Kahna, Bandhavgarh, Pench & Satpura
India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh is home to some of India’s wildest places. With a variety of landscapes from park to park, there is a heightened sense of discovery everywhere you look. Reaching your destination requires some commitment, but you will be rewarded for your efforts if you are craving a wilderness experience.
The nearest airports (Raipur, Nagpur, or Bhopal depending on the park) are anywhere from 3-5 hours from the National Parks. For this reason, we recommend a minimum of 3 nights at any one property. Also keep in mind that the parks in Central India are closed for game drives on Wednesday afternoons, so plan for an afternoon exploring the local village or on a bush walk to supplement your game drives.
Kanha National Park
Kanha is widely considered to be the greatest of India’s wildlife reserves. This spectacularly scenic environment of dense forest of sal trees interspersed with bamboo, opening to big meadows with pink elephant grass, streams and rivers, ghost and crocodile trees provides a diverse range of habitats for an extraordinary array of wildlife. Renowned for its high number of tigers, the park is also the last remaining habitat of the hard ground barasingha (swamp deer) and sightings of leopards, jackals, foxes, porcupines, sloth bears, pythons, hare, chitals, gaur monkeys, mongooses, and hundreds of species of bird are also common. Thanks to a large area divided into sectors with limited number of guests per sector, you will see other vehicles but will also have plenty of time to do your viewing without other guests.
A picturesque companion to Kanha’s forests and rivers, Bandhavgarh is nestled between the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges, offering green valleys, rocky hills, and quiet water holes. It is India’s most popular national park due to it’s claim on the highest tiger populations and easy access, and therefore its busiest. Once you have accepted that, you’ll be delighted by your tiger sighting opportunities as well as the large array of wildlife which include sloth bears, deer, leopards and jackals. Birdwatchers will spot a plethora of species inhabiting all terrains from rocky crags to the auburn forest floor and mottled forest canopy.
Pench’s claim to fame is that it has the highest concentration of prey of any park in India which therefore means a higher chance of seeing predatory cats such as leopard and tiger. In addition to many of the species you’ll find in the other parks, Pench boasts 5 hunting groups of dhole (wild dog), jungle cat, hyena, jackal, and wolves which patrol its iconic teak jungles. Bisected by the spectacularly scenic Pench River, the park also contains a number of bamboo-lined streams enticing wildlife to its shores. With over 250 species of bird inhabiting the area, you’re sure to wake to joyful chirps and delight in colorful splashes of darting flight. Often third fiddle to the name recognition of Kahna and Bandhavgarh, Pench is home to Jamtara Wilderness tented camp, one of our favorite camps because it comes closest to emoting the hallmarks of Africa. The guides are top notch and you will enjoy direct access to a less visited part of the park where you feel as though you’re in true wilderness. Enjoy an afternoon excursion to the nearby community (or even an overnight sleepout!) to truly immerse yourself in rural life.
The smallest and oldest of the four, Satpura is an excellent spot to compliment the busier parks at Kahna, Bandhavgarh and/or Pench. After arriving into the park by boat, you’ll find a spectacular array of wildlife, but not in the same numbers as the other parks. It is excellent for seeing sloth bears and leopard. The biggest attraction here however, is the variety of activities in the form of canoe or kayak trips and walking safaris to soak in the tranquility and beauty of the scenery. In the spirit of Zambia or Kenya, head out on a walking safari and overnight in a private camp set up on an island in the river. If the thought of a less traditional trip appeals to you, consider taking the train to/from nearby Bhopal to Agra to connect your safari with the jewels of the north. Do plan to stop off at World Heritage site Bhimbetka, home to some of the oldest cave paintings known to man. Some of the shelters were inhabited by the earliest hominins over 100,000 years ago.