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When you hear safari you instantly think of the great plains of Africa. The endless savannah, flat-topped acacia trees, and blue lakes turned neon pink with flocks of flamingos. But did you know that you can also safari in India in the park that inspired The Jungle Book? Only instead of looking for lions, you’ll be tracking tigers!
I first learned about tiger safari during my first African safari in Tanzania. Looking at the brochure of the company I booked with, &Beyond, I came across Banjaar Tola Tented Camp in Kanha National Park… tigers, leopards, bears, monkeys! Since safari is my favorite travel experience, I go every couple of years. But this time, I decided to see what India had to offer.
There are a few parks to go on safari with in India, so if you have more time, you can do a small circuit of three or four lodges. But I only had four days to spare, so I chose Kanha because it is the largest and most beautiful terrain and Banjaar Tola was built up to &Beyond standards by Taj Hotels. As a safari company, &Beyond is top-notch. Every detail is thoughtful and every moment is organized to make for a seamless, luxury trip. They handle all airport and inner-city transfers, and once you arrive at the lodge, you’re treated to hospitality that makes you feel like family.
GETTING TO KANHA NATIONAL PARK
It’s a bit of a journey to get to Kanha, which is why it’s remained so remote. The nearest airport is a four-hour drive from Banjaar Tola. As we went deeper in the country and closer to the jungle, animals started to appear. When we finally arrived at Banjaar Tola, that pre-safari feeling hit me. No vice or thrill can top it. You’re in the wild!
GLAMPING AT BANJAAR TOLA TENTED CAMP
The lodge is an oasis in the jungle. As I felt with every safari camp I’ve stayed in: from Tanzania to South Africa to India – the photos don’t do them justice. This elaborate “tent” is entirely styled in wood, straw, and bamboo, in shades of khaki, olive, sunflower, and paisley. It looks as though it grew out of the nature surrounding it, evolving over time from trees and leaves into the luxurious shelter it is now. These are permanent tents, meaning they have a cement foundation and are really more like a bungalow.
The inside has large glass windows everywhere seem to disappear, giving the illusion that you’re outside. A huge deck sits off the bedroom with sun loungers and a view of the river right outside your door! There’s also a yoga mat in the room if you want to keep up with your practice between drives.
The dressing area had an open-shower, and a free-standing tub overlooking the jungle. The tent is glamping in its most sincere form! The main lodge is even more luxurious, with several palm-print couches, wildlife books, and a beautiful pool.
SAFARI GAME DRIVES
Crawling into the vehicle, I get the same feeling I have climbing into the car of a roller coaster. My stomach is uneasy and all my sensed are heightened. A un-crackable smile is plastered on my face. Something thrilling is coming!
Game drives at Kanha National Park are twice a day; once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. You slowly drive through the park, your naturalist and guide looking for signs of the animals. Sometimes it’s sheer luck – you just happen to be right there when a tigress crosses the road to get to the waterhole! Other times, it’s hours of following tracks, listening for warning calls from the other animals, predicting behaviors, waiting. The guides teach you so much about the animals, you feel like you are in a nature documentary.
You have no idea what’s going to happen on your game drive, which makes every moment exciting. Every corner you turn, something could be there. The jungle gives no guarantees – no minimum or maximum sightings, so you are always on alert. When the vehicle accelerates toward what could be a tiger, so does the beat of your heart! On our six drives, we saw four tigers! One male walked right next to the vehicle, so close that I could have reached out touch him.
KANHA NATIONAL PARK
The terrain in Kanha looks very different from Africa. The ground is sunburnt and cracked. The dusty roads are lined with a million, pencil-thin trees that reach the sky. Small bunches of lime-colored leaves emerge from top to bottom and a black-faced monkey is often perched on high branch, observing the tourists as they pass.
Water-bodies are scattered throughout, and always busy midday with thirsty deer, or mud bathing boars given the hundred degree temperatures. The dry open plains are covered in tall grass and dotted with thick banyan trees, where leopards could be resting in low-hung, twisty branches.
Just as magical as spotting predators, is simply experiencing the harmony of the jungle. I watched the body language of the deer change as a bird began frantically sounding its alarm, flying at a trio of jackal, tying to protect its eggs from being lunch. I observed a family of swap deer sitting under a shady tree in the same vista as a peacock practicing his display for mating season.
MAGICAL EVENINGS BANJAAR TOLA TENTED CAMP
Evenings begin with a sundowner at the lodge and culture dancing from a local tribe while you wait for a divine Indian dinner. You’ll never be eating the same thing twice – except for the fresh-from-the-oven, Naan! Every night is special not just because of the food, but because you never know where you’ll be eating. Maybe on your private balcony, or by the pool. Or maybe your guide want to “show you something he found in the bush” and you’ll arrive to a secret table surrounded by a hundred glowing lanterns! &Beyond is full of amazing surprises to make every moment special.
By 9pm, you’ll be ready to tuck into your king-sized bed and dozing off to the sounds of the jungle. Though you might come back to the room to find a bath drawn for you, scattered with flower petal and a bottle of wine. And in that case – it will be a little while longer until you’re asleep!
PACKING FOR YOUR TIGER SAFARI
The lodge does laundry for you every day free of charge, so pack as little as possible.
Bring layers! Even in April when it reaches one hundred degrees in the afternoon, morning are cold! Layers are the key, bundle up and shed them as you need. You can wear your safari outfit all day. But you’ll want to bring a lightweight dress or lounging outfit for in-between game drives, as you might enjoy getting out of your dusty clothes for dinner.
There are no rules, but wearing the colors of the jungle helps you blend in and stay cool so you will see most people in an unofficial uniform of safari gear: white or tan tops, green or khaki pants. You can buy actual safari items that are UV-protected, quick-drying, etc. I have never done that, but I stick to lightweight layers and colors of the jungle.
This trip I packed a pair of harem pants and a maxi-dress in addition to my safari gear. All the times I’ve been, most people stay in the safari clothing for meals. You should not check luggage on safari, and a lot of planes are so small so they have maximum weight restrictions. So try to stick to bringing a carry on or small bag if you can!
If you love safari, and you’ve already been to Africa, then consider trading lions for tigers and exploring the real life Jungle Book in Kanha National Park!
Have you been to Kanha National Park or on another Tiger Safari? Please share your experience in the comments below! Read Next > A Quick Guide For Your First Africa Adventure