SESSA ORCHID SANCTUARY, ARUNACHAL PRADESH
On the western bank of the Kameng River, about 24 km from Tipi and covering an area of 100sqkm is the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary. Here you’ll find over 200 species of terrestrial (that is, those that grow on the ground) and epiphytic (those that grow on other plants) orchids and an orchidarium, the main purpose of which is the conservation and propagation of orchids. The sanctuary itself is a paradise: vibrantly coloured flowers nod heads with serrow, pheasants and red pandas. You can hike through the sanctuary or just find a spot and spend hours gazing at the beauties. (www.sfri.nic.in)
It was once the hunting grounds of the maharajas of Mysore, but even today Kodagu reigns supreme when it comes to natural beauty. Fifty or more shades of green will greet your eyes in this verdant district of Karnataka, which is home to three wildlife sanctuaries—Brahmagiri, Talakaveri and Pushpagiri—and one national park—Rajiv Gandhi National Park. Of these, Pushpagiri is known worldwide for its rare and endangered flora and fauna and the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagarahole), the most popular of the lot, is home to the Asiatic elephant and tigers. To get a feel of Kodagu, stay at one of the cottages in the Orange County Resort (www.orangecounty.in) on the banks of the Cauvery River in Siddapur. (www.coorg.com)
TADOBA-ANDHARI TIGER RESERVE, MAHARASHTRA
Located in northeastern Maharashtra, about 150km from Nagpur, this reserve is best known for its tiger population, which was revived when the reserve came under the purview of Project Tiger. At 625sqkm, it is the largest national park in Maharashtra and is home to over 165 species of birds, tigers, panthers, sloth bears, wild dogs, nilgai and sambar, among others. Most of the accommodation options are around the Kolara and Mohurli gates, but for a unique experience, check into the Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge (www.tigertrails.in) near the Khutwanda Gate. The property has several watering holes with strategically placed machans from where you can view the animals. (www.tadobanational-park.com)
SATPURA NATIONAL PARK, MADHYA PRADESH
Located in the heart of India, the Satpura National Park is made up of a rugged terrain composed of valleys, gorges, rivulets and waterfalls. The park’s dense vegetation is home to spotted deer, gaur, tigers, leopards, wild boar, wild dog, and several other species. The park is located 140km from Bhopal, and is easily accessible by road (after a four-hour journey). For those with a taste for luxury, a stay at Denwa Backwater Escape (www.denwabackwaterescape.com) or Forsyth Lodge (www.forsythlodge.com) and customised safaris and trips into the park with Pugdundee (www.pugdundeesafaris.com) are perfect. (www.satpura-national-park.com)
BHARATPUR BIRD SANCTUARY, RAJASTHAN
The Keoladeo Ghana National Park, better known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, lies between Agra and Jaipur and is about 190km from Delhi. At 29sqkm, the park is not as large as some others, but it is one of the best places for sightings of black bucks, sambars, wild boar and nilgai; in winter it is even possible to see pythons sunning themselves. The park has several paths that you can traverse on foot, bikes or rickshaws (rickshaw drivers have been trained to act as guides and point out interesting flora and fauna). Boat rides are also popular within the park. (www.keoladeonationalpark.com)
HOOLLONGAPAR GIBBON SANCTUARY, ASSAM
An isolated evergreen forest in Jorhat district, the Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is home to seven of the 15 ape species found in India, including the only gibbon found in the country (the hoolock gibbon), and the Northeast’s only nocturnal primate (the Bengal slow loris). Other primates found here include the stump-tailed macaque, northern pig-tailed macaque, eastern Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque and capped langur. Located 22km from Jorhat, the sanctuary covers 21sqkm and is open through the year. Book accommodation well in advance in the Gibbon Forest Rest House (Divisional Forest Officer 0376-2320008), located within the sanctuary.
DUDHWA NATIONAL PARK, UTTAR PRADESH
Made up of marshes, verdant grasslands and dense forests, the Dudhwa National Park lies on the Indo-Nepal border, bounded by the Mohana River along the border and the Suheli River in the south. The tributaries of these rivers criss-cross across the park forming rivulets, lakes and pools that act as the watering holes for the huge numbers of swamp deer and the growing numbers of tigers here. The park is open between November 15 and June 15, but it is best to visit between November and April. Accommodation options include six forest rest houses and the resorts and hotels near its access points.
MANGAR BANI, ASOLA BHATTI WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION
Delhi’s last sacred grove, the thickly forested Mangar Bani, covers almost 200 acres around the villages of Mangar, Bandhwari and Baliawas in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. The bani (sacred grove) is home to a shrine dedicated to an ascetic, Gudariya Baba, who, legend goes, attained salvation in the forest. The grove is also home to the slow growing dhau tree and is made up of vegetation indigenous to the Aravali region. You can either drive down to Mangar village to access the groove, or park your car on the Gurgaon-Faridabad road and walk to it. (www.forest.delhigovt.nic.in)
ETURNAGARAM WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, TELANGANA
Perfect for a day trip from Warangal (110 km), Eturnagaram is the oldest wildlife sanctuary in Telangana. Its rolling slopes are home to tigers, panthers, gaur, sambar, cheetal, nilgai, black buck, wild boars, wolves, jackals, and a variety of birds. If you want to prolong your visit, you can stay at the resthouse and cottages at Tadvai. Nowadays the sanctuary also attracts the attention of geologists, botanists and paleo-botanists, after wood fossils dating back 120-250 million years were found by forest officials in caves and the Servai area. (www.telanganatourism.gov.in)
NILGIRI BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Established in 1986, and covering an area of 5,520sqkm, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve takes in parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka and encompasses protected areas such as the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Bandipur National Park, Rajiv Gandhi National Park, Mukurthi National Park and Silent Valley. The biosphere is a nature lover’s paradise: several exotic and endangered species of flora and fauna, including 175 species of orchids, can be found here. You can access the reserve from any of the parks except the Silent Valley National Park, which will reopen next April.