Tigers are majestic creatures. Spotting them in the wild in their full glory is adventurous and thrilling. While entering a jungle to spot a tiger can be really dangerous, it has its own charm. Luckily India has a host of tiger reserves where guided tours through safe routes amidst the enchanting and eerie jungles can give visitors a chance to see these magnificent beasts up close as well as enjoy the glory of the untamed jungles. Here is a list of 5 Indian tiger reserves that are worth a visit at least once in a lifetime. This is not an ordered list nor does it claim something like ‘best tiger reserves in India’ or ‘top tiger reserves in India’. It just lists 5 of the many tiger reserves that India has to offer. Let’s begin…
Indian Tiger Reserves: Sunderban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal
Home to the famous and revered Royal Bengal Tiger, Sunderban tiger reserve is one of those Indian tiger reserves that are wild in their true sense. Spanning over 2,585 square kilometer of area, Sunderban is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What sets it apart is its wetland location where one can navigate through the many tributaries to head straight into the Bay of Bengal that connects directly to the Indian Ocean. Stating of water navigation, the only way to travel through the reserve is to use boats and sail through the meandering tributaries.
Sunderban is not only world’s largest mangrove forest but also has its own unique estuarine ecosystem that is dominated and most popular for the Royal Bengal Tigers. Sunderban gets its name from the famous Sundari trees. Around 400 tigers roam the forest and have, over time, earned themselves the moniker of ‘man-eaters’. Yes, they are for often attacking unsuspecting humans in the nearby settlement areas. They have also taken away many honey collectors who go deep into jungles for collecting honey. In fact, the number of victims once grew large enough that the authorities were forced to create a separate village for the widows of those victims. The widow village was populated only by females of all ages from teens to the aged.
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Though the reserve remains open for tourists during the months of September to March, the best time to visit the reserve is during the winter months between December and February when the tigers are known to come out from deep jungle to bask in sun. During summer months too, they come out to drink water from the tributaries. Spotting a tiger there is all up to luck.
While the Royal Bengal Tigers are always the prime attractions of Sunderban tiger reserve, it is also known for some other majestic aqua fauna, some of which are rare. For instance, it is also the home to the rare Ridley Sea Turtle. One can also find a wide variety of crocodiles, crabs, fish etc.
For bird watchers, it is a paradise with various species of migratory birds paying this reserve a visit during winter months. Including the migratory and the native birds, there are over 248 species birds in Sunderban to enchant the tourist.
Indian Tiger Reserves: Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
With one of the highest density of tigers among all national parks in India, the Bandhavgarh National Park is definitely one of the go-to places for those who want to catch glimpses of this majestic animal. Not just any tiger, the Bandhavgarh National Park is home to the famed Bengal Tigers.
This national park has three distinct zones – Bamera, Tala and Magdi with Tala offering the maximum tiger-sighting opportunities and hence it attracts more tourists compared to the other two zones. This national park was home to a tigress called Sita, which was claimed to be the second most photographed tiger in whole world and even featured in National Geographic’s cover page.
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For hardcore animal lovers, the national park has a lot more to offer such as chital (spotted deer), Indian leopard, nilgai, barking deer, sambar, striped hyena, Indian wolf and more. Additionally there are 350 bird species, 80 butterfly species and various reptiles as well.
Apart from the rich diversity of fauna, the national park is known for natural beauty with sharp hillocks, open meadows and tranquil grasslands along with Bandhavgarh Fort’s 39 historical caves. Best time to be here is between February and June.
Indian Tiger Reserves: Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan
Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks that India has to offer. The tiger reserve here used to be a favorite hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Deep inside the reserve is an ancient fort, which turns out to be a favorite spot for leopards and tigers. One of the best aspects of the tiger reserve is that the tigers here are pretty diurnal. This is nothing less than a blessing for tourists as they can spot these majestic tigers in broad daylight.
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While this charismatic megafauna is definitely the best attraction, the reserve also woos tourists with its wide collection of wildlife including crocodiles, jackals, Indian foxes, hyenas, sloth bears and more.
The best places to spot a wide diversity of wildlife in the national park is to head for any of the three famous lakes – Malik Talao, Raj Talao and Padam Talao – where a great many wild animals flock to quench their thirsts. Oh yes, the reserve is also home to Russell’s viper, Indian python, tortoises, marsh crocodiles etc. Anytime between February and March is the best time to visit the reserve.
Indian Tiger Reserves: Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
It is huge and it is picturesque. The Kanha Tiger Reserve located in Madhya Pradesh is boasted as one of the best places to spot tigers. It is home to relocated Bengal Tigers that are present in significant numbers. While the big cats dominate the list of attractions, this tiger reserve is also home to Barasingha Deer – a very endangered species that is found on in this reserve.
There’s a huge diversity when it comes to wildlife in this reserve. Animals like ant-eating pangolin, sambar, chinkara, porcupine, mouse deer, leopard, striped hyena, black buck, wild pig, jackal, gaur, chital etc. frequent the common tourist routes.
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One of the best attractions of the reserve is that of trained elephants blocking tigers in such a manner that people can take a good look at the mighty cats. While this has a fun element, what lacks is the natural posture of the cats for they are kind of startled and are far keener on escaping quickly. Thus, a normal safari through the meandering routes of the jungles is perhaps the best to capture the true splendor of the tigers.
It gets even better with the large sweeping meadows where animals roam around freely, offering excellent photography options for tourists. Anytime between April and June is considered to be the best time for visiting this beautiful tiger reserve.
Indian Tiger Reserves: Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra is not a very well-know tiger reserve despite the fact that it is located in one of the oldest National Parks in India and boasts a very high concentration of tigers. As of 2016, the reserve had 88 tigers with another 58 in the surrounding forests just next to the reserve.
Talking of tigers, the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is home to some relocated Bengal Tigers. Apart from those majestic beasts, the national park and the reserve are home to various other mammals like dhole, nilgai, sloth bears, Indian leopards, small Indian civet, striped hyena, barking deer, sambar, jungle cats, honey badger, chausingha, chital etc.
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The national park and the reserve is also home to marsh crocodiles, Russell’s viper, common Indian monitor, Indian cobra, Indian python, Indian star tortoise, terrapins, 74 butterfly species, 195 bird species including crested serpent eagle, changeable hawk-eagle, grey-headed fish eagle and more.
In short, the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is a paradise for animal lovers. Best time to visit the reserve is during the summer months.