Most people heading to National Parks in India want to see the Tiger!
Likely that you and your children are no exception!
One of the most important things to note, when you plan a trip to a National Park, is that there is no guarantee of spotting the Tiger.
Moreover, a Jungle has plenty of other interesting things to see, observe and experience.
It is useful and advisable to shift away from the single-minded Tiger-centric focus.
Not only will it ensure that you have a more holistic and enjoyable experience but also that you and your child do not leave the jungle disappointed.
Seeing the Tiger however, is no doubt, something everyone looks out for. Particularly children. While there is no way to guarantee a sighting, here are some tips that might improve your chances to see the big cat.
- Plan early : This will ensure that you can research and book safaris in zones where there is a higher tiger density. Online bookings for safaris at several Parks open three months in advance and jeeps for the popular zones are gone minutes after the booking opens. So if you intend to go in May (the best time), you need to start planning in January and book in February.
- Do your Homework: National Parks are divided into zones. Safari bookings are made based on the zone and there is a restricted number of vehicles in each zone. Some zones are regarded as better for tiger sightings. Others may have relatively few or no sightings. Find out more about which tigers can be found in which territories of the Park by visiting the website of the National Park.
- Go during the Summer – You might find those who return from National Parks have mixed reactions. Some report great sightings. Others see no tigers at all. While there is no guarantee of seeing tigers or big mammals, the season you choose to go has a big say in the matter. April to June is the best time. The heat of the summer months is when the animals come to the watering holes to drink water and cool off. Sightings during the summer are undoubtedly much better and the safaris, though more arduous, are definitely more rewarding.
- Book in Advance – If you decide to go there and then book your safari, chances are you will be allotted a safari in whatever zones are available. Most likely, safaris in Zones with higher sightings will no longer be available. Particularly jeeps, would be unavailable at the last moment. More so during the peak season. This would mean you would be allotted a safari in a zone with fewer or no tigers. But if you find you are doing a last-minute trip, canters for the good zones may still be available.
- Book Online – If you plan to visit the Booking Office, choose a zone you desire and get a vehicle of your choice on the morning of your safari, good luck to you! I would recommend that you book your safari online by choosing the zone and the vehicle for a hassle-free experience. Remember…often bookings open 3 months in advance…and the hot zones are gone in minutes after they open. So plan early.
- Canter vs Jeep – Two kinds of vehicles are usually available for the safari. One is a canter that seats 20 people and the other is a Jeep with a capacity of 6. I would highly recommend that you take the jeep, although it costs marginally more, for it allows you to get your guide to show you more. Besides, the canter is noisy and with many more people in it, it is noisier! The ride on the canter is also bumpier than on the jeep. While the jeep can go into narrow lanes, the canter cannot. So…there you see…there are numerous advantages to taking the jeep.
- Booking the Full Jeep – Once the tourists are registered for a particular canter/jeep, the vehicle visits the hotels where they are staying to pick them up. So, if you happen to be furthest from the Park, you will be spending some time hopping from hotel to hotel as the vehicle collects all the tourists registered for the safari on that vehicle. Naturally, the jeep with a capacity of 6, will take less time to fill it’s seats. The canter will take longer. Should you wish to save on time and don’t mind paying more, you can book the entire jeep for your family, by paying for all 6 seats, whether or not 6 people are occupying it. But do remember that once you book a seat, you will not get a refund if you decide not to go/are unable to go.
- Show up Early – After you have chosen and booked your safari, you will still need to get a vehicle allotted to you. Your hotel might be able to help with that or you will need to go over to the booking office. Whichever route you take, make sure you show up well in advance in order to enter the Park as soon as it opens so as to maximise your time inside the Forest, thereby improving chances of good sightings.
- Ask around for latest sightings– If a tiger has been sighted in the morning in a particular zone, it is likely that it will be found in the same area later that day. Find out about latest sightings from other visitors and drivers. If you are yet to book your safari, try and see if you can book one for the zone in which the tiger was recently spotted. While that does not guarantee a sighting, it might improve your chances.
- Book more Safaris – If tigers are your point of focus, try and book as many safaris as possible to maximize your chances. Two safaris can be done in one day. The morning safari is usually from 6 am to 9.30 am. The afternoon safari is from 3.30 pm to 7 pm. (The timings change over the seasons. Check the National Park website for particulars.) If your child can handle two outings in a day and back-to back safari over 2-3 days that you plan to be there, I would suggest you go for as many safaris as are doable. We did 5 safaris in 2.5 days with our 6 year-old kids in Ranthambore in May. It turned out great. We were able to spot 5 tigers in all and several other birds and animals.
- Don’t chase the Tiger – If you have a single-minded focus on spotting the Tiger, you will see nothing else and may find your experience bitter and disappointing. Look out for pug marks, scat marks and listen to alarm calls of deer and monkeys. (to teach your child to look out for these signs and signals, click here.) Enjoy the experience but don’t chase the Tiger. As I’ve heard them say, ‘You can’t decide to see the Tiger. The Tiger decides if it wants to see you!’
Good Luck! And Happy Sighting!