1. Meet The Only Ape In India


Touted as the place where you can see the only apes found in India, the Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary in Jorhat district of Assam is unique wildlife terrain. Not only is the gibbon India’s only ape, it is unique in its own family. As fans of The Big Bang Theory might recall, the eccentric Sheldon Cooper once quipped: “All the non-human apes are classified as great apes except one. That means taxonomists created the entire category of lesser ape just to single out the poor gibbon as the weird kid on the playground.” Hoolocks, found in Assam, are the second-largest of the gibbons. There are two species found in the Northeast, the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock ) and the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys), which, according to WWF India, are often confused as one. The former can be seen swinging between trees with its long, slender arms at the Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary. The sanctuary is an isolated protected area of semi-evergreen forests. Another unique animal here is the Bengal slow loris, the only nocturnal primate in the Northeast. The stump-tailed macaque, northern pig-tailed macaque, eastern Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque and capped langur complete the primate list here. Also seen occasionally are tigers, leopards, jungle cats, civets, etc., apart from 219 species of birds and several types of snake. The best time to see the gibbon is June-July and February- March. The nearest airport is Jorhat and the nearest rail junction is Mariani. Nature Wanderers conducts customised tours (+91-9871384780, [email protected]).

2. Go North for the Kashmir Stag


Located just 22km northeast of Srinagar, Dachigam National Park is home to the last viable population of the endangered hangul or Kashmir stag. Reportedly named after 10 villages that were relocated for its creation, the 141 sq km park is rectangular in shape and can be divided into Upper and Lower Dachigam, the latter being more accessible.

The park is visited for sightings of the hangul (the state animal of J&K). Known for its grand antlers with 11 to 16 points, the Kashmir stag is a subspecies of elk native to India. With reports that its numbers have come down to around 150 from 3,000 to 5,000 in the 1940s, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is set to declare its status as Critically Endangered. Besides the Kashmir stag, the Himalayan black bear can be seen at Dachigam from spring to autumn, and the long-tailed marmot can be spotted during summer. Other wildlife stars include the mouse hare, common palm civet, jackal, leopard, red fox, yellowthroated marten and Himalayan weasel. The park also features over 145 bird species, including the bearded vulture, monal pheasant and blue magpie. Some areas of the park are best explored on foot. A permit has to be obtained from the regional wildlife warden and can be arranged by a tour operator, who may also provide a guide for the trek. There is a minimal entry fee (50 per person, 100 for camera). The park is open all year, but the best time to encounter a Kashmir stag is September-October, the rutting season. However, it is best to check on the political climate of the state before visiting. Nishat Tours and Travels conduct day tours from Srinagar to Dachigam. Contact +91-9419407907 or [email protected] nishattoursandtravels.com for a package.

3. Spot 200 Bird Species at Chhatra Sagar


 Back in the late 1800s, Thakur Chhatra Singh of Nimaj, a noble of the Rajasthani kingdom of Marwar, commissioned the building of a dam on the stream that flowed through his estate. He may not have realised it then, but his efforts helped in transforming the nearby region into what is today a lush paradise—the once-dry region is now an oasis filled with birds and other animals. The luxury eco-lodge camp Chhatra Sagar immortalises Chhatra Singh and his land. Thanks to the wetlands, scrub forests, grasslands and farms that have cropped up in his wake, birders can spot over 200 species of birds. The camp facilitates organised bird walks along trails, and some of the avifauna found is quite rare. Popular sightings include sarus cranes, peregrine falcons, Eurasian eagle owls, pelicans, flamingoes and a large variety of waterfowl. Chhatra Sagar is located 480km from New Delhi in the Pali-Marwar district. A room costs 36,750, taxes extra, for double occupancy, with meals and one activity, including the organised birding tour. See chhatrasagar. com for more information.

4. Smell The Flowers at Kaas Plateau


Beautiful fields embellished with seasonal wildflowers of all shapes, colours and sizes spread over a 10 sq km area, and the constant flutter of endemic butterfly species—every year, between August and early October, the Kaas Plateau turns into a drawing right out of a children’s storybook. While it may be a little late this year to visit this valley of flowers near Satara district, Kaas blooms with just as much gusto every year thanks to the monsoon rains. A UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, it has over 850 varieties of flowering plants, shrubs and grasses, such as orchids including habenaria, insectivorous plants like the drosera and bladderwort, and rare flowers such as ceropegia. As per the BNHS, flowers such as the purple catkin and pink balsam grow here in such density that they appear to carpet the meadows. Other biodiversity here includes 57 species of reptiles and amphibians (as per a 2012 study by S. Chikane and H.S. Bhosale), and many varieties of fish, birds, lichens and other animals. The entry fee is  100 per adult; only 3,000 visitors are allowed per day. See kas.ind.in for more information.

5. Explore The Swamplands of Assam


Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is essentially a swamp forest, which means the forest cover is interspersed with marshy stretches. In other words, it is damp and sticky all over, though that is a good thing if you are looking to spot endemic wildlife— especially avifauna—since the moisture attracts many appealing swamp birds. The 340 sq km reserve located in east Assam is bordered by the Brahmaputra river on one side and the Dibru river on the other. The reserve acts as the flood plains of the former, remaining a marshland for a good part of the year. Many smaller waterbodies are present here and the forest is known to flood seasonally. Dibru-Saikhowa is primarily navigable by boat, though the 10.Explore the swamplands of Assam more adventurous can trek in certain areas. There are at least five threatened bird species one can spot here—the jungle babbler, Jerdon’s babbler, swamp prinia, black-breasted parrotbill and Jerdon’s bush chat. Those fascinated by reptiles can also go in search for the place’s two species of monitor lizards and eight species of turtles. Help Tourism provides a customised itinerary, including multiple full-day birding excursions and boat safaris. Contact Asit.