If one goes by the traditional definition of biodiversity hotspots, as was proposed by British biologist Norman Myers, and later added to by the global body Conservation International, India is home to four out of the world's 35. However, we are one of the most megadiverse lands on Earth, and have a lot that is still undocumented and underexplored in terms of biodiversity. This World Environment Day, here's a look at 8 such spots that you can visit to understand and marvel at the the natural bounty India is blessed with.
Known as the lifeline of Manipur, the surreal-looking Loktak is the only floating lake in the world. A hotspot for a range of flora and fauna, this lake has a bunch of floating phumdis over it, which give the illusion of a floating landmass. Phumdis are accumulated masses of soil and vegetation at different stages of decomposition and people can actually live on these tiny floating islands. This ancient lake is vital to the economy of the state and part of the international Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. Want to know how to get to Loktak Lake, where to stay and eat? We tell you everything here.
This is where where many endemic plants and animals thrive. It is a protected area for the saltwater crocodile, giant leatherback sea turtle, Malayan box turtle, Nicobar tree shrew, to name a few. The reserve also encompasses important territories and traditional lands of the indigenous Nicobarese and Shompen tribes. However, issues such as poaching and a steady loss of forest cover in this protected area have been a matter of concern, as has been a major township project that has been proposed in the Great Nicobar Island. The Nicobar islands are also not really a tourist spot owing to the endangered status of their tribes.
Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve
The Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve consists of Satpura National Park, Bori Sanctuary and Pachmarhi Sanctuary. Consisting mainly of forest habitats, Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve is home to the endemic fauna like the chinkara, nilgai, wild dogs, the Indian wolf, bison, Indian giant squirrels, and flying squirrels. In order to get to this serene region, we recommend our guide to Pachmarhi.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
A walk in the Silent Valley National Park's periphery—most of it is rightly out of bounds for travellers—is a kind of a holy grail for committed wilderness buffs. Silent Valley is the most secluded zone of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and is home to a dense tropical rainforest that sustains a great variety of the biodiversity of the southern Western Ghats. The area is home to 315 avifauna species including the famed lion-tailed macaque, half of whose global numbers are found here. Various ecotourism activities have started in the region now under the operation of Kerala Tourism, and you can trek, hike and camp out while appreciating the natural bounty of the Reserve. To know more, check out the state tourism department's website.
The tiny state of Sikkim might only make up 0.2% of India's total land area—but it contributes 26% of the country's total biodiversity. This comprises 4,500 flowering plant species, 550 avifauna species and over 600 butterfly species. And if there's one place to experience it in the state, it is the Yumthang Valley, which straddles the river of the same name and lies beyond Lachung. Yumthang's wildflower-speckled meadows is where yaks graze and primulas and rhododendrons streak the landscape in a riot of colours. The rhododendron-fir forest is also home to a rich variety of avifauna. While you're planning a trip to this scenic region, don't forget to read our detailed guide to North Sikkim.
There are three wildlife sanctuaries in the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve: the Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary, the Lothian Wildlife Sanctuary and the Haliday Wildlife Sanctuary. The first of these is a must-visit haven in particular for wildlife lovers and birdwatchers, with woodpeckers, lapwings, sandpipers, whimbrels, plovers, and a lot of migratory species commonly seen here. The best way to spot crocodiles, wild boars, resident birds—and even tigers—here is by getting on top of the Sajnekhali Watchtower. You can also explore the Mangrove Park and Mangrove Interpretation Centre, or try activities like the Dobanki Canopy Walk and the Burirdabri Mud Walk. For more details, check our the Reserve's official website.
With the distinction of being the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian subcontinent, Odisha's Chilika Lake supports marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystems. This biodiversity hotspot is home to 800 faunal species, including rare, threatened and endangered species. Designated a Ramsar site on account of its rich biodiversity that includes species such as the Irrawaddy dolphin (of which it is the single largest habitat in the world) and the Barakudia limbless skink.
Nanda Devi National Park
Along with the Valley of Flowers National Park, this area forms the larger, off-limits Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve that was in 1988 accorded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This transition zone of the Himalayas is home to a smorgasbord of rich alpine vegetation, rhododendron forests, lush meadows (bugyals), and endangered mammals such as the snow leopard, black bears, brown bears, bharal, and musk deers. For seasoned trekkers, there can't be a better way to come in (undisruptive) contact with the beguiling biodiversity of the Himalaya than the Nanda Devi National Park trek. Or you could visit Lata village at the edge of the reserve by taking a leaf out of our page.
In Your Footsteps
While travelling through these areas, remember that these are fragile ecosystems. And many of the species—both plant and animal—are being impacted by our presence. Recreational tourism within sanctuaries has increased, as have religious pilgrimages to various sites. Fumes from vehicles do a lot of damage, as does plastic, soft drink bottles or those packets of chips and snacks. So wherever you are, make sure not to leave litter behind. Do not make any noise. Leave behind a very gentle footstep.