Hemis National Park
One of the largest national parks in South Asia, it is a hotspot for exotic Himalayan wildlife
Info: The park encompasses an area of six villages
Situated amid the picturesque mountains of Ladakh, Hemis National Park is home to exotic wildlife, native to the landscape and climate. Apart from snow leopards, it is the only habitat of shapu or the Ladakhi urial in India. The protected national park is also home to many other mammals like the Himalayan marmot, mountain weasel and Himalayan mouse hare. Bird watchers here also find themselves mesmerised with the vast diversity of birds including the golden eagle, lammergeier vulture and the Himalayan griffon vulture along with brown accentor, robin accentor, tickell’s leaf warbler, streaked rosefinch, Tibetan snowfinch, chukar, fork-tailed swift, red-billed chough, Himalayan snowcock, and the fire-fronted serin. The serene atmosphere, the pollution-free skies and noise-free environs make the national park a natural habitat for species that thrive in freezing temperatures.
Pro tip: Eating options are extremely limited at the park. it is advisable to carry your own dry food and water bottle
Pro tip: Visit the several gompas and chortens located within the park, including the 400-year-old Hemis Monastery
Neora Valley National Park
With its boundaries touching other wilderness retreats, it is a wildlife paradise in north Bengal
Info: The permit is available at the forest range office in Lava
Located in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Neora Valley National Park is not only home to some stunning beasts but also an ecological hub where numerous exotic plants and floral vegetation thrive. The Khangchendzonga in the backdrop renders a unique natural landscape to the park. It also serves as the abode of exotic animals such as the red panda, Himalayan tahr, Himalayan black bear, sambar, barking deer, serow, goral, dhole, gaur, tiger, clouded leopard, marbled cat, Indian pangolin and Malayan giant squirrel, amid others. The park, sharing its borders with Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gorumara National Park, also boasts of some of the rarest plants and flowers such as the rhododendrons, which can be seen in full bloom during the summers. The wild orchids here also form a canopy. The forest vegetation also includes sal trees, ferns and bamboo groves, yews, hemlocks and wild strawberries.
Pro tip: Avail the state tourism board’s offer of a tented accommodation within the park premises for an offbeat experience
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
Consisting of a number of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, the reserve is a wildlife hotspot
Info: The safaris for the parks range from Rs1,000-Rs5,000
Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2012, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is India’s first International Biosphere Reserve located in the Western Ghats in southern India. Sharing its boundaries with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the reserve is home to a number of endangered species. The steep cliffs within the vicinity of Mukurthi National Park are home to the threatened Nilgiri tahr. Head to Mudumalai National Park and find yourself amid the endangered Bengal tiger, Indian elephant and the Asiatic wild dog. Further along the Silent Valley National Park exists the largest population of the lion-tailed macaque. Additionally, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for bird-watchers with the presence of spot white-rumped vultures, white-breasted kingfishers and brown hawk owls. A boat safari at the Nagarhole National Park offers views of aquatic fauna such as crocodiles and water birds. Your chances of catching a tiger on camera are high at Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary. End the wilderness trail with a jeep safari at the Bandipur National Park, the last national park inside the reserve.
Pro tip: Mudumalai National Park has 13 per cent of all mammal species of India
Periyar Tiger Reserve
Explore the lush green forests and embark on trekking trails while sharing grounds with majestic cats
Info: The Tiger Trail package costs Rs6,000 per person
Surrounded by an endless chain of hills and scenic landscapes, Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is one of the oldest protected areas in the country. Hit the trekking trails here to enjoy sights of the endangered white tigers or rare flora, including the only south Indian conifer—Podocarpus wallichianus. Roam the wild whilst sharing grounds with a few of the many inhabitants—royal Bengal tigers, Indian bisons, sambar deer, and Nilgiri langurs—of this lush tropical forest. The best way to explore the reserve is to hop on a boat ride. For the intrepid traveller, bamboo rafting is a rather adventurous alternative. Slowly rowing through the waters while watching herds of elephants taking a bath here is a sight to behold. Travellers can also choose to camp inside the bamboo thickets within the premises. For those eager to embrace the wild, embark on a trail to spot the majestic cats or stay inside your tents, listening to the cacophony of the wilderness in solitude.
Pro tip: Thekkady is also home to some of the finest spice plantations in the country. Make some time to visit one.
Gir National Park
Keeping the asiatic lions aside, the national park has plenty of wildlife for your nature fix
Info: Mid-October to mid-June is the ideal time to visit
It’s only at the abode of the wild Asiatic lion that you will find yourself trying to steady your hand on the camera shutter while maintaining eye contact with the majestic beast. The best way to go around the jungle is a jeep safari. Apart from the lions, keep an eye out for leopards and other jungle cats. Additionally, Gir is also an ideal destination for bird-watching species like the paradise flycatcher and the pygmy woodpecker, especially from December to January. One can also head to the Crocodile Breeding Centre inside the park and try distinguishing the crocodiles from logs of wood. Be mindful and don’t get close to the water bodies. Situated near the main park also lies the Devalia Safari Park or Gir Interpretation Zone, a fenced area where you can spot the animals of Gir in captivity. The park is also home to the Maldhari community, exemplifying co-existence with the wild animals.
Pro tip: A single jeep can accommodate only 6 people so advance booking is crucial
Keoladeo Ghana National Park
With a dense vegetation, the park is home to hundreds of avian species and is a bird watcher’s paradise
Info: November to February is the ideal time to visit
Formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, the Keoladeo National Park is one of the most sought-after breeding and feeding grounds for avian species. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985, it is home to over 370 species of birds, including demoiselle cranes and painted storks, along with other animals like striped hyenas and nilgai. On October 17 and 18 this year, the park will be a part of the Global Birding Weekend Event. The event is organised by Raj Singh, Director of the Bagh, Bharatpur, in association with the Bombay Natural History Society and Lifeline for Nature Society. The low-carbon global bird-watching event aims to record the maximum number of bird sightings as the weekend is peak migration season. Encouraging the masses to spot birds across the world in their local areas or ‘patches’, it aims to raise awareness about environment and conservation at the grassroot level. For an offbeat experience at Keoladeo, hire a rickshaw to go around the park. The pullers are trained in bird watching and make for knowledgeable companions on the trail.