Saturday, October 27, 2012

Top 9 Wildlife Holidays in India

Now that the Indian government has relaxed the tourism norms around India’s tiger reserves, wildlife lovers can breathe easy and plan their wildlife holiday in India. And with the upcoming Diwali holidays and the Christmas/New Year holiday season, I thought it would be helpful if I put together a list of the best 9 wildlife destinations in India. This list is not based on the best forests per se, but that provides the best wildlife experience including good infrastructure for a holidaying family or group.

Rhino with a Little Egret on its back
1) Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam
This UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra is home to endangered and rare species such as the Indian one-horned Rhinoceros, Wild Water Buffalo, Capped Langur, Hoolock Gibbon and more. It is one wildlife sanctuary where no one gets bored as it’s central, western and eastern ranges keep changing from woodlands to swamp plains to elephant grass to hills and evergreen forests while offering the wildlife lover to check out rich and diverse mammal, reptile and bird life. It is also one of those places where apart from the jeep safari, one can get on top of an elephant and get within close quarters of the Kaziranga wild denizens, be it a tiger, rhino or wild buffalo.

Best Season to Visit: November through March

Location: 260kms or 5 1/2 hours from Guwahati

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Nameri National Park, Majuli Island

Chaos in the name of tourism...making the WILD suffer at Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India
2) Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Charger and B2 were one of the largest Indian tigers. They belonged to Bandhavgarh and their bloodline roam the forests of Bandhavgarh today. Bandhavgarh with the highest density of tigers is your best bet to see a Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild. The Tala zone of Bandhavgarh enjoys iconic status. It is very difficult not to see a tiger in the Tala zone during the warm summer months. But, it is not just about the tiger here. Bandhavgarh is home to some exotic birds and mammals. The Bandhavgarh river and the fort offer variety too.

Best Season to Visit: March to May and November to February

Location: 200 kms or 5 hours from Jabalpur

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Khajuraho, Panna Tiger Reserve

A tusker in MAST at Nagarhole National Park
3) Kabini National Park/Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka
This place sees the biggest congregation of elephants in summer, offers possibly the best opportunities to see the leopard in the world, is fantastic for birding and also offers regular sightings of the tiger. Sounds unbelievable right? But, it is very true here at Kabini, which is one of those tiger reserves in India that is open all around. Boat cruises on the Kabini reservoir and jeep safaris in the Nagarhole forests is also one of its striking qualities.

Best Season to Visit: All year around, though it is special in the monsoons

Location: 200 kms or 4 1/2 hours from Bangalore

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Mysore, Srirangapatna, Coorg

Ripped Indian Gaur at Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India
4) Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu / Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala
This contiguous forest spanning the Western Ghats of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is home to some of India’s most pristine evergreen forests. The funny part is that both Anaimalai and Parambikulam needs to be entered from Tamil Nadu. The best part about this place is that everything is within the forest and hence you are always close to the wild animals. Gaur, spotted deer and sometimes even elephants will walk by your room. It is quite an experience. One can do jeep safaris, boat safaris or go trekking on designated trails in the evergreen belt in the presence of armed forest guards.

Best Season to Visit: All year around, except the monsoons

Location: 75 kms or 2 hours from Coimbatore

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Aliyar Dam, Valparai, Athirapally Falls, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

2 Little green bee-eaters at Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India
5) Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand
India’s first national park has its own unique aura. The man-eaters of Kumaon and Colonel Jim Corbett himself lend a lot of legacy to this place. Tigers, leopards, elephants and many other wild animals live here in healthy numbers, though one needs to get lucky to see all on a single trip since Corbett NP spreads over quite a large area. The Ramganga river is also one of those rare places to spot the very endangered Gharial. One of the best things about Jim Corbett NP is Dhikala lodge, a forest department run accommodation that is located in the inner reaches of the tiger reserve. Even though it is fenced for safety reasons, it is something to experience the true wild by being real close to them.

Best Season to Visit: Oct to Jun

Location: 230 kms or 5 hours from New Delhi

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Ranikhet, Nainital, Almore and Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary

Friendly with humans and ready for a bite of junk food - Rufous Tree Pie, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India
6) Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan
Royalty and lots of tigers is how one connects with Ranthambore. Ranthambore is possibly the jewel of Rajasthan when it comes to wildlife. After all, Machli, Ranthambore’s very own carries the tag of the most photographed tiger in the world. Set in arid terrain and surrounded by the Aravallis, the oldest mountain range in India, Ranthambore is an oasis when it comes to wildlife. It’s lakes also attracts a lot of winged visitors every winter. The temple on top of Ranthambore fort, the ruins where Machli used to live and the surrounding hills and caves, each have a lot of tiger stories to share.

Best Season to Visit: March to May (for tigers) and Nov to Feb (for a full wildlife package including migratory birds)

Location: 180 kms or 3 hours from Jaipur

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Jaipur, Chittoragarh

The pride of Gujarat....the rare Asiatic lion at Gir National Park, Gujarat, India
7) Gir National Park, Gujarat
The king of the jungle is seen in only one place in India and that place is Gir. The Nawabs of Junagadhs have gone and the African slaves have embraced Indian language and culture, but the lions of Gir have continued their lineage. The forest is quite large and thus the wildlife is quite diverse. The entire place makes for a lovely green setting in an otherwise dry part of Gujarat. The only sad part is that the lions have originated from a small gene pool, thus making them sensitive to certain virus strains. But, that doesn’t reduce the awe factor even a wee bit.

Best Season to Visit: All year around except the monsoons

Location: 365 kms or 6 1/2 hours from Ahmedabad

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Diu, Somnath, Junagadh, Rajkot, Rann of Kutch

Juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle
8) Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra
TATR is one of those places that people never knew existed in India. Today, it boasts of a healthy tiger population that is multiplying quite rapidly. It is also one of those rare tiger reserves that is open all year around thus making for a great monsoon wildlife destination. But, this place is mainly about the big animals and that too the tiger. For some reason, I don’t like forests that don’t have variety and that is why TATR is low on my list else it would be pretty high given its very high tiger sightings. And the forest department really care about their forest and are doing their bit to save this beautiful environment. The leopard and the black panther are also sighted here quite often.

Best Season to Visit: All year around (Best tiger sightings in summer and the monsoons)

Location: 130 kms or 2 1/2 hours from Nagpur

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Nagpur, Pench Tiger Reserve

Its sunset time at the Sunderbans, West Bengal, India
9) Sunderban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal
It is the land of the man eating tigers. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that is the world’s largest mangrove forest. It is also the place where the Royal Bengal Tiger swims, eats fish and weighs half of its counterparts that live in other parts of India. The Sunderban Tiger Reserve is one of those tiger reserves where it is very difficult to see a tiger and if you do, you are flirting with real danger. But, the true beauty of Sunderbans lies in its boat cruise that takes you through creeks and rivers and estuaries. The sheer variety of mangroves will keep your mind interested. The low and high tides will help you remember you physics classes. In between, you will get to see the famous salt water (mugger) crocodile, fiddler crabs, deer, terrestrial birds and may be the elusive tiger. But, you will definitely see and understand how the locals here live with these man eating tigers.

Best Season to Visit: Nov to Feb (check out the weather forecast here. can get pretty rough here sometimes)

Location: 120 kms or 2 1/2 hours from Kolkata by road and one hour by boat

Other Sightseeing Options Around: Digha

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