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Tail the tiger

Use the heat to your advantage and catch India's big cat at one of its favourite dens

travel Updated: Apr 09, 2012 14:12 IST
Sneha Mahale
Sneha Mahale

I was 5 or 6 when I first got a glimpse of two tiger cubs in Kanha National Park. Intrigued, I had first asked my mother if we could take one home. Amused, she asked where we would keep it. "Our balcony," was my pat reply. Though we didn't take that cub home, what started that day was a special relationship with India's biggest cat. In the years to come, family vacations involved heading to tiger reserves for a glimpse of the majestic animal and hearing stories of the notorious kings and queens of the jungles from the local guides. So here are five national parks to place your bets on, to sight the regal creature. 

Jim Corbett, Uttarakhand
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) claims that this forest reserve has the highest density of tigers in the country (17.83 per 100 sq km). It is named after Jim Corbett, who ironically is known for killing man-eaters before turning naturalist and creating this protected space. The tall yellow grass here provides natural camouflage to the tigers making a sighting special. A naturalist I met at Bandhavgarh National Park later told me, "The tigers at Corbett are primal. They aren't visitor-friendly. They charge and growl and protect their territories."

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Ranthambore, Rajasthan
A trip to Sawai Madhopur in the summer can be draining, with temperatures often crossing 40 degrees, yet visitors line up outside the park. Tigers are territorial and rarely leave their zones. The heat ensures that they hang around the few watering holes making for easy spotting. Another factor that works for Ranthambore is the enthusiasm of the guides to ensure that you get a sighting. We were made to wait at the same spot for an hour saying "Tiger toh yahi se niklega" (the tiger will come out from here). An hour later the guide's prophecy came true.

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Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh
According to the NTCA, Bandhavgarh has 16.25 tigers per 100 sq km, the third highest in the country. Interestingly, authorities have devised a good method to ensure that the impact of tourism is low on the forest. Rides into zone one that covers the oldest part of the park have to be booked online and are nearly double the cost of a regular drive. The park is also known for marketing its 'you-can-spot-a-tiger-in-three-outings' theory and the guides here, like in Ranthambore, want you to go home happy. We tested this theory and saw three tigers during the morning safari on day two. And as they say, a happy traveller is a walking advertisement.

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Kanha, Madhya Pradesh

Mowgli's battle with Sher Khan in The Jungle Book was fought against the backdrop of grassy meadows and ravines. Kanha was what inspired author Rudyard Kipling. Declared a tiger reserve in 1974, the park has been at the forefront of conservation campaigns. As with every reserve, the best time to see the big cat is from February to June. It was here that I met my first tiger -- a protective mother and her two cubs.

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Sunderbans, West Bengal

This park makes the cut only because of the unique ecosystem. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sunderbans is densely covered by mangrove forests. Yet the place is home to one of the largest tiger reserves for the Bengal tiger. Also, the main areas of the sanctuary can only be accessed by waterways. The safest way to visit Sunderbans is via conducted tours.

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First Published: Apr 09, 2012 14:12 IST