Located some 250km north of Bhubaneswar, the 2750-sq-km Similipal National Park has long been Odisha’s prime wildlife sanctuary. However, due to several issues, including ongoing Maoist activity in the region, animal and timber poaching, a kidnapping or two, sensitive tribal villages within the park, staff shortages and lack of resources to properly track animal movements or protect tourists, accessing the park has become more and more difficult for foreigners in recent years (though it seems Indians don't have issues with access).
For those that come out of the bureaucracy unscathed, a massif of prominent hills creased by valleys and gorges, made dramatic by plunging waterfalls, including the spectacular 400m-high Barheipani Waterfall and the 150m-high Joranda Waterfall, awaits. The jungle is an atmospheric mix of dense sal forest and rolling open savannah and there’s a huge range of reptile, bird and mammal species. The tigers aren’t tracked and sightings are extremely rare – the best chance to spot them will be at the Joranda salt lick. More realistic sighting possibilities include wild elephants (there are over 400 in the park), most probably at the Chahala salt lick. Mankida and Khadia PVTGs (Particulary Vunerable Tribal Groups) live inside the park – bear in mind, it is now prohibited in Odisha to photograph them.
There are two entrances, Tulsibani, 15km from Jashipur, on the northwestern side; and Pithabata, near Lulung, 25km west of Baripada – the most convenient for travellers coming from Bhubaneswar or Puri. At time of writing, the park was open for day trips only, though very few agencies in Bhubaneswar or Puri are willing to go through the rigamarole to take foreigners to the park. The uneventful Forest Department bungalows inside the park were off limits during research.
If you go, the dusty transit hub of Baripada is the best and most convenient place to organise a visit; if you’re planning an independent trip, recommended agency Mayur Tours & Travels can organise tours with capable guides and is the best place to initiate the permission process, which supposedly takes three to five working days, subject to the availability of the District Collector. Odisha Tourism is also an option. The clean-but-fading Hotel Ambika is friendly, has a great restaurant, local workers’ bar and large rooms, if a little dark. The most comfortable spot near the park is unfortunately on the Jashipur side (which is a long drive out of the way from the main entrance and park infrastructure): Toshali Jungle Lodge, run by concession in cottages built by the Forest Department, offering basic but well-maintained rooms with mosquito nets, nice bathrooms and a professional manager. It's 15km from the Tulsibani entrance.
From the Baripada bus stand on Kacheri Rd, buses go to Kolkata (non-AC/AC ₹190/220, five hours, 4.45am, 9.20am, 10.30pm, 10.40pm and 11pm), Bhubaneswar (non-AC/AC ₹200/250, five hours, 20 per day), Balasore (₹36 to ₹56, 1½ hours, every 30 minutes from 5.15am to 8.40pm), Jashipur (₹70, 2½ hours, every 30 minutes from 5am to 10pm) and one night bus to Puri (₹310, seven hours, 11pm). The 12892 Bhubaneswar-Baripada Express (2nd class/AC chair ₹92/336, five hours, 5.10pm) runs from Bhubaneswar every day except Saturday, and returns as the 12891 at 5.09am every day except Sunday.