The Indian continent is recognised as one of the true natural wonders of the world, with travellers visiting India for centuries to marvel at its astounding landscapes and abundant biodiversity.
Julian Matthews is the chairman of TOFT India, an organisation that aims to conserve tigers and their habitat through the wise use of nature tourism – and one which we have supported for many years. Julian has spent a lifetime travelling through the forests of India and here he shares his tips and advice on visiting India’s tiger reserves.
1. Do your holiday research
Every great holiday starts with a grand idea. Spend time finding out what’s available, from where and at what time of year. Use a TOFT tour operator like On the Go Tours to help you, as they have committed to best standards in their operations.
2. Avoid weekends and holidays
Nearby cities empty into the countryside during the numerous holidays and festivals including Diwali in November, Christmas, Holi Festival and Easter, with reserves and lodges filled to capacity. This means a less wild experience, as you jostle with other jeeps and people on your game drives. Though of course, Holi and Diwali are fabulous times to visit India, so you might find it difficult deciding on this aspect.
3. Make sure you have the right clothing and kit
The old phrase that ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’ is very apt. The main season for viewing wildlife in tiger reserves is from October to April. It can get surprisingly cold in December and January during early morning and late afternoons on game drives. Take scarfs, woolly hats and gloves. Finally, invest in a good field guide and bird book.
4. Book well in advance
With strict carry capacities allowed for visitors into most well-known parks, you need to book early to ensure you can get vehicle permits and the lodges you want.
5. Think sustainable
If your visit can be both enjoyable and sustainable, it will provide the economic and social imperatives that will save these wildernesses. The alternative is not something we want to have to contemplate.
6. Hire a quality guide
Great guides can turn an average nature holiday into an extraordinary one. Many lodges now have in-house naturalists so ask for the top park naturalist or guide. Don’t compromise – ask for the best you can get. They’re worth every penny.
7. Carry your conscience
We are all guilty of it – leaving our conscience behind on holiday. It’s so much easier! However, India will regale your sense with the great, the gruesome, the plainly wrong, and the simply mad at every turn. Use it to your advantage, seek opportunities to question and report things that you like – but particularly those that you dislike.
8. Ask – be different.
Ask and you will (probably) receive. There’s an exciting, pulsating world of wildlife and natural wonder at every turn in these parks. Don’t be too scared to ask if it’s possible to see something special, smell it, experience it, feel it or spend more time watching it. It’s your holiday after all.
9. Remember it is wild life
Wildlife, by its very nature, is elusive, and much of it’s nocturnal. In fact, most tigers are nocturnal, and it’s only in secure habitats, often tourism zones, where tigers and other animals which have no fear of humans are happy to be seen in the daytime. Enjoy the park for what it is, and for what its guardians have managed to preserve, and try not to be disappointed if you don’t see a tiger – it saw you. Regard it as an awesome privilege to see them – not an inherent right. And remember always that the best way to see the most wildlife is to give yourself time and be patient.
10. It’s their home.
The parks were set up to preserve wilderness and their wild inhabitants, rather than to cater for you as a visitor. With the crush of humanity on their borders, and the unceasing demands of visitors and VIPs, field directors and staff have a tough job controlling everybody. So there are often many rules and regulations that stipulate just how you can visit each park.