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How To See India’s Tigers, Temples And Traditions (The Easy Way)

For most tourists, travel in India is synonymous with three things: temples, teeming crowds and the search for the elusive tiger. Madhya Pradesh has two of these things in abundance, but you won’t find too many crowds here. In fact, despite not appearing on most travellers’ radars, this state in the heart of India has just about everything a tourist could ask for (except beaches).

Welcome to Madhya Pradesh (and the jungle)

How To See India's Tigers, Temples And Traditions (The Easy Way)

Image: Bandhavgarh National Park

Madhya Pradesh (or MP) is one of the greenest states in India, as the locals will proudly tell you at every opportunity. It’s a reputation the state has had for a while.

Almost 200 years ago, a British Lieutenant captured a young boy in the forest of Pench who had apparently been raised by wolves. That broad stretch of jungle in the state’s South wasn’t declared a National Park until 1983, but by then multiple generations has read the stories inspired by the young boy in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. Today the teak forests still shelter all manner of wildlife familiar from the book, including wolves, bears, monkeys and the mighty Bengal tiger.

In all, five of the national parks in Madhya Pradesh are home to tigers, and the best place to spot one is Bandhavgarh. There are never any guarantees with wildlife spotting, but with the highest density of tigers in India this relatively small park sees most visitors leaving satisfied.

 

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An ancient fort sits atop the rocky hills and caves with ancient carvings dot the hillsides, but the wetlands and broad meadows are the best spots for wildlife spotting and jeep safaris head through the park at regular intervals.

The buffer zones surrounding the national parks are also rich with all kinds of wildlife, and for a truly unforgettable experience you can join a week-long cycling trip through the dappled forest corridor connecting Pench with nearby Kanha, in the Central Indian Highlands.

The lap of luxury

How To See India's Tigers, Temples And Traditions (The Easy Way)

Image: Jehan Numa Palace Hotel

The areas around the National Parks are crowded with hundreds of accommodation options but the eco-friendly tree houses near Pench and Bandhavgar are the pick of the bunch.

There’s no single use plastic at these sustainable lodges, which are set on private forest abutting the National Parks and have partnered with local communities to provide sustainable employment opportunities and a unique view into village life. Enjoy the views from your lofty home in the canopy or just lay back in a four poster bed and lounge like royalty.

 

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Of course, for the true royal experience you need a palace and Madhya Pradesh has more than a few of those. On the edge of the state capital Bhopal, the spread out grounds of the Jehan Numa Palace hotel evoke the colonial style of the British Raj. A low building surrounds a lush courtyard that’s shaded and cool even in the height of summer, while vintage cars and large teak bed frames fit right in with the period fittings and photographs of former rulers.

Even more striking is the 250 year old Ahilya Fort that overlooks the Narmada River from its hilltop location in the state’s south-west. Run by the son of the last ruler of Indore, its poppy seed perfume-scented rooms are spread around six buildings and it’s not hard to feel like you have it all to yourself. If you need company, though, you can always head down to the menagerie to play with the royal pugs.

A taste of tradition

 

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In the north of Madhya Pradesh, Orrcha is a wonderfully preserved medieval town where dusty lanes are lined with vendors selling brightly coloured flowers. The 500 year old Ram Raja temple in the centre of town is a colourful hive of activity without the tourist trappings of many more famous temples. Overlooking it, the imposing Chaturbhuj temple sees less human activity but is full of bright green parrots and giant griffon vultures. Join them on the upper stories for magnificent views over the surrounding countryside and the vast fort complex across the river that incorporates three palaces. Chattris, or tombs, line the river for miles around and can be reached by road, or you can raft down the river between them, as locals sing and do their laundry on the banks.

Several hours away, the modest village of Chanderi has been a centre of weaving culture for thousands of years and is famous around India for its incredibly fine saris. Thousands of looms still turn out handwoven fabric and the sheer silks with opulent brocade and colourful cotton saris are referred to locally as “woven air” because of their lightness. The prices are fair – if you bargain.

(Lead image: Incredible India)