Once you’ve done a few Indian wildlife safaris like me, it becomes VERY apparent quite quickly the difference between a great experience and a poor one. At Mantra Wild Adventures we are always aiming to create the most memorable experience possible, so that’s why I decided to write this short blog to inform you more about the 4 Make or Break Elements to an Amazing Indian Safari Experience.
This could be one of the most important elements of all as this one aspect alone can have a HUGE impact on your overall experience. A driver who speaks good English is obviously a prerequisite. It’s also important to distinguish between the drivers who are ‘doing a job’ as opposed to living their passion. The former have a driving style and technique that makes it not only unlikely to spot a tiger, but to see any other wildlife. An excellent driver is a patient driver, one who has the knowledge and understands the value of where to stop the vehicle, turn it off, sit and wait, for how long and what to listen for. The driver’s role isn’t simply to drive a jeep but to work in collaboration with the on board naturalist (who is usually a government employee on rotation).
A great driver will NOT be so focused on JUST spotting a tiger. Yes, it is an amazing experience when you see a tiger, but if this is the only focus of the trip, then you can very easily miss all the wonder surrounding you just waiting to share its beauty if you just give it some of your attention. This includes spectacular bird life (ground and tree dwelling), monkeys, deer, reptiles, as well as unique flora and breath-taking views and scenery. Furthermore a thoughtful driver is one who is somehow able to give you a feeling that you’re not just a tourist in a jeep like a everyone else in the park, but gives you a sense that you’re kind of separated from all that. This kind of driver will think outside the square a little, see alternatives, go to a spot that perhaps isn’t so well known by the other drivers.
It can take a lot of time, money and effort to find drivers that tick all the right boxes mentioned above. Since they’re so rare, when you find this kind of driver, it’s important to stick with them and keep them and this is exactly what we have been able to achieve at Mantra Wild.
“Here I am with my husband Nick and Girish. Your Mantra Wild driver if you chose to visit Corbett National Park. Girish is a passionate Tiger conservationist and bird lover with over 20+yrs experience.”
This person is basically a guide that is assigned to your particular jeep for your particular safari. Depending on which national park and your budget, this will either be a government employee that is constantly on rotation or a person employed by your hotel who works solely for them. Some of the above points concerning the driver apply here such as good English speaking, patience and not just tiger focused However there are also a few key elements that will determine a quality naturalist from an ordinary one and they are some things you can do to quickly mold the person you get.
A good naturalist will be a talkative one, a personable character who is willing to get to know you a little more. They ask questions, they will determine what YOUR particularly interested in seeing apart from the obvious tiger spotting. They will not only interact with you, but inform you with interesting information about the part. And if you’re interested in facts and figures they can rattle them off at the drop of a hat. Since not all of us are interested in the same things, a good naturalist will tailor what they say to YOU, rather than just give you the same old spiel they give every single group he meets.
Even though there are big differences between naturalists. The good thing is it won’t take long to know which one you’ve got. If you do happen to get one who may not seem to tick all these boxes, that’s ok. All this means is that you might need to take some initiative and tell them what you are specifically interested in seeing, ask them to point these things out and ask them a bunch of questions. Assuming of course you’re interested in knowing that information. If all else fails and none of that works, at least you can save yourself a few hundred rupees by not tipping them at the end. Good naturalists know that if they do the work and give you a good experience, they will be rewarded with a good tip.
Believe it or not, yes, where you stay during your safari can most definitely play a role in your safari experience. Quality accommodation that truly do care about wildlife conservation rather than just tourist dollars, will actually go out of their way to engage you, educate you and get you interested the parks that you will be visited while staying there. They know that if you have decided to do a safari at all, this obviously means that you have some sort of interest in wildlife. Some hotels, retreats or resorts may host intimate information nights or perhaps a short presentation hosted by either a local, or their very own in-house naturalist. These are optional for you as the guest, but most people visiting these parks really appreciate this. Our clients have often mentioned that these kind of insights enabled them to appreciate the park, the local people and all the wildlife at a much deeper level.
The last and perhaps the most obvious element that determines your experience is YOU, the traveler Your approach will influence your perception, your perception will influence your experience and the experience will create your life long memories. Be open and prepared for unexpected situations that may arise. Try not to let little things ruin your experience. Keep in mind that you’re in a completely different culture and in a country like no other. Try not to apply the expectations you have at home to people, situations and events in India. Be open to appreciate the ENTIRE experience of a national park which includes the ALL kinds of flora and fauna, not just the tiger. It might sound strange but the more focused you are on seeing a tiger, the less likely you are to actually seeing one. I call it The Butter Syndrome. Ever opened the fridge for the butter and you just can’t see it and try as you might you’re convinced it’s not there only to have another point it out right in front of your eyes? I’m not saying that you’ll miss a tiger that’s sitting right in front of you if you came across one. I’m just speaking from personal experience.
People are often amazed at how ‘lucky’ I am when it comes to tiger spotting and when they ask me my secret? I tell them that the more I’m in the moment, appreciate everything around me not expecting to see a tiger, the more likely it is that I’ll see one. And more often than not, I do.
Photo credit: Upjeet Singh, taken at Corbett Tiger Reserve.