If you head to the magnificent mountains of Hemis National Park in Ladakh with expert local guides, you can track and hopefully catch sight of the elusive and exquisite snow leopard, descending from white peaks in search of food. Feb/March is best time to explore these stunning landscapes where, even if you aren’t lucky enough to see the leopard, you can trek through habitat for ibex, wolf, blue sheep and lynx.
Gujarat state is still very unknown in tourism despite its fusion of desert and coast and two natural nirvanas: Velavadar National Park, famous for its population of blackbuck and Gir National Park, home to the Asiatic lion. Night safaris are popular in both parks for spotting wolves and jackals. And the Little Rann of Kutch saline desert is home to wild asses, chinkara, desert fox, striped hyenas and over 300 bird species.
Shared between India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans, just 2.5hrs’ drive from Kolkata, is the largest mangrove forest in the world and one where you can be lucky enough to see tigers from the water. With 500 of them living in tangled web of roots and branches, there is also a plethora of primates, crocodiles, Gangetic and Irrawaddy dolphins. Birdwatchers will go overboard too. Although best not to.
The peacock is the national bird of India – and few people realise there are ornithological odysseys to be had in India. Ranthambore’s jungles are home to 250+ species including parakeets, hornbills, shrikes and sand grouse, with Keoladeo Ghana National Park and the National Chambal Sanctuary both wetland wonderlands. The Western Ghat Mountains boast 24 endemics and the Sunderbans has six species of kingfisher.
It’s India’s most famous national park, and definitely worth the trip to Rajasthan to see it. It does get crowded though, so time your trip carefully avoiding public holidays if possible. Ranthambore is a magnificent mélange of tropical forest and ruined temples and home to sloth bears, nilgai, sambar, jungle cats and crocodiles. As well as the most beauteous one of all: the elusive Bengal tiger.
They are elusive but they are also, for many, the most exquisite animal to witness the wild. With only around 3,000 left in the world, the majority are in India’s protected national parks, such as Ranthambore, Kanha or Tadoba. Travel with responsible experts who bring naturalists with them on their tours. And be prepared for an emotional reaction. Seeing a tiger is like being transported to a childhood dream.
Known for beaches and backwaters, Kerala’s Ghat Mountain range also proffers perfect habitat for elephants, gaur (wild bison) sloth bear, monkeys, antelope, leopard and the stunning sambar deer. Conservation gems include the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary, and Periyar which is famous for its tiger reserve. For birds, Kerala is the biz, with the Ghat Mountains boasting 24 endemics.
So many people overlook the wildlife wonders of Central India. These include Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra state and Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, both home to tigers and much more, with gorgeous glamping available at the latter, and expert naturalist guides on hand. It is also a great region to really explore tranquil, rural life, trekking through and visiting Baiga and Gond tribal villages.
India has managed to gain a bit of a bad reputation in some of the busiest national parks for overcrowding and noisy visitors disturbing the wildlife, as people are driven into a frenzy of photo ops. Tipping drivers to get closer or attracting the animals with food. Ensure you travel with responsible tour operators who know how to escape the crowds and ensure responsible wildlife watching practices are adhered to.
We are not fans of elephant riding, due to the threat it poses to the last few remaining wild elephants, as well as the brutal training methods; see more in our ‘Elephants in tourism’ guide. However, we do recognise that there are some circumstances, such as at Periyar National Park, where elephant rides are so fundamental to conservation efforts that it would be risky to remove it completely.
Everyone wants to see into the eye of the tiger, but remember, there are only 3000 of them in the wild, worldwide. They are special because they are not only elusive but also endangered. But there are so many other animals to see in India too. Lions, tigers and bears are not just in storybooks. Not forgetting leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino, monkeys and a bevy of beautiful birdlife.
One of the biggest mistakes of people going wild for animals on holiday is that they forget the importance of local communities who also call these habitats home. Often forced to poach and hunt in order to survive, by staying with local people, supporting local conservation initiatives and eating locally, we can show them that our love of living animals can also create a decent, sustainable living for them and their families.