Located in southeastern Asia and sharing borders with China, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal, India is a mega-destination when it comes to wilderness and wildlife.
From the mighty Himalayas in the east and northeast, the vast deserts in the west, the lush rainforests in the south and the Himalayan desert in the north to the mangroves, the sal forests, and the foothills of the Himalayas - India really does offer a huge range of unique and desirable travel choices.
India is a dream safari destination with a variety of forest types supporting a wide range of mammals and other forms of life.
India has many other charms and offers the traveller a very unique experience - the culture, wildlife, habitats, architecture, history, cities, villages and the huge diversity of this expansive country will take your breath away and leave you wanting to return.
India has never been more accessible for the wildlife traveller with more and more areas opening up for tourism. The apex animal for India is the Bengal Tiger Panthera tigris but it shares the forests of India with some equally ‘appealing cats – Leopard, Snow Leopard, Asiatic Lion, Clouded Leopard and the smaller ones like the Jungle Cat, Caracal and the rare Fishing Cat.
The herbivores include several species of deer - the Barasinga or the Swamp Deer, Hangul or the Kashmir Stag, Brow Antlered Deer, the majestic Sambhar, the inquisitive Mouse Deer.
The Indian Blackbuck, the Nilgiri Tahr, mountain goats and sheep (in Ladakh area), the majestic Indian Elephant, Indian Rhinoceros, and the hardy Indian Bison are some of the other herbivores of India.
The birdlife is equally stunning with 1100 odd species and several endemics. Flower and plant enthusiasts flock the Western Ghats and the Northeast for endemic orchids and Lilies and for those who just enjoy everything – the whole country is full of pockets of blissful natural habitats.
India has many national parks and sanctuaries which are open to visitors:
Ladakh Area – Hemis and Changthang National Parks
At an average altitude of 12-15000 feet the Hemis National Park and the Changthang Sanctuary are two unique habitats which harbour some of the most elusive and unique wilderness of India.
The Grey Ghost or the Snow Leopard is one such – seen by few and filmed and photographed by fewer – this is the most elusive big cat. Preying on Blue Sheep, Ladakh Urial, Himalayan Ibex, and Tibetan Gazelles, this supercat has been sighted in recent times with moderate success.
Other mammals include the Tibetan Wolf, Tibetan Wild Ass, Red Fox, and rarer mammals like the Tibetan Gazelle, Eurasian Lynx and the very rare Pallas’s Cat. Birds include the majestic Black Necked Crane, the Tibetan Sandgrouse, the Golden Eagle, the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier and several other species of passerines. Some of these are rare and range restricted meaning one cannot see them in other areas.
Natural beauty and solitude is plentiful and amidst this unique wilderness habitat visitors have the opportunity to experience the Ladakhi monasteries, local tribes and food.
Corbett National Park
The first tiger reserve that was set up in 1973 through a unique approach to save India’s wildlife by saving the apex predator – the tiger.
Located 7 hours from Delhi and connected by comfortable trains Corbett offers travellers a chance to see the Himalayas, tiger, leopard, Indian Elephant and the huge variety of birdlife. In winter it is one of the most idyllic tiger reserves with the Himalayas in the background and birdsong and animal calls reverberating from the jungles.
Kaziranga, Manas & Nameri Tiger Reserves
These parks form a very important chain of forest in the northeastern India and are part of the forests which connected Indian forests to the Malayan forests of Myanmar and far-east. Kaziranga is famous for its population of Asiatic Rhinoceros, Wild Buffalo, Tiger, Asiatic Elephant and Leopard.
Manas offers rare mammals such as the Crestless Porcupine, Crab-eating Mongoose, Hog Badger and a small population of Golden Langur. Nameri on the other hand is a birder’s dream destination with several north-eastern specialties such as the Ibisbill, Long Billed Plover, Chestnut Bellied Tesia, White Winged Wood Duck, Wreathed Hornbill and Siberian Rubythroat.
Mammals of the Malayan region such as the Malayan Giant Squirrel, Hoary Bellied Squirrel, Hoolock Gibbon, and Capped Langur are found in all the parks and the floral diversity is high too. One of the highlights of Nameri are the many butterflies; some of them are very colourful and extremely rare like the Indian Birdwing, Krishna Peacock, Crimson Rose, and Common Map.
The Arunachal Pradesh and surrounding areas
This area has some of the thickest forests in India and is home to some of the rarest and most stunning birdlife, mammals and reptiles. Ideal for serious nature lovers who enjoy being ‘off the beaten track’ and are not particular about creature comforts.
Mammals include rarities like the Clouded Leopard, Marbled Cat, Golden Cat, Leopard Cat, Hoolock Gibbon, Bintourang, Malayan Sun Bear, Himalayan Palm Civet, Namdapha Flying Squirrel, Orange Bellied Squirrel and many more rare and endangered species. There are tigers and leopards but the possibilities of sighting one are low.
The main areas of interest are Mishmi Hills, Eagle’s Nest Sanctuary, Namdapha National park and the Naga Hills. The best ways to approach these areas are two airports – Dibrugarh and Dimapur – both tiny hill towns and after that winding drives through brilliant forests and tiny quaint villages.
The mangrove forests are one of the last mystical places of India. The stories of man-eating tigers, the marshy swampy nature of the forests, the reptiles and the extreme nature of the weather makes it a mysterious place.
The mangroves are a magnificent place for nature lovers with an interest in all things wild. The birdlife is rich and varied and mammals include Irrawady Dolphins, Bengal Tiger, Wild Boar and Rhesus Macaque. Reptiles include the Indian Rock Python, The Reticulated Python, the King Cobra and the Salt Water Crocodile. The area has a very rich culture.
Sunderbans is three hours from Kolkata and before or after the trip a few nights in Kolkata enjoying its culture, textiles and food is a must.
Chambal River Sanctuary
One of the smaller sanctuaries of India – yet boasts an impressive list of birds, mammals and reptiles.
The area is explored by motorized boats and a couple of trips allow one a good chance to come across the endemic Indian Skimmers and Sarus Crane.
Apart from rare birds, reptiles like the Gharial or the Fish Eating Crocodile and the Marsh Crocodile, turtles and rare mammals such as the Gangetic Dolphin, Jungle Cat, and Common Palm Civet are sighted here. The sanctuary is only an hour and half from Agra and hence a night at Agra can be combined with a rustic and simple jungle experience.
The shooting reserve of the Maharajah of Bharatpur was infamous for its duck shoots – but dedicated conservationists have saved this beautiful sanctuary for present day birders.
In a small area of approximately thirty square kms the sheer number of birds that flock here is astounding - including birds such as the Black Necked Stork, Sarus Crane, Dusky Eagle Owl, Long Tailed Nightjar, Siberian Rubythroat and a few mammals such as the Indian Palm Civet, Jungle Cat and the Asiatic Jackals.
Bharatpur is an hour and half from Agra and three hours from Jaipur – so most visiting Bharatpur combine it with a couple of night at each of these places.
A rugged and beautiful reserve in the heart of Rajasthan in western India, the park is well connected to Delhi and Mumbai by rail, Jaipur (3 hours) is the nearest airport.
The forests of Ranthambhor are home to tiger, leopard, jungle cat, marsh crocodile and a number of herbivores. The forest nestles in the Aravalli hills – one of the oldest chains of hills of India.
Winter is a great time for birders and wildlife lovers whereas the end of March till mid April is better suited for for those seeking tigers. The park has four well appointed lakes teeming with birds, deer and marsh crocodiles. One of the attractions of Ranthambhor is the Ranthambhor Fort which offers a panoramic view of the forest from the top and attracts locals who come to worship their god Ganesha on Wednesdays.
The most easily accessed tiger reserve with Nagpur airport only three hours from the reserve gates.
Week-days are calm and quiet and the open forests of Pench offer a quick chance to sight a tiger in the wild, with other mammals like leopard, wild dog, Asiatic jackal, ruddy mongoose, Indian bison also being sighted on a normal three day safari visit. Pench is well connected to Mumbai via Nagpur and hence is good choice if you want to visit southwestern India and a tiger reserve, with Goa also being accessible.
Kanha is located in the southeastern corner of Madhya Pradesh not too far from the centre of India in Jabalpur. It is well connected to Delhi and Mumbai via flights & trains to Raipur, Nagpur and Jabalpur.
The park is one of India’s larger tiger reserves with a high mammals and birds species diversity – it is located on a spur of the Satpura mountain chain and the forests is lush, green and deep. The main mammals are Tiger, Asiatic Leopard, Sloth Bear, Jungle Cat, Wild Dog, Asiatic Jackal, Hard Ground Swamp Deer (only found in Kanha), Sambar, Barking Deer, Indian Gaur, Blue Bull, a small population of Blackbucks and Four Horned Antelope, Black Naped Hare and the rare Mouse Deer and few other mammals.
Prime birds include Crested Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, White Eyed Buzzard, Spot Bellied Eagle Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, India Peafowl, Scarlet Minivet, and Black Ibis. Kanha has a number of butterflies which can be seen near the waterholes and the dry nullahs that are inside the park. Noteworthy species include The Striped Tiger, Blue Tiger, Glass Tiger, Common Jezebel, Tawny Nawab, the smallest butterfly of India – Gram Blue and lot more.
Those with an interest in plants can see some of the most beautiful hardwood trees and if they come in winters a variety of beautiful grass species. The area is best explored either on a jeep or on elephant back – the elephant back rides are for short durations to take a peek at an elusive and shy tiger.
Tadoba is a small but very well known new tiger reserve in India (though it is the oldest national park and tiger reserve of Maharashtra), its proximity to Nagpur makes it a good alternate for Pench – though it is a stand-alone destination and a great place for short tour to see the tiger.
Other mammals include the Leopard, the Sloth Bear and the Wild Dog, Gaur, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Jungle Cat, Ratel or Honey Badger and Ruddy Mongoose.
Birds include Grey Jungle Fowl, Mottled Wood Owl, Barred Button Quail, Greater Flameback, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Crested Honey Buzzard, Shikra and many other species.
Tadoba is a small park but it is a great place to see several large and small mammals and some interesting birds. It is best explored on jeeps – though there are discussions on the possibilities of elephant rides – so far elephant rides are not allowed in Tadoba.
The name 'Tadoba' is the name of the God "Tadoba" or "Taru", who was a village chief who was killed in a mythological encounter with a tiger. A shrine dedicated to the God Taru now exists beneath a huge tree, on the banks of the Tadoba Lake. The forest is primarily dry deciduous and summer temperatures can soar to 42c or even more in the peak summer months – winters are cool and very dry. The park is a good place for photographers as it is quite and open and the manmade and natural waterholes are great places to wait for tigers and other mammals in summers.
One of the best places in India to see a tiger in the wild, Bandhavgarth is dotted with the sandy Vindhyan hills and is a blend of mixed deciduous forests with clamps of bamboo patches at higher areas and grasslands and streams at lower areas.
A relatively small park with good road network that enhances the possibilities of tiger sightings – Bandhavgarh is one of the busier parks of India. The wildlife of Bandhavgarh is very similar to Kanha. Though the summer months are better for tiger lovers – the winters are very good for tigers and other wildlife too. Bandhavgarh is best approached from Jabalpur and the temple town of Khajuraho.
The northernmost tiger reserve of Madhya Pradesh, Panna is located only half an hour from the erotic temples of Khajuraho and is five hours by road from Bandhavgarh.
Panna is a treat for birders with endemic species like Sarus Crane, Rufous Tailed Lark, Painted Sandgrouse, Striated Grassbird and Mottled Wood Owl and rare species like Spotted Creeper and Rock Eagle Owl.
Mammals include tiger, leopard, jungle cat, a small population of Caracal and the smallest cat of India the Rusty Spotted Cat. The Ken River flows through Panna and boat rides on the Ken assure a chance of sighting the Marsh Crocodiles. Nearby Panna a sanctuary offers night safaris and Sloth Bear, Wild Dog, Striped Hyena, Rusty Spotted Cat and several nocturnal bird species can be sighted.
A lush green tropical rainforest patch on the border of two South India states – Tamilnadu and Kerala - where mammals such as the rare and endemic Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Bonnet Macaque, Stripe Necked Mongoose, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Leopard, Tiger, Indian Bison or Gaur and the Indian Elephant roam freely.
Birds include the Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Malabar Trogon. The reserve is best explored on foot with a trained guide and is ideally ombined with a couple of nights of relaxation at Ootacamund (better known as Ooty).
Gir Lion Sanctuary
Located 65 km to the south-east of Junagadh and 60 km to south west of Amreli the park is the sole home of the pure Asiatic Lions and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia. This dry deciduous forest has a sizable population of leopard, jungle cat and herbivores apart from several settlements of the maldharis and their cattle – a community settled inside and in the surrounding areas of the park.
Gir also has a small population of African settlers whom the Nawab or Junagadh had brought to give this park an ‘African’ feel. Now they are called ‘siddis’ and are an ethnic community with mixed culture. The park has an excellent birdlife including endemics like Mottled Wood Owl, Marshall’s Iora and Painted Sandgrouse.
Named after the Nagarhole River that snakes through this beautiful sanctuary and provides support to its teeming wildlife and flora.
Nagarhole is home to a viable population of leopard, wild dog, jungle cat, Asiatic jackal, Indian Elephant, many deer and a good number of birds including endemic rarities such as the Blue Faced Malkoha, Malabar Trogon, Jerdon’s Bush Lark, Malabar Crested Lark, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Malabar Grey Hornbill, White Bellied Woodpecker and Malabar Woodshrike.
Nagarhole is five and half hours from Bengaluru which is well connected to UK by a network of flights. Winter months are good for wildlife lovers – though the summer months are better for elephant lovers.
Located in the southwest corner of India – in Kerala - the spice-coast is well known for its lush green forests and luxuriant beaches and backwaters.
Periyar is an ideal forest for birders and nature-lovers as its thick broad leaved forests allow mammals to hide easily. You can combine Periyar with the beaches of Kerala or with the tea country of Munnar.
Periyar is best explored on foot – a team of local tribes has been trained by the eco tourism community and take visitors walking to see its wilderness, which includes birds like Malabar Trogon, Malabar Great Hornbill, Little Spiderhunter, Malabar Wood-Shrike, Heart-Spotted Woodpecker and mammals such as the endemic Nilgiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, Indian Porcupine, the shy and elusive Mouse Deer and the Smooth Coated Otter.
Other mammals include tiger, leopard, wild dog, Indian Elephant, Indian Bison or Gaur, Wild Boar and Sambhar.
Thattakad and Munnar
Two beautiful forested habitats that are a must for any nature and wildlife enthusiast visiting Kerala. While Munnar is better known for its tea bushes and scenic hills, Thattakad is possibly the best bird sanctuary in Kerala and arguably South India.
At least 11 major endemic species can be sighted with ease here. Munnar also boasts a few endemic birds and a few endemic mammals like the Nilgiri Tahr – a mountain goat, Nilgiri Langur and the very rare and very elusive Nilgiri Marten. Birds include the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Nilgiri Laughing thrush, Kerala Laughing thrush, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Indian Blue Robin, Malabar Trogon, Srilanka Frogmouth, Ceylon Bay Owl, Mottled Wood Owl and Malabar Whistling Thrush.
Munnar has several spice gardens which are worth a visit and Thattakad offers large fruit growing farms – coconut, pineapple, cocoa and betel nut.
We have visited India and would be delighted to assist you with your journey planning. Browse through our superb tailor made and small group wildlife itineraries to whet your appetite or call us on 01386 830264 to tailor make an itinerary which suits your exact requirements and budget!