visible during the safaris adding to its character.
Bandhavgarh National Park may be synonymous with tiger sightings, but it has a whole lot more to offer. Gaur (Indian Bison) has been newly introduced to the park after its extinction a few years ago. There are other larger mammals like leopard, sambar deer, chital (spotted deer) and sloth bears, together with smaller mammals like jungle cat, striped hyena, Bengal fox to name a few. Sightings of leopards and sloth bears are infrequent compared to the tigers. One of the reasons for great tiger sightings in this park is the varied topography. The park is rich in natural springs making the natural spring water holes attractive to birds and other mammals. The park consists of deciduous trees that shed their leaves in summer creating an even better opportunity for wildlife sightings at these times.
How do you get to Bandhavgarh National Park?
Bandhavgarh National Park is 165.3 km from Jabalpur airport which is approximately a 4-hour drive. You can either start your wildlife tour to Central India with Bandhavgarh National Park or end the tour with the park. From Jabalpur airport it is an easy 1 ½ – 2-hour flight to most large cities including Mumbai and Delhi.
There are great accommodation options at Bandhavgarh. Some of our favourites are Samode Safari Lodge, Kings Lodge, Tree House Hideaway and Mahua Kothi.
Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park is one of the most beautiful National Parks in Central India. The large array of Sal trees makes this an evergreen park compared to other parks in the region. Kanha National Park has a unique terrain with green meadows, hilly terrains, rugged rocky hills and ample Sal and Bamboo trees that are heavenly for the diverse species that make this their home. The hilly terrains are great leopard habitats and sighting a fury sloth bear up on the meadows is an indelible experience. The swamps which are spread on the meadows are the home of Swamp deer (Barasingha). You will see other mammals such as sambar deer, Deccan Gazelle (Chinkara), spotted deer (Chital) grazing grass together on these meadows.
Kanha National Park is a tiger reserve making it a popular place for visitors on the lookout for the big cat. Winter season attracts a significant number of migratory birds that fly from the Himalaya region to escape the cold winters, which make a visit to Kanha National Park appealing for keen bird watchers. November to mid-December are ideal for birdwatching. The unique flora and topography of the park provide great photography options.
How do I get to Kanha National Park? Kanha National Park is a 4-hour drive from Pench National Park and 5-hour drive from Bandavgarh National Park making it the mid-point in your wildlife tour.
One of our preferred accommodation options for Kanha is Kanha Earth Lodge. If you feel like splurging Banjaar Tola and Flame of the Forest are also good options. Singinawa Jungle Lodge provides a more economical option. These are some of our suggestions for the best places to stay near Kanha National Park.
Pench National Park
Pench National Park is an ideal place to start your journey of wildlife parks in India’s Central region as Nagpur airport is just 100km from the park. It is a special place, with a teak forest and deciduous trees. It is even more special when you think of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Fondly known as Mowgli Land, Pench National Park was the inspiration for Kipling’s renowned novel. Drive into the park and you are likely to see everything you have read or seen in the Jungle Book, other than Mowgli. The deciduous trees make sightings good in the summer months. Tiger sightings are on the rise. The park is famous for leopard and Asiatic wild dog sightings, the latter rarely seen in other parks in Central India. The mighty Pench River that halves the park adds to the beauty of Pench.
One of the biggest advantages of Pench National Park is that it is small enough to see in a couple of safaris that can be done with two-night stay.
We love the accommodation options that are available in Pench. Some of our favourites are Jamtara Wilderness Camp and Pench Tree Lodge. Bhagawan is an upmarket accommodation. For value for money you can opt for Pench Jungle Camp.
It is convenient to include these three parks in one private tour to India. Starting in either Delhi or Mumbai (where most international travellers from Australia arrive in India) and fly to Nagpur or Jabalpur (depending on which park you visit first). We recommend you commence your journey with Pench National Park and proceed to Kanha and end the tour with Bandhavgarh National Park. You can also include a couple of nights in Delhi or Mumbai to see the major attractions of India’s two biggest cities. We can also craft you a custom made tour of India that includes these three national parks of central India as well as some of the highlights of Rajasthan or best things to see in North India, or add on a week long tour of South India to contrast your experience in India. Are you ready to visit the national parks of Central India?
You may also like to read our other travel blogs:
20 of the best things to see and do in Mumbai
If you are a keen wildlife traveller, our sister brand Sri Lanka Unbound also offers a unique range of wildlife travel in Sri Lanka and expertise in Sri Lanka’s national parks. You can see our newest suggested Sri Lanka wildlife itinerary here, and read our latest blog on the best wildlife experiences and national parks to visit in Sri Lanka.
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