INDULGE IN A MYSTICAL SAFARI ON THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT
You might have laid back with a box of popcorn in front of Slumdog Millionaire, Bandit Queen, Monsoon Wedding or Andaz Apna Apna. Butter Chicken, Naan, Palak Paneer, or Malai Kofta might be your go-to order at the local Indian restaurant. You might tap into the wisdom of Gandhi at times or have read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things in one sitting. Now, let TAG Safari get you closer to the action. How does a safari in India sound? Allow us to whet your appetite. India is described as unpredictable. Wonderfully so. It’s by no means a ‘curated country.’ (NOTE: What do you mean by a curated country?) The landscape is ever-changing, and the colors remain quite untamable. It’s steeped in rich traditions and is accompanied by a heady mixture of scents. Forever present is the mighty Ganges River – giving off a haze of heat and whirling onward with the determination of a living thing. Sudipta Sen describes it so wonderfully in the publication, Ganges: The Many Parts of an Indian River, “The Ganges is a river incarnate, indispensable to thinking about the history and culture of the Indian subcontinent. In this sense, it is not only a natural entity outside the frame of ordinary human experience, but also a reflexive extension of something akin to a unique Indian consciousness.” How about we move to solid ground for a spell? YOU’VE ARRIVED AT THE HERITAGE HEARTLAND OF THE INDIAN JUNGLE The central province of Madhya Pradesh is blessed by nature with ridiculous numbers of wild animals. If you’re the kind of safari-goer who lives it up and want to explore beyond the ordinary in the best of jungles, then Madhya Pradesh is the region you must head for – deer, wild boar, tigers – it’s wilderness excitement at its best. Nine national parks, six tiger reserves, and an incredible 25 wildlife sanctuaries… take your pick! “THE BARE NECESSITIES/OLD MOTHER NATURE’S RECIPES” Here’s the link to the Jungle Book adventures of the little boy, Mowgli, along with Shere Khan and Bagheera. The inspiration that lead Rudyard Kipling to pen Jungle Book was the charm of the Kanha and Pench National Park. Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh has the highest density of tiger population in India; spotting a tiger here won't be difficult. Whichever park you decide upon, a rustic charm in these wildlife haunts is a guarantee. THE MOST SCENIC OF SAFARIS Let’s talk more about tigers; Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh is the place to go. The forests here are grandiose. Many a tiger has been sighted, but you need to look carefully in any case… they’re masters of disguise amongst the shadows. These are ‘sal forests,’ which means they are a forest type dominated by a single plant species, commonly known as the sal tree. They stand tall in the category 'Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest.' Okay, enough science. Amidst vast meadows, approximately 125 tigers and 100 leopards roam. Kanha National Park – known as the reserve’s ‘core zone,’ covers 940 km² (363 mi²) and the ‘buffer zone’ increases the area to a vast 2,059 km² (795 mi²), forming the Kanha Tiger Reserve. There aren’t just tigers here… huge numbers of deer and antelope abound, specifically the southern swamp deer – only to be found in these parts. Then there are the delightful langurs, also known as ‘Old World monkeys.’ Mostly gray (some can be more yellowish), they have black faces and ears. North Indian gray langurs’ tail tips loop toward their heads; the south Indian ones have an inverted U-shaped or S-shaped tail pattern. Never thought you’d be a monkey tail expert, did you? These guys walk quadrupedally and divide their time between the ground and the treetops. They will hop, climb, and descend with the body upright at all times. As for leaping, a lengthy 3.6 to 4.7 m (12 to 15 ft) horizontally and 10.7 to 12.2 m (35 to 40 ft) when descending is the norm. Look out for the odd gaur (Indian bison), families of wild boar and a curious jackal or two, and don’t forget to look towards the skies for a plethora of birds. Your safari will head into four zones within the core zone – Kisli and Mukki zones are considered tops for tiger sightings, followed by Kanha and Sarhi zones. And here’s a heads-up: up to 140 six-passenger 4x4s, called Gypsies, are allowed into the reserve per day. All you have to do is book your seat. YOU OLD FOSSIL, YOU The fossil park spreading across the Mandla district has fossils as old as 40-150 million years... Sprawling over a vast area, you’ll find petrified trunks of ancient trees and rocks, too. The plant, leaf, shell, and fruit fossils are 65 million years old. The palm fossils are a huge attraction; please be careful, as past tourists (and agriculturists) have done some damage. A RICH AND DIVERSE WILDLIFE With nearly 24% of land underneath the forests, India’s wildlife was always going to be abundant and diverse. In fact, its biodiversity is known as ‘perfect,’ with 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of all avian, 6.2% of all reptilian, and 6% of all flowering plant species of the world calling India home. The forest cover itself ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands and Western Ghats, to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya in the northeast. Polar, temperate, dry, wet, and (sub) tropical zones are home to different species that thrive! Tiger, elephant, crocodile, cobra, apes, sambar, hog, barking and swamp deer, one-horned rhinoceros, sloth bears, blue bull (nilgai), Indian gazelle (chinkara), Asiatic lions, goats and multiple ranges of bird species abound. ONE ADVENTURE AFTER ANOTHER If you want to step out of your 4x4 vehicle for a spell, head for the colorful coral reefs lying underneath the waters of the Andaman and Lakshadweep. Or how about a bike ride on Khardung La in Ladakh? It’s one of the highest motorable roads on Planet Earth. Or maybe the thrill of conquering the Himalayas is just your cup of chai. HOW DOES TRAIL RIDING IN SHEKHAWATI ON MARWARI HORSES SOUND? Riding on horseback in India is a beautiful pastime – even for the average safari-goer. The country’s topography, especially the sterile and jaw-dropping terrain of Rajasthan, offers classic horseback riding. These are Marwari horses, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. There are only about 20 Marwari horses outside of India due to the ban of Marwari horse exporting. These vibrant horses were once great war horses in days of yore. Nowadays, these horses are lovable companions for tourists on safari. Exploring via trail makes for a memorable ride, with nature showing off to the riders. TAKE ME TO THE RIVER… No other joy can be compared to that of gushing through river rapids on a raft. Are you ready for turbulent waters of ferocious rivers? An adrenaline rush is guaranteed. The country has several radiant rivers making their way from the high altitudes of the spectacular Himalayan range. It’s as exciting as river rafting down the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, Africa. Head for Rishikesh, Zanskar, Ladakh, Sikkim or Darjeeling and grab your oar. The rivers Ganges, Alaknanda, Satluj, Brahmaputra, Indus, Tons, Sharda, Teesta, Zanskar, Bhagirathi and Barapole are set to drive your level of adrenaline into the Indian skies. The grades of rapids vary between Grade I to Grade V. We recommend heading over to Rishikesh, India’s rafting mecca. It offers rapids ranging from easy to teeth-clenching. So, it’s perfect for the experienced or novice rafter. Brahmaputra River is another rafting gem. Note that expeditions on Zanskar or Brahmaputra River are for pros only. Those rapids have attitude by the bucket load. Go on, make memories… BE MESMERIZED BY INDIA’S BEAUTIFUL SUMMER FLOWERS Right from the sub-freezing climate of the Himalayas to the warm coastal regions, come rain or shine, there is a vibrancy to India’s flowers. A kaleidoscope of colors dot the countryside as summer flowers burst in a variety of shapes and sizes that add beauty and liveliness to India. The summer season spreads from March to May, with monsoon season starting in June. Marigolds, roses, hibiscus, sunflowers, musk rose, lilies, zinnia, pansies, and petunias abound. Pallets of color blossom here, there and everywhere. Prepare to occupy Instagram! CAMEL SAFARI IN RAJASTHAN It’s thrilling, exciting, and quite a laugh. Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Pushkar, and Jodhpur in Rajasthan offer camel safaris. Get on the back of a camel amidst the rolling sand dunes of the Thar desert, experience rustic desert life up close, and take a break in the little local villages to experience genuine Indian hospitality – some locals are only too keen to tell you a fascinating folk tale or two. Camp fires and folk music are part of this authentic mix. Sunrise and sunset in the desert are truly magnificent – even better when accompanied by ancient mountain ranges. Several camel safari operators offer camping facilities ranging from full-service luxury camps to budget-friendly tents. Safari-goers can immerse themselves in all things Rajasthani – from savoring the traditional cuisine to enjoying the cultural shows. But if Indian wildlife is what you want to surround yourself with, then simply scroll up. Gandhi is quoted as saying, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” We can think of nothing better than stopping and smelling the roses (literally!) on an authentic Indian safari, tailored to your needs.