The Sankhala name is synonymous with wildlife conservation in India.
This year I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Amit Sankhala twice. In Jaipur and again closer to home, over a glass of Pinot Noir when he made a quick stopover in Queenstown.
We sat down to talk about the wildlife safari opportunities in India. In particular we chatted about how to ensure that someone who may have already been on safari in Africa has the best possible wildlife experience without neglecting some of the must-see cultural highlights for the first time Indian traveller.
The result is our special 11 day Kipling’s Jungles & Golden Culture Itinerary.
Q. Firstly tell us a bit about your and your family’s involvement in Tiger Conservation in India.
A. We have been involved in Tiger conservation for 3 generations. My grandfather was the first director of Project Tiger, which was a country-wide government program to create project tiger reserves to secure the Tiger and its habitat. They started with 9 Tiger reserves intiially in 1971 and made it illegal to hunt tigers in the wild by 1973.
My father started a wildlife tourism company in the early 80s and was also heavily involved in Tiger conservation working with communities. He established ‘Tiger Trust’ which is an NGO to work with communities that live around Tiger parks. Today, Tiger Trust’s main work involves legal training workshops for forest guards within tiger reserve area.
My personal commitment, is towards working with communities around national parks and providing employment to these very villagers, who can easily be lured into poaching otherwise.
Q. Why should people who’ve been to Africa on safari look to India as their next wildlife destination?
A. India is renowned for its incredible culture, in comparison to Africa where the focus has always been on its wildlife. It often goes unmentioned or unknown that Indian wildlife is equally as impressive, boasting a huge biodiversity of both birds and mammals, even before including the famous tiger.
This is a wildlife experience which is untouched, raw, easy to access and unlike any other. For all those who have lived it, Indian National Parks provide a truly wild experience which leaves one in awe of its beauty and power.
If you have enjoyed Africa and are looking for another amazing wildlife experience, it will undoubtedly be found in India.
Q. Tiger sightings are always high on the bucket list but as we know like any “big cat” they are often elusive. Other than Tiger’s what other species do you think are the most rewarding to track/watch on a game drive in India?
The diversity of Indian wildlife is extraordinary. Depending on the region you are in, with the changing landscapes, the wildlife is also varied.
You can see Wild Dogs, Leopard, Sloth Bear in central and South India, Wild Elephants in North, South and East India, One-horned Rhinos in East India, Asiatic Lions in West India, Snow Leopards in the Himalayas, and the list goes on. Each of these mammals is rewarding to track and watch.
Q. What do you think is a common mistake (or mistakes) people make when they add a visit to one of India’s National Parks to their itinerary that may leave them disappointed in their experience?
A. India’s national parks that are very close to cultural destinations are a victim of their own success. Since, they are within reach of the cultural traveller on the golden triangle route, the growth in tourism in these areas has been exponential.
Hence, the pressure on the park has forced them to introduce mini trucks, which gives everyone a chance to experience Indian wilderness. But, having trucks around and jeeps in big numbers around a Tiger, discourages the wildlife lover for ever returning to India again for a wildlife experience.
That’s where I feel, that national parks away from the regular cultural routes are a far better experience. Especially Central India.
Q. You’ve chosen Satpura and Pench as the wildlife destinations for this Indian Safari Itinerary. Why is that?
A. This is the real Kipling corridor. The experience of Sher Khan, Baghira, Baloo, etc can all come true within these two parks. Completely different landscape, and a great diversity of wildlife between the two parks.
Even the drive from one to the other goes through Panchmari Hills which are beautiful. These are less crowded parks, and especially at Jamtara in Pench, we are one of the only lodges on this side of the park. Giving us an exclusivity while entering the park.
Satpura is known for its Sloth Bear and Leopard sightings, whereas Pench is excellent for Tigers, Wild Dogs and Leopards.
Q. You have spent a considerable part of your life in India’s jungles and you’ve also spent large periods of time on safari in Africa. If someone has been on an African safari, what should they know about wildlife is tracked and spotted that is different in India?
A. India is incredible in the sense that it’s wildlife reserves have not been commercialised and have not been confined by man-made boundaries, as a number of parks in Africa have.
The majority of mammals are not collared and tracked via satellite and instead local men who work in these parks monitor the movements of the animals using natures sights and sounds. This often makes wildlife spotting more challenging but provides sightings which are authentic, rewarding and extremely exciting.
The Jungle Book experience of seeing Tiger, Leopard, Wild Dogs and Sloth Bears within a period of 8 – 10 days, is undoubtedly a magical journey one can have.
For more details please see our 10 night/ 11 day Kipling’s Jungles & Golden Culture Tour that includes the Golden Triangle trail of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra before spending the balance of your time in the jungles of Satpura and Pench in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.