Big cats are simply fascinating, especially tigers and India is THE number one place to see them. Having never been to India before, it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go solo, so I booked a packaged tour with Exodus flying in and out of Delhi. The trip included 5 nights in Bandhavgarh National Park. You can also book similar trips with Explore.
Delhi to Agra
I was met at the airport by the trip guide and other guests. There were 3 single older ladies on the trip, a couple in their late thirties and me; all from the UK. We collected our baggage, attempted (and failed in some cases) to extract rupees from an ATM and bundled into a minivan, exhausted from the long flight.
A four hour road journey introduced me to the noise and bustle of India. The incredible amount of “horn action” was pretty deafening and the drivers, including ours, displayed the most terrifying driving I’ve ever witnessed.
We stopped for lunch at an empty restaurant that doubled as a shop. Whilst waiting for my first real Indian curry, we were entertained for a small donation by a young dancing girl and her father. The curry? Well, it was quite disappointingly mild, a theme that remained for the rest of the trip until I asked them to add chilli.
Agra, the Taj Mahal, and Red Fort
Our arrival into Agra took us down the riverside where we could see the Red Fort, through busy streets to a nice leafy area where our hotel was situated. The accommodation on the trip was officially 3 star, but my room was enormous, high ceiled, and full of wonderful Asian cornices, albeit pretty faded. I imagine it had been an amazing residence in the past.
We took a tour of the Taj Mahal which is even more impressive and ornate up close. I was asked to pose for photographs on several occasions, but have no idea why!?
An indian train ride
Our overnight train to Katni was due to leave in the evening. We arrived at the station to what appeared to me to be chaos, but apparently a normal day. A cow wandered onto the tracks as people sat around on the concourse eating snacks from plastic boxes, whilst staring at the strange English people looking scared beside them.
Our guide told us to sit near our luggage, as he went to confirm tickets and find out which of the many hundred (ok that’s an exaggeration) carriages we’d be in. After what seemed like an age with trains coming and going, finally it was time to board. It wasn’t quite what you see in films with people hanging off the roof, but it was extremely crowded nonetheless.
We were in 2nd Class A/C, the carriages have sections of 6 bunks, 4 on one side, 2 on the other and 2 toilets (western and squat).
The toilets were cleaned regularly and I can honestly say they were much nicer than what I’d imagined, in fact, cleaner than trains in the south of the UK in my opinion. There was hustle and shuffling as people found their bunks and ate their dinner (I was offered lots of different food), then people made themselves comfortable for the journey. A really great people watching experience.
The upper bunks fold down for the day, but as this was a night journey I climbed up into the upper bunk after locking my bag underneath the bottom one (you can’t be too careful). The sway of the train led to a wonderful sleep on the fresh sheets provided and I really enjoyed the journey. Sadly my travel companions didn’t have quite such a good night, but I loved it and couldn’t wait for the return trip.
Peacocks and other things
Arriving early at Katni, we were transferred by minivan to Tiger Trails Resort on the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park. I settled into my chalet, relaxing in a hammock overlooking the ponds where herons and kingfishers were in abundance. Late afternoon we took the first of five game drives in the park, hoping to see the elusive tigers.
The first thing to surprise me was the amount of other animals and birds in the park. If you’re not lucky enough to see a tiger, you’ll definitely spot monkeys, deer, 100’s of different birds including the Indian Roller, and Peacocks….you see these often at grand houses in the UK that are open to the public, but I stupidly hadn’t realised that they originate in India. It was mating season and males shaking their tushes at the females is a real site to see!
To protect the tigers, the numbers into the park are limited, along with routes. Whilst this is a very good thing, it does mean that your chances of seeing tigers are relatively small. Another jeep had done 6 drives and had not seen any.
I was lucky, or maybe it was my tee-shirt with a tiger’s face that helped. I saw two tigers, one on an evening drive and another in the morning. An excellent experience, but the hunting (with binoculars) was fun in itself. I even glimpsed a jungle cat on one of the drives, which is even more unlikely than spotting tigers.
All in all, a wonderful few days at the National Park.
Back to Delhi
We took the overnight train back to Delhi, then took our lives into our hands as we drove down tiny streets full of people and vehicles to our hotel. Here we had the opportunity of a bus tour, but I chose to relax by the pool on my last morning.
I only saw a tiny bit of India and my impression is of a fast growing, busy country where a modern skyscraper sits next to a falling down ruin. I much preferred the countryside to the cities and that’s where I’ll go if/when I return.
Please share with your social media, thanks for reading Karen