June 19, 2019
Wildlife National Parks in Central India – what to expect
India is such a vast country with a massive diversity of wildlife viewing experiences to be had. So, making a travel plan becomes quite a task. What is the best national park in India and what can you expect to see and experience during a tiger safari in India? We recently travelled to central India to review again all the parks and wildlife experience ourselves, including visits to the best wildlife lodges close to the parks, so that we can share with you some travel tips to ensure you get the most out of your wildlife tour in India.
Pick one region – Central India/Madhya Pradesh
India has just over 100 national parks out of which 50% are Tiger Reserves. Seventy percent of the world’s tiger population reside in this country so it’s no wonder there is such a clamour to see the Big Cat. Whether you are looking for tiger sightings or otherwise, central India has some of the best national parks in India. Coupled with facilities for viewing and great accommodation, this is the best option to start your journey to explore India’s wildlife.
Central India boasts six great parks: Panna National Park, Bandavgarh National Park, Kanha National Park, Pench National Park, Satpura National Park and Tadoba National Park. Out of these, three parks (Bandavgarh, Kanha and Pench) are the most popular due to easy access, great overall sightings and good accommodation options.
Both Kanha and Bandavgarh national parks feature in our suggested itinerary Wildlife of Madhya Pradesh.
How long should I spend on safari in central India?
You will need at least 10-12 days for your tour, giving 2- 3 nights in each place plus travel times from one park to another, to experience all that the national parks of central India have to offer. You can also couple your India wildlife tour with one or two days in some of India’s top cities to visit, making it a complete India journey.
If you don’t want a tour of India that’s entirely focused on wildlife, we can incorporate one national park and safari experience into a more general India cultural or sightseeing tour. India’s Hidden Heart is a three week journey through central India and one of our other suggested itineraries. A wildlife experience could be added into this tour.
How do I reach the national parks of Central India?
One of the biggest advantages of visiting Central India is that it has great connectivity by air. There are two airports that you can use: Nagpur Airport which is the closest to Pench National Park and Jabalpur Airport through which you can reach Kanha National Park and Bandavgarh National Park. It is easy to fly from any large city in India such as Delhi and Mumbai to these two airports close to the parks.
Distance and Timing
- Nagpur Airport to Pench: 2-hour drive (approximately: 100 km)
- Jabalpur Airport to Kanha: 3 hours and 30-minute drive (approximately 160 km)
- Jabalpur Airport to Bandavargarh: 3 hours and 30-minute drive (approximately 165 km)
Between the parks travel time ranges between 4 -5 hours. The travel time may vary slightly due to road conditions. Currently a highway is being built between Pench and Kanha and this can delay your travel. So, adding an extra 30 minutes to your plan is healthy and a stress-free option. Pench to Kanha is 187 km and takes roughly 4 hours. Kanha to Bandavgarh is 215 km and takes approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes.
When is the best time to go on a tiger safari in central India?
These national parks operate nine months of the year and remain closed from 1st July to 30th September each year as monsoon rains hit Central India. There are sightings of animals right throughout when the parks are open. However, you can base your travel plan depending on your priorities.
- Best times to see tigers: February, March, April
- Best times for birding: November and early December
Do not be misled by best times, we have had excellent tiger sightings in May and looking for tigers in winter (November, December) is an equally exciting experience. But no tiger sighting is ever guaranteed – regardless of the time of year.
You can find more information about India’s weather trends here.
What wildlife can you hope to see in Central Indian National Parks?
Tigers of course!
Central India is all about Tiger Reserves where conservation of tiger is the prime focus. As such, the parks are governed by Project Tiger, administered by National Tiger Conservation Authority in India (NTCA). Over a period of time due to extensive efforts, the tiger population has greatly improved. Being the apex predator is all the more reason for this majestic creature to dominate the Central Indian National Parks.
Central Indian National Parks are some of the best parks to view the Big Cat in its natural habitat. Between Pench, Kanha and Bandavargarh, Bandavgarh is said to have the highest tiger sightings and further considered as the park with the highest density of tiger population in India. Although the other two parks may appear subdued, there are equally great opportunities to view tigers in them.
We find the Central Indian Parks to be quite appealing with their range of large and small mammals. You are likely to sight Spotted Deer (Chital), Sambar Deer, Wild Pigs, Golden Jackals, Rhesus Macaque and Hanuman Langur in these parks. Leopards are elusive although you may hear alarm calls and see fresh pug marks. So are the Sloth Bears. Rare sightings occur for both these although not frequently. Each park has its own variety of mammals making the terrains unique.
Pench National Park is synonymous with Asiatic wild dogs. Kanha National Park boasts of great displays of Swamp Deer (Barasinghe), Gaur (Commonly referred to as the Indian Bison), Deccan Gazelle (Chinkara) and Black Buck. Sightings at Bandavgarh National Park include Blue Bulls in addition to Gaur, Deccan Gazelle (Chinkara) and Black Buck. There are whole lot more mammals including Bats, Badgers, Jungle Cats, Fishing Cats etc which are not mentioned here and quite hard to see.
There is phenomenal bird life thriving in these parks. Bird sightings are good year around, however the best times to visit if you are keen birder is during Indian winter when temperatures drop and Himalayan mountains get cold. November and early December are great to see a lot of migratory birds. In general, you will see Indian Pitta, Indian Roller, Indian Paradise Fly- Catchers, Painted Storks, Red Jungle Fowls, Horn Bills, Egrets, Ibis and vultures such as White- rumped Vulture, Egyptian Vulture.
All these three Central Indian Parks have their own unique flora. Pench is a dry park with a Teak forest and a lot of deciduous trees that shed their leaves in summer. Kanha National Park has an evergreen forest with Sal (Shorea Robusta) and Bamboo with less deciduous trees. The park has picturesque swamps making it stand out as the beauty amongst the others. Bandavgarh is yet a deciduous forest with a mix of Sal and Bamboo and natural springs that nourish the park.
Tips and what to expect during a tiger safari in central India national parks such as Pench and Kanha?
What are safaris like in the national parks of central India?
- Almost all these three parks use Gypsy and Mahindra Scorpio jeeps converted for safaris. The latter tend to give more comfort on safari, while the former has greater agility. Pench being a smaller park uses more of Gypsy Jeeps. They are all open and generally driven by the naturalist himself. In rare moments you may have a driver and the naturalist will sit with you at the back. A local guide will join you on the safaris.
- The safari times are based on the sunrise and sunset, therefore differ in summer and winter. During summer mornings, safaris start as early as 0530 hrs which means you have to be up and ready quite early considering that most lodges are 15-20 minutes away from the park entrances. In contrast, the afternoon safaris start late in summer at 1600 hrs. Average time for a safari remains at 3 hours. It is quite the opposite in winter.
- As it can get very hot in summer, make sure you drink a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated, carry a sun hat and shades. In winter warm clothes are necessary to keep you comfortable on chilly mornings. Morning safaris are coupled with a good picnic breakfast that your lodge will prepare for you based on your requirements. A mix of Indian and Continental food are included with tea, coffee and fresh juices.
- There is no strict safari attire. Depending on the weather you can opt to wear comfortable clothing. (Though it is recommended to avoid brightly coloured clothing.)
- Each park has a common place to get down and have your tea, coffee/ breakfast and use the washrooms. A belted pouch is handy to carry a few personal items.
- Note, for foreign travellers presenting their passports at the entry counter is mandatory and tipping the local guide is customary.
What are the best hotels and wildlife lodges near the national parks Pench, Kanha and Bandavgarh in Central India for wildlife viewing?
One of the biggest advantages in visiting Central Indian Parks are the choice of accommodation on offer. You can pick from value for money options to luxury accommodations that can spoil you after long safaris and road trips. The pick is yours.
Some of our favourites places to stay include:
At Pench National Park:
At Kanha National Park
At Bandavgarh National Park
What is the weather like in Central Indian Parks?
You will most likely travel in Summer or Winter. Note the sightings based on each season. Indian summer can get very hot where the temperature can shoot up to 40+ degrees by May. So, February, March and April become more appealing to travellers. Winter can get equally cold where the night’s temperature can drop down to 0 degrees. So, make sure you carry some warm clothes if you travel in November to late January. As you can see temperatures can vary drastically.
There are other things you can do and see in between safaris. They include visits to nearby villages. Rural central India is yet untouched by modernization and you will see the simplicity in their everyday lives. There are two main tribes that live in the boundaries of these parks, namely Baiga and Gonds. Gonds are great artists and Baigas make beautiful traditional jewellery. The naturalist at your lodge will be happy to accompany you to see and meet these simple and happy tribal people. Do request in advance.
These are some of our travel tips to help you get the most out of a visit to the many wonderful national parks of central India. We can incorporate some or all of these national parks and wildlife safaris in a custom made private tour of India designed for you.
You may also like to read our other India travel blogs:
What are the essentials to pack when travelling in India?
To speak to one of our senior India travel planners you can send an email to email@example.com and ask for a custom made itinerary or request a call back from one of our team. You can make an appointment to come to our Melbourne, Australia office to sit down with us and start planning your wildlife tour of India today.