“If you are looking for one single thing that sets International Expeditions’ India tours apart, it has absolutely got to be our focus on nature. Every tour operator does the Taj Mahal and temples and that is important. Only IE spends six nights at family-run jungle lodges so we can delve into the great national parks and tiger reserves of India at Kanha and Bandhavgarh,” explains Emily Harley, IE’s media relations director. “Guests go out in Jeeps and even board elephants to look for Bengal tigers, and on average, see six to 10 Bengal tigers on each departure,” an important point because the Bengals, thanks to poaching and deforestation, have become very elusive. “Plus,” she adds, “IE guests are going to learn so much from their naturalist guides and the locals working at the lodge; they are our primary resources for educating guests about the areas where they are traveling. Passionate, friendly and talented, these knowledgeable locals provide a depth of information and familiarity you simply could not find in any guidebook or replicated by traveling with an American tour guide.”
IE’s 17-day India program is an eclectic mix of India’s big cities and the countryside, spending a couple of days in Mumbai examining its World Heritage Sites, followed by an early-morning private plane ride to Raipur for a drive to Kanha National Park—one of India’s signature wildlife areas—arriving in the late-afternoon, with a picnic lunch en-route. The Sal forests, grasslands, flat-topped hills and streams here are home to a rich variety of wildlife and nearly 300 species of birds. Guests explore the park in open 4×4 jeeps in search of barasingha deer, Indian gaur, sambar deer, chital, wild boar, gray jackal, wild dog and troops of langurs. They’ll also keep an eye out for the park’s greatest prize of the India tiger safari: the Bengal tiger, with the possibility to observe them from elephant back. During three nights at the Kanha Jungle Lodge, guests also enjoy stargazing, cooking demonstrations and a dance performed by local villagers.
Next, it’s off to Bandhavgarh National Park and on the way, visit a local home and stop in the sleepy town of Mandla (a sacred city for Gond tribals) where the Narmada River, second holiest to the Ganges, is the center of activity. Temples and ghats line the banks of the river, where you might see the Gonds perform their funeral rites. The main bazaar has shops selling tribal silver and bell metal.
Bandhavgarh National Park is one of India’s most important tiger reserves and considered the best place to see wild tiger, plus 250 species of birds, including India’s national bird, the peacock. Other residents include various deer and antelope species, jungle cats and Indian wild dog. It’s a good place to spend three nights at Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge, enjoying morning and afternoon wildlife excursions. Wildlife viewing is by open four-wheel drive vehicle and from the back of an elephant.
Over the next several days traveling to Jaipur, clients check out numerous villages and the Taj Mahal in Agra. Visitors should know the optimum time to view this magnificent treasure is not just at dawn, but also at dusk or twilight to get a different perspective. Another highlight is a morning elephant ride to the Amber Fort in Rajasthan’s ancient capital, continuing on to Sheesh Mahal or the Hall of Victory, glittering with mirrors and farther on to Samode, spending the night at the 18th century Samode Palace.
Harley reminds agents that, “India is not a destination for everyone and it’s important for agents to ‘weed out’ travelers who need everything to be perfectly scheduled. India is endlessly fascinating and diverse, but travel to India necessarily involves some inconveniences. The subcontinent is large, there can be long travel days and bumpy roads. Find an adventurous client who loves nature, is interested in culture and has a sense of humor.”
The program is priced from $6,198 pp dbl. Additionally, park fees run $555 and intra-country air is $278—neither of which is commissionable.
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International Expeditions: (800) 234-9620; ietravel.com/travel-agents
Travcoa: (800) 992-2003; travcoa.com/travel-agents