India’s diverse landscapes are a playground for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers. From majestic tigers prowling through lush jungles to the Wild Ass which thrive in the desert of Kutch, Asiatic elephants in the lush and verdant jungles of Corbett in the north and Nagarhole south, lions in Gujarat and a burgeoning leopard population throughout, the country offers an array of thrilling wildlife encounters. In this travel blog, we unveil India’s top 10 wildlife experiences that will ignite your sense of adventure and leave you in awe of the natural world.
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh:
Best for: Tiger
Embark on a tiger safari in the heart of India at Bandhavgarh National Park. Renowned for its high density of Royal Bengal tigers, offering a good chance of sightings, the park’s dense forests and rolling hills provide the perfect setting for a rendezvous with these magnificent creatures. What sets the park apart, in addition to its abundance of tigers, it the fort which dominates, and over which vultures circle, riding the thermals and keeping an eye out for a kill to scavenge.
This was the first national park I ever visited back in 2000 and remember vividly the fort and circling vultures and a tracking a film crew as they tracked a well-known tiger, Charger, so called as he would charge at safari vehicles. Bandhavgarh combines brilliantly with Kanha National Park for a two centre safari in the heart of Kipling country.
Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan:
Best for: Tiger
A Project Tiger success story, safaris here allow you to discover the regal predators of Ranthambhore
as you venture through ancient ruins and dense foliage of this one-time private hunting reserve. You may also catch a glimpse of elusive leopards, crocodiles, sloth bear and jackal, against a backdrop of historic ruins. Ramthanbhore is a product of its own success, and is therefore a busy park, and many safaris are conducted in 20 seater cantors as well as Jeeps. Some people think that this detracts from the safari experience but, whether you agree or not, the wildlife here is used to safari vehicles and carry on regardless and one time when I was with clients in a jeep and we saw tiger, I managed to get a seat for my driver in a cantor and he saw tiger and leopard.
Ranthambhore fits perfectly into the Golden Triangle, India’s most popular tourist circuit making it a popular park for those wanting to catch a glimpse of a tiger whilst exploring India’s cultural heritage.
Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal:
Best for: Unique biosphere, mangroves, birding and nature.
The Sunderbans, straddling the border between India and Bangladesh, offer a captivating world of tangled mangrove forests that are a true, raw, natural wonder. Navigating the meandering waterways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which needs to be done by boat, reveals a unique wilderness where the legendary Bengal tiger reigns supreme (though remains elusive) alongside a diverse array of wildlife, including saltwater crocodiles, spotted deer, and exotic bird species. The Sunderbans are an untamed, realm where, morning safaris take on an ethereal note with the mist gradually revealing nature’s grandeur and raw beauty which intertwine in a symphony of sights and sounds. If really lucky here one can also catch a glimpse of a swimming tiger!
The Sunderbans are best reached from Calcutta (Kolkata) and combine well with Calcutta and Darjeeling or Bhubaneshwar and into Odisha.
Chilika Lake, Odisha:
Best for: Migratory birds and Irrawaddy dolphins
Chilika Lake, the largest internal saltwater lake in Asia, is a paradise for nature lovers and bird enthusiasts. It boasts a diverse ecosystem, with a thriving fishery supporting over 150,000 villagers in 132 communities along its shores and islands. Designated as the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1981, it’s not just the aquatic life that makes it special; it is also a haven for migratory birds, welcoming species from as far as Russia, Mongolia, Central and Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas. White bellied sea eagles, Graylag Geese, Purple Moorhens, Jacanas, Herons, and Flamingos grace its shores, with Chilika hosting one of the world’s largest Flamingo breeding colonies.
There’s also the unique Irrawaddy dolphins, and the area surrounding Chilika Lake Sanctuary is a rich habitat for wildlife, with Blackbucks, Golden Jackals, Spotted Deer, and Hyenas making occasional appearances.
Chilika’s dynamic sunrise and sunset views are invariably beautiful, and, this being India, one mustn’t miss the Kalijai Temple nearby, dedicated to Goddess Kalijai. It’s a vibrant spot for travelers and devotees, especially during the Makar Sankranti celebration. I went there on a brief visit and need to go back to explore further.
Visit Chilika Lake as part of a greater tour of the less well-known state of Odisha, you won’t be disappointed!
Velavadar National Park, Gujarat:
Best for: Blackbuck, Indian Wolves and Striped Hyena.
Gir Forest National Park, Gujarat:
Best for: Lions and Leopard
Gir, a sprawling 1,150-square-kilometer forest that plays host to the last majestic haven of the Asiatic
lion in India. This captivating wilderness earned its stripes as a national park back in 1975 but ironically for protecting last last population in the world of Asiatic lions and not the tiger. It’s not just the regal lions that call this place home, but also a thriving population of leopards, setting the stage for an awe-inspiring rendezvous with the Big Cats of India. However, also keep your eyes peeled for other mammals, including jackals, striped hyenas, jungle cats, the elusive rusty-spotted cat, langurs, porcupines, and the black-naped Indian hare. The park is also home to a thriving population of marsh crocodiles, or muggers, and boasts a diverse array of reptiles and amphibians, with a whopping 40 species recorded in this sanctuary.
I had incredible luck in this park, a 10 minute leopard sighting and a lion on a kill! One drive was enough.
Singalila National Park, West Bengal
Best for: Red Panda
Perched atop Darjeeling’s Singalila peak in West Bengal, Singalila National Park located at over 7,000 feet in altitude, spanning 78.6 sq km of protected forest is one of the best places in India for spotting the elusive Red Panda.
The park is also famous for its trek to Sandakphu, where you might also catch a glimpse of these captivating creatures. It is estimated that the current count stands at 42 , though as they are nocturnal and quite shy, spotting them can be quite challenging. Their diet consists mainly of bamboo, as they, like their giant panda counterparts, struggle to resist cellulose, making the bamboo-rich habitat crucial for their survival. This is a park I’ve not been to (yet) but I love the fact that India has pandas!
Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.
Best for: Wild Ass and Desert Fox
The ‘Little’ Rann of Kutch, is a 4950-square-kilometer saline desert in Gujarat, western India. This unique landscape, once part of the Arabian Sea, is a wonderland of vast salt pans, shrubby islands, marshes, and rocky hillocks. It was declared a protected area in order to conserve the endemic Asiatic wild ass or ‘Gudkhur.’ These beautiful chestnut brown equids roam freely across the expansive salt flats, their herds shifting seasonally between islands known as ‘bets.’ The iconic sight of Gudkhurs galloping across the salt flats, silhouetted by the setting sun is a an iconic image of this unique region.
However, this desert isn’t just about the wild ass; it’s a sanctuary for a diverse array of wildlife. Hyenas, foxes, jungle and desert cats seek refuge among the shrubs, while wolves, once thought to have vanished, occasionally grace the flatlands. The ‘Little’ Rann also hosts the magnificent nilgai, blackbuck, chinkara gazelle, and a rich assortment of smaller mammals, reptiles, and insects. Amidst the crystalline salt flats and boundless horizons, this desert unveils a captivating world where nature’s magic reigns supreme. I’ve been twice and never been disappointed. What I also love about this place are the rural communities surrounding the Rann, its a wildlife and cultural hotspot for sure!
Combine a visit here with Sasan Gir National Park and/or Velavadar National Park.
Hemis National Park, Ladakh:
Best for: Snow Leopard.
For a high-altitude adventure, head to Hemis National Park, where the elusive snow leopard reigns supreme. This remarkable park, established in 1981, is not only one of India’s most popular national parks but also the largest in South Asia having grown over the years from 600 to 4400 square feet. It is a treasure trove of biodiversity, home to 73 bird species and 16 mammal species including the snow leopard and the agile bharal (Blue Sheep), Tibetan Wolf, and Eurasian Brown Bear. It is a region that serves as a testament to the commitment to preserving this pristine wilderness and allows for a wildlife adventure like no other!
My personal favourite:
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh:
Best for: Tiger
One of the three better known parks of Madhya Pradesh, Kanha National Park (it’s the one in the middle!) and connects well with Bandhavgarh (6 hour drive) and Pench (5 hour drive). Kanha is one of the larger parks and is made up of sal forest and open grasslands or maidans. It is difficult to capture the beauty of the park in a few sentences and a visit here is highly recommended. It is the only park in India to have Bharasingha or swamp deer which have been brought back from near extinction. There is also a healthy tiger population and, harder to see are its leopard and sloth bear. And didn’t that sound all a bit perfunctory? Which is strange as it truly is my favourite place in India, there’s a magic about Kanha that can’t really be explained. The park is stunning, the wildlife prolific enough to keep you engaged for at least three days, if not more. Surrounding the park are still very authentic tribal villages and to spend time interacting with these people is both fascinating and a privilege. As with all my favourite places in India, I seem to dry up when it comes to describing them. The best I can do to offer you a glimpse of how extraordinary this park is, is to give you this link to my book, Escape to India, written about the season I spent there. I think that should sum in up, in 90,000 words or so!
The One that Blew Me Away:
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Best for: One-horned rhino, a conservation success story, tiger, elephant and water buffalo.
I had heard of Kaziranga, the Rhino conservation project is one of India’s best conservation projects and a UNESCO site, but the first twenty minutes on safari delivered more fauna and avifauna than is usually sighted in a four-hour drive in other parks (and that’s taking into consideration that in October in Corbett I’d seen 6 elephants and 2 tigers).
I didn’t see tiger, however, I didn’t feel cheated, if there was ever a park which supports the argument that I have followed for years, which is that wildlife tourism in India should be sold as just that, wildlife tourism and not tiger tourism, then Kaziranga is it. I only had two game drives and yet had a very close up encounter with a rhino, sat and watched an adolescent male elephant gradually munching his way through the grasslands, we saw a family of otters playing in the shallows, only to be distracted by a pair of pied kingfishers hovering and diving (and catching) fish. There were picture postcard scenes of a waterhole, a rhino, a water buffalo and calf with the usual array of cattle egrets on standby. What most people don’t bother telling you is that Kaziranga has the largest population globally of wild water buffalo, we also saw several hog deer, a barking deer and a herd of swamp deer, oh, and a few wild boar too.
We had an Osprey fly overhead with a fish clutched in its talons, later on a red-necked hawk flew by with a small bird clutched in his, I am not going to name them all but from memory, some of the rest of the list included Lesser Adjutants, fish eagles, common shrike, woolley necked stork, great hornbills, black necked stork, grey heron, stints, lapwings, pond herons, rollers and kingfishers, red jungle fowl, white wagtail, magpie robins, blossom-headed parakeets.
If you’d like to know more about these or any other national parks in India or would like to plan a safari then contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also check out the 12 Month, 12 Safaris section on my website which showcases how to enjoy wildlife in India for 12 months of the year.