Jungle safaris to wildlife sanctuaries in India afford sightings of wild animals in their natural habitat. However, it is important to pack carefully and remember some guidelines to ensure safety and enjoyment during the safari.
Packing essential items assumes greater importance for a wildlife destination, since it is usually far from a city or town. Comfortable walking shoes, a cap, water bottle and rain gear, first aid kit, sunglasses, insect repellent and sunscreen lotion are vital for treks in the forest. Carrying handy, light binoculars will increase viewing pleasure. A camera is indispensable, so are extra films and batteries, as these may not be available everywhere. Light clothing is sufficient for the Indian summer, but the northern winter is extreme, so carry woolens and a warm jacket. If you are allergic to animal fur or dust, make sure you carry medication.
Most Indian wildlife parks do not allow private vehicles, but if it is permitted in some parts, one must not speed, honk or use lights, and enlist the services of a good guide. There are stipulated times and tourist zones in parks, so follow them and obtain any permissions required from the forest department. Respect the right of way of animals when driving on a highway close to a jungle, which may be used by migratory herds of elephants and other wildlife.
While on a jungle safari, wear muted colors (brown, beige, khaki, olive or darker shades of green) and avoid polka dots and white or dark colors like red. It is better to wear layered clothes that cover the arms and legs to guard against insect/plant allergies. One should not sport any trinkets, jewelry or flashy accessories which can attract monkeys. Moreover, animals are sensitive to smells, so perfume, deodorant and after shave must be avoided.
Wildlife safaris are usually conducted in open jeeps under the guidance of expert naturalists who are well versed in the ways of the jungle. Therefore, the most important rule is to follow the instructions of the naturalist, so as not to jeopardize the safety of others or self. If he stops to give you a better look at wildlife like an elephant herd, do not insist he go closer, or step out of the jeep. Animals are used to human beings in a vehicle, but are liable to attack anyone on foot, with fatal consequences. Getting too close to animals scares them and invites retaliation.
Animals are best watched in silence–screaming at the sight of an animal, especially during a mock charge by a wild elephant will only make matters worse! Visitors to a jungle should not talk loudly, use a mobile phone, play music, clap to attract animals, throw anything at them, or use a flash to photograph animals. It is dangerous to tease or try to feed wild animals, however tame they might seem. Moreover, feeding wild animals changes their eating habits. If glared at, monkeys feel challenged and can attack. Needless to say, drinking and smoking are taboo in the forest; leaving behind combustibles in the jungle can spark off an inferno.
While on a trek or nature walk, stick to the group and follow the guide, and keep your enthusiasm and excitement in control! The jungle nurtures a vast eco-system which should be left undisturbed, so one should not collect samples or souvenirs, touch birds’ nests, damage the flora, litter, or leave scratch marks on tree trunks. Respect local traditions and customs along the route, and always seek permission before photographing the locals.
Be alert, and keep your eyes and ears open—the slightest movement could mean anything from the elusive tiger to the shy jungle fowl. Never be discouraged by “bad” weather like heavy rains-animal sightings are often a matter of luck. Moreover, the jungle has much more to offer other than wildlife, so just enjoy the sublime beauty! Patience and following the rules of the wild are of the utmost importance in enjoying the jungle and its denizens. Remember these guidelines, and enjoy a safari experience of a lifetime!
Interview with expert naturalist Basavanna who conducts excellent safaris twice daily in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
Top Ten Tiger Reserves of India: published by Outlook Traveler magazine