Where Are the Best Big Cat Safaris in India and Sri Lan

03 Oct 2018 11:38
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Apart from snow leopards, which surely must be on every wildlife enthusiast's 'to see' list, the following parks and reserves in India and Sri Lanka offer the very best wildlife sightings for big cats.

Tigers

India is indeed the land of the tiger, with some superb tiger reserves found all the way from the Himalayan foothills to the reserves in the deep south.

Nagarhole near Mysore is a splendid wildlife reserve and one of the finest tiger habitats in Asia. There are some superb lodges and luxury camps here and Nagarhole fits in well with a tour of South India and Kerala.

The famous tiger reserves of Central India like Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, and Tadoba remain extremely rewarding in terms of tiger sightings, but are busy for this very reason. Kanha remains a favourite with two exceptional camps - Shergarh and Flame of the Forest - and great guides.

Pench (see the BBC series: Tiger: Spy in the Jungle) has a delicious new camp called Jamtara Wilderness that has opened at the northern end of the park. With only 5 jeeps allowed from the gate, and not another lodge or camp in the area, you have this beautiful range of the park north of the Pench river to yourself. Best of all, you can access other ranges of the park from here. Jamtara is a very convenient link between Tadoba Tiger Reserve or Kanha and my favourite tiger reserve - Satpura.

Satpura: One of the largest, wildest, and least known of the tiger reserves, Satpura offers the best wilderness experience in tiger country. You can walk here, or go for a thrilling 2 or 3 night trek through the park ending at the highest point in Central India; explore the forest edge by canoe, and experience game drives where you may be the only jeep in sight for long periods. Tigers are shy and unhabituated to jeeps and people, and are therefore less visible than in other parks, but Satpura is best for leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, giant squirrels, gaur, and birds. Best of all, the unique tourism model allows you to explore the jungle virtually by yourself and experience the precious joy of being alone in the tiger country. Combine Satpura with Corbett for a unique tiger safari.

Corbett: An absolutely gorgeous tiger reserve in the foothills of the Himalayas east of Delhi that offers the possibility of living inside the tiger reserve in isolated splendour with your expert guide and cook and helper. It offers a fantastic way to experience the jungle, and you can combine this with fishing for the mighty mahseer, and walking in the picturesque middle Himalayas of the Kumaon region.

Ranthambhore: For anyone travelling in Rajasthan who wants to include a tiger safari, Ranthambhore is the most convenient reserve. It's a very beautiful park and wildlife rich, with an atmospheric fort dominating the landscape, and romantic ruins strewn through the jungle. Tiger densities and sightings are excellent, and recent new regulations now ensure a much more enjoyable experience in this busy park. There are two small and very beautiful camps here - Sherbagh and Khem Villas that boast superb accommodation, food, and guides.

Asian Leopards

The Sri Lankan parks have made a name for the visibility of leopards - a distinct race from the Indian leopard. Yala is the most famous and while it is certainly beautiful, it is also the most crowded.

Willapattu: My favourite park in Sri Lanka. Long forgotten because of Camping in Sri Lanka , this special park is very convenient for any itinerary to Anuradhapura. A lovely luxury mobile camp provides the perfect base to explore this park, and leopard sightings are common. It is still an incredibly quiet park and there are days when you could have the park to yourself.

Bera and Siana in Rajasthan: I have become so accustomed to seeing leopards inside protected forests that I forget how adaptable and widely spread this great cat is. In the arid and striking rock-studded landscape that is the home of colourful shepherd communities in south eastern Rajasthan are two regions where leopards and humans exist in relative harmony outside of any wildlife sanctuary. In Bera, we have watched children walking to school observed by a leopard on a rock just a couple of hundred yards away - both parties comfortable in each other's presence. Here, a new and luxurious camp called Jawai Leopard Camp offers the perfect base to watch leopards and experience a truly unchanging and picturesque region of India. Siana, which is also in the same rocky hills, offers a more basic and bigger camp with the added attraction of some excellent riding.

Satpura Tiger Reserve: In Central India, this beautiful and mountainous reserve supports a large number of very visible leopards - along with the even more rarely seen sloth bears. Sightings are terrific both inside the park and in the buffer zone forests which are accessed on night drives.

Mudumalai Tiger Reserve: In the foothills of the scenic Nilgiri Mountains and close to Ooty, the buffer zone forests of this park are very good for leopard sightings and wild elephants, hyena, and sloth bear. This park can be combined with Nagarhole for a splendid south India wildlife safari.

Asiatic Lions

Few people even know that lions exist in Asia. Extinct through the rest of its Asian range, Panthera leo persica was driven into exile in a small corner of the Western Indian state of Gujarat and protected by the ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Junagadh. The present population numbers of almost 400 are still limited to the Gir National Park. The story of the Gir lions is a remarkable one as is their co-existence with the local cattle herders called maldharis. Our lion safaris also include the other unique wildlife and landscapes of Gujarat including the last population of the Indian Wild Ass in the Rann of Kutch, the diverse wildlife of the extensive Banni Grasslands, and the tiny fragment that is all that remains of the once vast savannahs of Gujarat that support blackbuck and bluebull antelope, hyena, wildboar, wolf, and wild cats. And in the winter, spectacular gatherings of migratory harriers.

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