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Trip Report The African Safari compared to the Indian Safari

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These comparisons are based on one recent trip to India and numerous trips to Africa.

I had heard and read that my expectations for India should be held clearly in check after going on Africa safaris. I had been warned about cheering sections when a tiger was spotted, people tumbling out of vehicles, and general pandemonium. I was cautioned to be prepared to be “horrified.”

Far from horrified, I was impressed and enchanted. What helped, I believe, was going at a non-peak time (not Christmas/New Years and after Holi), allowing Wild World India to negotiate all the paperwork and secure all permits for the parks, paying extra for a private vehicle, and having outstanding naturalists that had been selected by Wild World India. But the people I encountered who did not have quite the exclusive arrangement that I did also seemed to be very happy and some of them were wildlife enthusiasts who travel the world.

What also helped me and will help everyone else is within the past year or so Bandhavgarh (which was the source of some of the worst stories) changed the rules to limit the number of vehicles and where they may go.

The tiger sightings did generate a gathering in all three parks I visited, with much maneuvering of vehicles, plus some standing atop the Gypsy. But all the vehicles stayed on the road, or shoulder so there was no surrounding the tiger and it was not possible to pursue the tiger off-road. Everyone remained in/on the vehicle, and I heard no shouts.

Other than tigers, I was alone for almost all other sightings--and the list of other sightings above is extensive. With most vehicles on a tiger mission, having other animals or birds to myself was not hard. When non-tiger sightings were shared, usually it was just another vehicle or two at most.

I was surprised at how many of the same species of birds, or very similar species, were present in both locations.

From the sheer standpoint of visual impact, not much from any country or continent compares with the tiger!

Some differences between African and Indian safaris included:

Those little Gypsy vehicles in India were great and more maneuverable than Land Rovers or Cruisers.

The forested terrain makes sightings tougher than the openness of the African savanna, although there are meadows in the Indian parks.

Listening for alarm calls and observing animal behaviors to spot predators was more prevalent in India. Waiting in areas that seemed promising based on alarm calls took up a greater percentage of our outings in India than Africa and more times than not, the wait did not produce a predator. The type of habitat in Indian parks meant we had to work harder and have more patience for our sightings than in most parts of Africa.

Even though my list of mammals and birds was extensive, there is not the variety or abundance of the typical African safari destination.

That queue at the park gates in India in advance of starting times does not occur anywhere I have been in Africa. However at the larger African lodges, the jumble of vehicles departing in the mornings or afternoons may number the same; but just lack the organization of an official queue.

There is a definite emphasis on seeing the single species of the tiger in India, whereas in Africa the emphasis is diffused among a greater number of predators. In both places, I found the naturalists were responsive to expanding the fauna emphasis to all creatures great and small.

In Africa I usually have not encountered local tourists at the places I have visited, most are international. In India it was nice to visit with Indian tourists. I found the Forest Rest Houses in Corbett offered the best opportunity for interaction. At Dhikala Forest Rest House the cafeteria-type setup for meals and an assigned seat by the host meant I had meals with numerous people and all were Indians.

In Bandhavgarh (though not in Kanha or Corbett) vehicles are assigned to a specific track, which is not the case in Africa. Not only must they remain on that track or route, but they need to maintain a designated distance between vehicles (except for tiger sightings or I suppose leopard or sloth bear). That means you cannot linger to your heart’s content at non-tiger sightings. I found that after a tiger had been spotted, then it seemed that the rules were relaxed for maintaining the designated place in line. The result of these rules is that rarely do you encounter another vehicle during the outing, unless there is a tiger sighting that can draw in up to 10 or 11 vehicles from your track.

The ability to view predators from an elephant is unique to India (and other Asian destinations), although I saw a hyena from a camel once in Africa and there are places such as Abu’s and Amalinda where it is possible to ride an African elephant. Longer elephant safaris that last a good part of the day, or even several days are possible in Corbett, though I didn’t partake. I was pleased to learn that mothers with cubs are not approached by elephant.

At the parks and lodgings I stayed at in India, I did not have the remote, secluded tented camp experiences that I have enjoyed in Africa. But I think it is possible for a price.

Speaking of price, India was not as expensive as Africa.

Food at the lodges in India was primarily Indian, with a rare appearance of continental cuisine, whereas in Africa food tended to be continental, with a few choices of African dishes. Most of the Indian dishes were not excessively spicy.

When taking a packed lunch, that wobbly sausage that often is found in the African lunch boxes was nowhere to be found in the Indian packed lunches, which were predominantly vegetarian.

Both offered rewarding and exhilarating nature and wildlife and the fact that I am so privileged as to be able to even offer comparisons between these two locations is something I do not take for granted.

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