Heading for a quick break to the jungle? Our guide tells you what to do and what to see while there
WHILE wildlife conservation is reason enough to get familiar with jungle facts (we boast a forest cover of over seven lakh square kilometres, according to the 2015 Indian State of Forest Report), here’s another: ‘forest bathing’ or soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of a forest is said to help lower stress and improve memory! Now with World Environment Day being themed on ‘zero tolerance for illegal wildlife trade’, why not head to a natural reserve and support an endangered animal, while amping up on some forest Zen?
Indian Rhinoceros, Kaziranga
Indian rhinos—with their greyish-brown skin and black horn—were once found all over Northern India and are now confined to the Brahmaputra region. Kaziranga in Assam is home to a significant two-thirds of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros. But with just 2,000 rhinos surviving in India, that’s not much to boast about. While there, donate to the Indian Rhino Vision 2020, an initiative by Save The Rhino organisation. In partnership with the Assam Forest Department and others, they are trying to increase the wild population through anti-poaching and community awareness (details: savetherhino.org).
Other highlights: Also declared a tiger reserve in 2006, see if you can spot the striped cat. Where to stay: At the IORA-The Retreat, a four-star resort, enjoy elephant-back safaris and jeep rides starting at Rs 250 per head. Stay from Rs 5,000 (details: 9957193550). Must buy: Pick up souvenirs, as a percentage of the money is given to the forest department. We suggest wooden rhinos crafted by the tribals. Rs 300 onwards.
Red Pandas, Arunachal
Trekking through the rain forests of Arunachal Pradesh, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of red if you are lucky. With just 300 red pandas in the wild—rampant deforestation dwindled their numbers—they can be spotted feeding in the bamboo groves. A great way to see them is to walk through the thick green forests of the Namdapha National Park, but get a permit from the MiaoNamdapha office. You can also adopt a panda (from Rs 3,360 onwards) by registering with the Red Panda Network. An adoption will get you a personalised adoption certificate and a gift package, including T-shirts, bracelets and more. Details: redpandanetwork.org
Other highlights: The forest also boasts four big cats—the leopard, tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard. Where to stay: Padmini Resort, in Miao (the nearest village), has cottages starting from Rs 4,000, with facilities like a pool, gym, bar and restaurant (details: 09435528173). Must buy: In Miao, pick up handloom products featuring the red panda and the big cats. Rs 450 onwards.
Asiatic Lions, Gir
Poaching and hunting got the Asiatic lion a place on the endangered species list in 2000. The Gir forest in Gujarat has 523 of these tawny beasts (according to the 2015 census) walking the dry scrub and sheltering under the deciduous trees. Besides taking open jeep safari rides, you can also donate to The Shaktisinh Visana Memorial Gir Forest Association. The money will go towards the development of the park and insuring better anti-poaching measures. Details: gujaratlion.com
Other highlights: Look out for the rare Pygmy Woodpecker and Brown Fish Owl. Where to stay: The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest is a scenic getaway, with rooms from Rs 7,000 (details: 265 6617676). Must buy: The local Sidi women make jute bags that they sell outside the park. From Rs 10 onwards.
Lion-tailed Macaque, Periyar
Once found in abundance in the Western Ghats, now there are less than 2,000 in the wild. Mostly hunted for their meat, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala is one of the few places where you can see this simian, swinging from the deciduous trees. The Periyar Foundation organises eco-tourism activities (on the 28th of every month), where visitors can participate in cleaning the park and spreading awareness about the endangered species. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other highlights: Don’t miss outdoor activities like bamboo rafting and tiger trails, organised by the eco tourism department. From Rs 1,500 (details: 91486922457).Where to stay: Periyar House offers a scenic vantage point of the tiger reserve. Rs 2,353 onwards (details: 4869 222026). Must buy: Pick up tees and postcards at Café Periyarensis, run by Periyar Wildlife Staff Co-op Society. From Rs 250.
Black Bear, Jim Corbett National Park
The black bear has been brought to the brink of extinction, thanks to its gall bladder. The organ, along with the bile, are used in traditional medicine. With less than 3,276 in the wild, they are mostly confined to the hilly terrains of the Jim Corbett National Park in Gujarat. Spot them from a seat on an elephant or jeep safari (Rs 4,200 onwards). While there, donate to the Corbett Foundation (Rs 250 onwards), which works for wildlife conservation and development (details: corbettfoundation.org, 05947284156).
Other highlights: Try rope climbing and nature walks organised by the park authorities, for Rs 200 per activity (details: 9719251997). Where to stay: Dhikala Forest Lodge, situated within the park, offers room and tour package combos. From Rs 3,000 onwards (details:8826678883). Must buy: Pick handcrafted mugs resembling bears.
Wildlife photographer Shekar Dattatri believes just weekend visits to a reserve can’t help the wildlife in any substantial way. “You need to immerse yourself and learn how you can give back,” he says. However, he adds that if you are serious in helping the animals and the forests, you could use your time there to connect with a local NGO. “You can then devote your energies to that area, and each time you return, you can learn more about the issues at hand, and help,” he adds.
What to wear
Choose items that cover the arms and legs, and are not in pop colours (blend in with your environment). Pick up Base Layer (that wicks moisture, Rs 899 onwards), Novadry jackets (waterproof, Rs 3,999), Forclaz hiking trousers (lightweight, quick-dry fabric, Rs 1,899) and Forclaz-500 ankle-length waterproof shoes (Rs 3,999 onwards) from Decathlon. Details: 8884156900
—Payal Gangishetty and Regina Gurung