India Wildlife Safari - " Best & Beyond"
Whether you prefer luxury tent camps or Himalayan home stays, India’s wildlife reigns supreme with elephants, tigers, and birds in flight.
Your toughest decision will be deciding where to go, given the vastness of the country and contrasting landscapes of the national parks: western India’s deserts in Gujarat, the jungles on Kerala’s southwest coast, and savannah-like scrub in north-central India’s Madhya Pradesh. But improved air travel across the subcontinent makes itinerary planning easier.
You may want to base your itinerary around what you want to see. For tigers, head to Madhya Pradesh. The Southern region conducts top elephant safaris. The Agra-Delhi-Jaipur triangle is within a day’s drive of excellent tiger and birding environs. Assam and other northeastern states offer a more off-the-beaten-path experience, though fewer visitors travel this far.
Not all parks are uniformly run, so your best bet is to choose the best. “& Beyond” (a first-rate, Africa-based outfitter committed to defending India’s tigers) has teamed up with the Taj Hotel Group to raise the standard of luxury at several facilities and add expert nature guides. The other Lodges we recommend have their own naturalists who will give a good wildlife experience. Lodging options range from comfortable, air-conditioned suites to rustic, jungle tent camps within a few miles of each park.
Most parks close during monsoon season (June–October). Late spring, which extends from the end of February to mid-May, is best for glimpsing creatures thanks to spare foliage and crowded water holes.
Just don’t forget your binoculars. And if it’s a tiger you’re after, keep your fingers crossed (and your eyes peeled): They’re hard to find, but the experience is unforgettable.
09 AMAZING INDIA WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE
Ranthambhore National Park
Best for: Tigers, spotted deer, wild boar, jackals, painted storks (300 bird species overall), plus impressive ruins, forts, and temples
Logistics: A former royal hunting preserve, Ranthambore lies 111 miles south of Jaipur and 285 miles southwest of New Delhi. Access to the park is strictly limited to just 15 government-operated safari Jeeps per day. May is when to see cats; the park closes from June to October.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Best for: Tigers, leopards, nilgai, hog deer, wild boar
Logistics: Set amid the plains of Madhya Pradesh in central India (122 miles from the city of Jabalpur), this is a relatively small preserve—with the country’s highest concentration of tigers. It’s also the site of a novel partnership between the Taj Hotel Group and the high-end Conservation Corporation Africa (& Beyond), which aims to wow guests with an unprecedented level of service and amenities (on safari and back at the resort) that few of its current competitors are able to match. Choose between Jeep and elephant rides, and a “& Beyond” trained naturalist will point out wildlife and birds in the tropical woodlands. The park is open October to June; April, May, and June are ideal for tiger sightings. Bandhavgarh is a six-hour drive from Kanha National Park—an excellent twofer if you have time.
Kaziranga National Park
Best for: One-horned rhinoceros, tigers, (wild) elephants, wild buffalo, monitor lizards, and water birds like the bar-headed goose, grey-headed lapwing, and spot-billed pelican
Logistics: The grass literally grows as high as an elephant’s eye at this 106,000-acre park in Assam—the most easily accessible state in India’s far northeast. A five-hour drive from the state capital of Guwahati in east India (670 miles from Calcutta), the park lies northeast of the narrow neck of land between Nepal and Bangladesh along the shores of the Brahmaputra River. A bird census of nearly 500 species makes Kaziranga a must for ornithologists, while February boasts chances of seeing resident mega-fauna (when the tall grass has died or been selectively burned for winter). A private Jeep tour or elephant ride through various parkland habitats can be booked. Arrival of monsoon season in April determines park closures.
Sasan-Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
Best for: Asiatic Lions, leopards, hyenas, pythons, jackals
Logistics: Located on Western India’s Gujarat Peninsula, across the Bay of Cambay from Mumbai on the Arabian Sea, this park’s rugged scrubland and forests are most effectively explored on a Jeep safari. India’s lions don’t sport massive manes like those in Africa, but they’re just as imposing (and this is the only place in the world where you can see Asiatic lions). Occasionally, these consummate hunters wander beyond the sanctuary to prey on livestock. Peak wildlife viewing is from December to April; the park closes mid-June through monsoon season in mid-September.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park
Best for: Storks, cranes, eagles, and hawks, pythons, porcupines, wild boar, nilgai (literally 'blue cow'), India’s largest native antelope
Logistics: If there’s one Indian refuge truly for the birds, it’s this one in southern Rajasthan—31 miles from Agra (home to the Taj Mahal) and a three-hour drive from Delhi. Merely 11 square miles, the car-free park is navigable on foot or bicycle; or hires a cycle-rickshaw at the entrance. Don’t worry about getting uncomfortably close to these creatures; snakes generally nap in the sun and the other animals are shy of humans. In the mid-18th century, the maharajah of Bharatpur established this area as private hunting territory. Since then, avian enthusiasts have identified more than 350 species of birds here. Hunting ceased in the early 1970s; in 1985, the park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the winter months—when the reservoirs where the maharajah used to shoot thousands of ducks are full—staggering numbers of birds arrive from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China, and Siberia. You might spot an open-bill stork, Kentish plover, Eurasian curlew, white-necked ibis, white-tail lapwing, red-collard dove, or endangered Sarus crane (the tallest flying bird). Open year round, the best birding is from September to March.
Corbett Tiger Reserve
Best for: Tigers, wild elephants (as opposed to the ones you can ride), crocodiles, 600 species of birds
Logistics: India’s first official national park is in the state of Uttarakhand, some 200 miles north of New Delhi in the foothills of the Himalayas. Two main entrances (Ramnagar and Bijrani) welcome guests on the west side of the park. The former is the best route to the park’s central reception center, but you’ll find vehicles for hire and guides at all three gates, including Dhangari—the best route to the park’s central reception center.
Most good hotels are located north of Ramnagar, and the majority will work with you to reserve a Jeep or elephant for touring. Drivers and guides stick to a network of roads, while safaris on elephants penetrate the jungle in search of tigers. Mammal sightings are best from March to June, while birds are best seen from mid-December to March; most of the park is closed June 15-mid-November.
Kanha National Park
Best for: Tigers, swamp deer, mongoose, leopards, wild boar, golden jackals, 300 bird species
Logistics: Many Naturalists have found inspiration in Kanha, and when you need a tiger fix, this park offers as close to a guarantee as you’ll get. Approximately 125 tigers reside in the park, and guides spend considerable amounts of time scouting their locations. More flights to Madhya Pradesh mean better access to central India; Jabalpur’s airport is 75 miles from the park. Good viewing months are from March to June; the park closes from June to September.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
Best for: Tigers, water buffalo, rhinos, (wild) elephants, golden langur (a rare orange-furred monkey), Bengal florican (an endangered two-foot-tall bird)
Logistics: Situated on the border between Bhutan and Assam, India, this refuge is a four-hour drive from the city of Guwahati (and near Kaziranga Park). Divided by the Manas River, this 89,000-acre preserve maintains UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is currently recovering from a decade of tribal and political turmoil. Safari options include Jeep tours and elephant rides, plus outboard raft excursions on the water. The park is open from October to April; January to March is peak period for fine weather and wildlife spotting.
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Best for: Giant Malabar squirrels, (wild) elephants, guar (giant bison), bird life
Logistics: Located in the Western Ghat mountain range, this picturesque, 192,000-acre wildlife sanctuary offers a supremely lush habitat in eastern Kerala on India’s southwest coast. (The nearest airport is in Madurai, 90 miles east in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.) Tiger sightings are uncommon, but there’s plenty to see and do. Birders enjoy the park for its tropical species; boaters can watch elephants gather at the water’s edge; and those on foot have a chance to meet the bashful guar up close. An innovative eco-tourism project funded by the World Bank creates unprecedented recreational opportunities, including guided hikes and boat trips around a central reservoir that allow visitors to observe various animals quenching their thirst. You can even ride in an ox-drawn cart to nearby villages. The park is open year-round, but is almost unbearably crowded from September to December.
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