With the ferocity of the monsoons abating, there’s no time like now to pull out that safari jacket, dust off your binoculars, and sign up for some adventure at the numerous wildlife parks that dot the country.
We spoke to Taj Safari’s wildlife specialist, Ratna Singh, who gave us a round up of must-visit national parks, insider tips and valuable pointers for a great safari break.
Pench, Madhya Pradesh
Nestled between the Satpura range and the Pench river, the Pench National Park stirs up images of Mowgli, Bagheera and Baloo prancing through the dry deciduous forests. While less popular than its neighbour, Bandha-vagarh, the park boasts hills, forests and plenty of rivulets. Singh says that apart from the landscape, you can look foward to endangered species of animals and birds. Twenty-five tigers apparently share the space with other cats like the leopard, as well as wolves, dhol (Indian wild dog), hyenas, chital, sambhar and gaur. Birdwatchers can revel in sighting a host of majestic birds including the crested serpent eagle and white-eyed buzzard.
Jim Corbett, Uttarakhand
Set up in 1936 to protect the Bengal tiger, this one is the oldest in the country and Singh advises you go there simply because the name Jim Corbett itself means so much. “You’re likely to see tigers, leopards, elephants and many primates here,” she says, adding that it is also a haven for birds, “from the usual peacock, jungle foul and dove to the Asian paradise flycatcher and Indian Alpine swift.” Those interested will also love spotting the Indian crocodile and snakes like Krait cobra and Russels viper.
Formerly a princely game conserve, this is the ideal spot if you are looking to see tigers. At the convergence of the Aravalis and the Vindhyas, you’ll find varied landscape that shifts from gentle hills to steep climbs, interspersed with green plateaus — which can be credited for the diversity in wildlife and flora. “Make sure to also visit the old Ranthambhor Fort (built in the 10th century) to get a better view of leopards, hyenas, crocodiles and boar because most of the surrounding water bodies are visible from the height of the fort. The fort itself offers history buffs a grand experience through arches of time and architecture,” says Singh.
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
What is striking about this place is the diversity it has to offer wildlife enthusiasts, combined with breathtaking natural splendour. Apart from tigers, the park is also inhabited by exotic species like gaur, black deer, black buck and leopard. The animal that represents the park is the barasingha or the swamp deer, which was on the verge of extinction two decades ago. But quick and effective measures have increased their population. A spot you must not miss is the Bamni Dadar, or Sunset Point, from where you get a stunning view of the sambhars and gaurs grazing, backlit by the setting sun.
Panna National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Another tiger reserve, this park has turned its tiger conservation project into a success story. With just five tigers in 2008, it now boasts a total of 30. Also look out for hyenas, wolves, nilgais and chinkaras. The heritage of the Khajuraho temple in close proximity makes this one a great destination, as it’s got a good mix of culture, adventure and wildlife.
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
“This is a park I adore, as it was practically in my backyard while growing up,” says Singh. Located in the Vindyas, this one is a mix of steep ridges, open meadows, and lush green forests. The former hunting ground of the maharaja of Rewa, it is home to the exotic white tiger. It is also inhabited by other carnivores like the Asiatic jackal, Bengal fox, ratel and jungle cats.
Datchigam National Park, Jammu & Kashmir
Located in the Zabarwan range in the western Himalayas, the park is at an altitude ranging from 5,500 to 14,000 feet above sea level, which is conducive to an array of rare species. The hangal or Kashmir stag is one such species that can be found here. Other occupants include the musk deer, Himalayan serow, hill fox, yellow throated marten and otter. If you’re big on bird watching, don’t miss the Himalayan monal, pygmy owlet, redstart, wagtail and koklass pheasant.
— Rashmi Rajagopal & Aakanksha Devi