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CENTRAL INDIA: Tigers and Birds of the Central Highlands

A 12-day bird and wildlife watching tour that combines four of India's finest tiger reserves - Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba - in the Central Indian Highlands.
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Our comprehensive tiger tour takes us through a landscape that once provided inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's 'Jungle Book' with its fables of Shere Khan, and today hosts a cluster of India's finest tiger reserves. We will explore four of these, beginning at Bandhavgarh and making our way south through the state of Madhya Pradesh as we visit Kanha and Pench, ending at Tadoba-Andhari in northern Maharashta. These Central Indian Highlands account for almost half of India's forests and viable tiger habitats, and over a third of India's tiger population.  Game drives in open jeeps will take us through a mosaic of deciduous woodland, bamboo brakes and wide meadows as we seek out memorable encounters with Bengal Tiger, while in these excellent grazing and hunting grounds we will also be looking for Leopard, Ussuri Dhole, Sloth Bear, as well as Gaur and Swamp Deer among an incredible diversity and density of herbivores. We'll also encounter a fine selection of birds such as Malabar Pied Hornbill, Mottled Wood Owl, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Painted Spurfowl, Savanna Nightjar and Grey-headed Fish-eagle, with waterbirds in lakes and reservoirs.
  • A good chance of Tiger at all four reserves, in particular at Bandhavgarh and Tadoba.
  • Spectacular mammal viewing throughout the tour with a rich supporting cast of species that occur across the region and specialities particular to each reserve we visit, such as Barasingha at Kanha and Sloth Bear at Tadoba.
  • A rich selection of birds in forests, grasslands and wetlands, including subcontinent endemics such as Malabar Pied Hornbill and Painted Francolin, Indian Pitta on passage, a good variety of birds of prey including Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, and several species of owl.
  • Exciting jeep drives into the core zones of four superb protected areas, looking for birds and mammals amidst varied habitats; the rugged, forested hills of Bandhavgarh, wide meadows of Kanha, lakeside forests of Pench and dusty jungles of Tadoba.
  • A glimpse of India's rich history and culture, under the shadow of the imposing Bandhavgarh Fort and among the villages of some of the country's least developed rural landscapes.
Day 1: Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh National Park

Arrivals this morning into Jabalpur Airport in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.  Spend the remainder of the day driving to Bandhavgarh for a three-night stay, with time for some late afternoon birding around our lodge.


Day 2-3: Bandhavgarh National Park

Occupying gently undulating land in the Vindhya Hills, Bandhavgarh’s Sal forests are a vital refuge for a good population of tigers.  Despite being a somewhat isolated forest fragment, the park hosts a density of tigers that in parts equates to one per every 5 sq km with an estimated 22 or so living in the core area.  Our daily and afternoon jeep excursions into the reserve will focus on the core zones of Tala, Magdhi and Khitauli, where alongside Tiger we can also expect to see Leopard in more peripheral areas, Jungle Cat, Small Indian Civet, Golden Jackal, Chital, Sambar, Nilgai, Northern Plains Grey Langur and Rhesus Macaque.  The predominantly dry habitat hosts a good selection of associated birds, including Great Thick-knee, Emerald Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Bay-backed Shrike, Blue-headed Rock-thrush, White-capped and Crested Buntings, Jungle Bush-quail, Spotted Owlet and Savanna Nightjar. 

Day 4: Bandhavgarh to Kanha National Park

After a final morning safari at Bandhavgarh we drive south into the Maikal range of the Satpura Hills to Kanha National Park, one of India’s oldest and the region’s largest tiger reserve for a three-night stay.  As we drive we will enjoy a selection of India’s more widespread birds, such as Spotted Dove, Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Red-wattled Lapwing, Jungle Myna, Black Kite and Egyptian Vulture. 


Day 5-6: Kanha National Park

Kanha’s landscape is dominated by open ‘maidans’, or meadows, which punctuate the moist deciduous forest.  Popular converging points for herbivores, these meadows and are highly conducive to wildlife sightings, particularly in the drier summer months.  Our two daily game drives will take us into the park’s Mukki, Kanha and Kisli ranges, where we hope to encounter Tiger alongside the Barasingha or Swamp Deer for which the park was originally established, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Ussuri Dhole, and with luck more elusive Sloth Bear and Leopard.  The park’s luxurious forests support a good selection of birds, butterflies and reptiles all of which make Kanha enjoyable and productive and encourage an all-round appreciation of this region’s wildlife.  As we explore the park in search of tigers and other mammals we will also encounter birds such as Painted Francolin, Painted Spurfowl, Red Junglefowl, Indian Peafowl, Rufous and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Plum-headed Parakeet, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Coppersmith Barbet, Black-hooded Oriole, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Crested Hawk-eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard. 


Day 7: Kanha to Pench National Park

After a final morning game drive at Kanha we drive south to Pench National Park for a two-night stay. 


Day 8: Pench National Park

Together with Kanha, Pench is part of a contiguous stretch of forest, of vital importance as others become increasingly fragmented.  Our two game drives will take us into distinctly dry deciduous woodland that opens out into the floodplain of the Pench River and its reservoir, whose waters are a lifeline for wildlife in dry summer months.  An estimated 65 or so Tigers reside here, accompanied by Leopard, Indian Wolf, Sloth Bear and the highest density of herbivores in India, dominated by Chital and Sambar and with smaller populations of Gaur, Chinkara (Indian Gazelle) and Chousingha (Four-horned Antelope).  Birdlife is rich in the mosaic of habitats, with birds of dryland and woodland such as Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-throated Sparrow, Brahminy Starling, White-eyed Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle and Mottled Wood Owl complemented by waterbirds including Painted Stork, Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter around the reservoir.


Day 9: Pench to Tadoba National Park

Leaving Pench this morning we continue our drive south out of Madhya Pradesh and into neighbouring Maharashtra to Tadoba National Park where we have our first game drive this afternoon.


Day 10-11: Tadoba National Park

At Tadoba, the dry deciduous woodlands of the densely forested hills merge into the grassy meadows of the Tadoba Lake basin, the lake itself providing water security for wildlife throughout the dry summers and acting as a protective buffer between the reserve and the extensive farmland beyond.  The Tiger density at Tadoba is high, and we can expect some memorable last sightings during our stay here.  The varied habitats also support a rich diversity of other mammals; sightings of Dhole, Sloth Bear and Leopard are regular here, together with a selection of smaller mammals such as Ruddy Mongoose and Common Palm Civet with the usual supporting cast of herbivores and the chance of more elusive Striped Hyaena and Indian Giant Flying Squirrel.  The park also offers excellent birding, with Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-rumped Shama, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch and Orange-headed Thrush in the forests, Indian Pitta on summer passage and Grey-headed Fish-eagle around the lake.


Day 12: Depart Nagpur

We will leave Tadoba by mid-morning to drive to Nagpur. Departures from Nagpur this afternoon.

FOCUS: Birds and Mammals

BEST TIME: November to May


Day 1: Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh
Day 2-3: Bandhavgarh National Park
Day 4-6: Kanha National Park
Day 7-8: Pench National Park
Day 9-11: Tadoba National Park
Day 12: depart Nagpur 
PHOTOGRAPHY: Good to Excellent


Combine this tour with Bharatpur and the Chambal River [NI003] or ask us for a custom extension anywhere in India.
Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Crested Hawk-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Rufous, Brown-capped Pygmy and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Oriole, White-rumped Shama, Crested Bunting, Bay-backed Shrike, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Asian Emerald Dove, Great Thick-knee, Painted Francolin, Painted Spurfowl, Red Junglefowl, Jungle Bush-quail, Savanna Nightjar, Brown Fish-owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Spotted Owlet and Indian Pitta on passage.

Tiger, Leopard, Jungle Cat, Ussuri Dhole, Golden Jackal, Sloth Bear, Gaur, Wild Boar, Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Northern Plains Grey Langur, Rhesus Macaque and Indian Giant Flying Squirrel.
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