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If you don’t know the difference between a canter and a gypsy, and whether tiger watching is generally better in October or April then this brief guide is for you.

Gypsy vs Canter

There are currently two types of vehicle used for safaris in Indian national parks and reserves.

A gypsy is an open/uncovered jeep seating up to 6 guests – they are small and manoeuverable and well suited to the terrain. The 2 rows of bench seats are designed to accommodate six people (3 across each one) but in our experience this can be quite a squeeze, especially with camera equipment,  and it is preferable to pay a supplement to have one vehicle for up to four adults. For guests used to African safari vehicles, the gypsy is a more basic beast with very few bells and whistles.

Sitting in the front you will have one driver and one naturalist/guide.

A canter is an open bus seating up to 20 guests,  so a much larger, higher and noisier vehicle. Your vantage point is looking down rather than being at eye level with wildlife. The canter will also have a driver and a naturalist/guide on board.

 

Operating times and days

Tiger watching season is October/November (dates vary) through to June. All parks close throughout the monsoon months of July-September.

National parks in India have strict operating times and days and these vary between states (and are subject to change).

Some parks close one day a week so this is something to be aware of when planning your trip.

In addition,  some parks/reserves are open to pilgrims 0800-1500 worshipping at holy temples, for examples on Tuesdays and Saturdays an electric bus service transports worshippers through Sariska to the Pandupol Hanuman (Monkey God) Temple – this can cause some disruption,  with the park busier on these days.

Safari duration is three and a half hours. Gate times vary with the park and season you visit

Morning: gates open at 0630 and close at 1000 (based on October) and 0600 – 0930 (April)

Afternoon: gates open 1430 and close at 1800 (based on October) and 1500 – 1830 (April)

 

Zones

Many of India’s (bigger, more famous) national parks are divided into zones. There are a set number of permits allowed per session, per zone – this is to control vehicle densities. In Ranthambore for example,  there are around 1200 permits issued per day (5 jeeps and 5 canters per zone roughly).

It is advisable to allow for a couple of days and several drives in each park you visit to give you the best opportunity to see as much as possible across different zones. Zones are requested at time of booking.

Zones vary in topography. In Ranthambore,  Zone 3 is very scenic with temples,  a lovely lake shore and a beautiful Banyan tree at the entrance,  while Zone 2 felt more wild with denser vegetation and less water. The only tiger sighting when we were there was in Zone 1.

 

Best time of year to see tigers

When the parks open after the monsoon in October/November, the vegetation can still be dense and visibility challenging.  Water is plentiful so wildlife disperses over a wide area. No one has been in the park conducting safaris for at least 3 months so some time is needed to reacquaint with the jungle. For these reasons, tiger movements are unpredictable and sightings infrequent at this time of year, although the jungle is beautiful and the colours are lovely – and you can get lucky, as we did in Sariska in early October.

Throughout the winter months of December – February it can get very cold on safari and some parks suffer with fog in the mornings so you need to come prepared with lots of layers/gloves/hats etc.

Fast forward to March/April and you have arguably the best conditions and opportunities to see wildlife – the jungle has retreated and visibility through the trees is much improved. There is less water around which helps predict wildlife movements/concentrate numbers. The tigers have re-established their territories and guides are far more familiar with individual tigers and their patterns. Weather wise, temperatures will be increasing all the time but March and April are more manageable than May and June when the mercury can hit 40 degrees.

 

Practicalities

Take water with you – it can get very hot.

There is no cover in the jeep/canter so you should have a hat and suncream with you.

Wear neutral bush colours to blend in with the landscape rather than stand out. Pale colours will be cooler in the heat of the day. White is not advisable for wildlife watching safaris! Keep your crisp white shirt/Tshirt for the safari bar. A jacket with lots of pockets is useful for storing sunglasses/lens cap etc etc

There isn’t a lot of room in the jeep so think about what day bag/pack you take with you – this will sit on the floor behind the seat.

 

Conclusion

  • Book early (so we can request permits for preferred zones and days and work around park closures,  holy days and public holidays such as Diwali, which are very busy.)
  • Opt for a private gypsy safari.
  • Aim for Spring – March/April time – if you want the best combination of factors.

 

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