Once the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, central India is home to a superb tract of deciduous forest that offers some of the country’s most exciting wildlife encounters.
Geographically at the heart of India, the Central Indian Highlands extend across the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra. They encompass two disjunct, parallel hill ranges, the Satpura Hills and Vindhya Hills, separated by the Narmada River Valley, that hold the largest tract of forest anywhere in India. These forests host several of India’s best tiger reserves, and support over a third of India’s tiger population. Their reputation as the place for a face-to-face encounter with ‘Shere Khan’ is well established, but this varied landscape of undulating hills, elevated plateaus, steep ravines, rocky escarpments and wide plains is a region of unexpected and often overlooked wider diversity. There is a good chance of Tiger at almost all the region’s reserves, but they reach their greatest density in the jungles of Bandhavgarh National Park. Besides India's iconic big cat, many more large mammals make their home amid these forests and grasslands – Barasingha or Swamp Deer in the open maidans (meadows) of Kanha National Park, Sloth Bear padding along the sandy jeep tracks of Tadoba National Park, Ussuri Dhole or Indian Wild Dog at Pench National Park, and Leopard at Satpura National Park, among others.
Although Central India does not host its own avian specialities or endemics in the way southwest or northeast India do, these forests offer enjoyable birding to accompany mammal watching, with a rich selection of Indian birds, such as Malabar Pied Hornbill, Mottled Wood Owl, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Painted Spurfowl and Indian Paradise Flycatcher in superb woodlands, scrub forests and grasslands, plus various waterbirds in lakes and reservoirs. The pre- and post-monsoon months in late spring and early autumn add another dimension to birding here, as species such as Indian Pitta pass through on passage.
Further west, the teak-dominated deciduous forests of Melghat Tiger Reserve, and closer to the city of Mumbai, Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, are among the best places to encounter the extremely localised Forest Owlet, restricted to lowland forests of west-central India.
Key species across the region: Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Crested Hawk-Eagle, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Oriole, White-rumped Shama, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Bay-backed Shrike, Great Thick-knee, Painted Francolin, Painted Spurfowl, Red Junglefowl, Jungle Bush-quail, Savanna Nightjar, Forest Owlet, Brown Fish-Owl, Mottled Wood-Owl, Indian Pitta, Tiger, Leopard, Jungle Cat, Ussuri Dhole, Sloth Bear, Gaur, Barasingha, Indian Giant Flying Squirrel.