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A safari in India’s protected sanctuaries is a trip of a lifetime

India’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have several tales to tell to those willing to pay attention. They offer a chance to get to know some of the creatures that share their homes with us. Many, such as Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh, are also a glimpse into the country’s regal past, and some, like Silent Valley, bear testament to our responsibility towards our environment. Read on for a glimpse into the best wildlife journeys across the country.

Much of India’s treasured national parks and sanctuaries began as the personal hunting grounds of its erstwhile maharajas. Gir National Park, for example, belonged to the Nawab of Junagadh, who interestingly banned the hunting of the Asiatic lion, which was quickly diminishing in numbers, in 1900. Until 1955, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur would set off on hunts around Ranthambore Fort and the Maharaja of Rewa retained hunting rights at Bandhavgarh National Park till 1968, when he formally handed the grounds over to the Indian government. Conservation efforts in India only began in earnest with the establishment of the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972, and in April the following year, then prime minister Indira Gandhi launched Project Tiger to save India’s big cat. Today, there are about 566 wildlife sanctuaries and 104 national parks, though they only account for about 5 per cent of the total area of the country.

India’s vast geography and varying terrain—from alpine to dry deciduous forests to rainy marshlands—makes it home to diverse fauna and avian life. There are few experiences as exhilarating as witnessing a majestic tiger saunter past, barely a few feet away from you, or witnessing a gharial snap up its prey. But if  you have a keen eye and an open mind, you’ll discover much, much more. Read on for a glimpse into the best wildlife journeys across the country.

Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

Located about 13.5km away from the city of Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan, this famous national park is spread across 400sq km at the junction of the Vindhya and Aravalli hill ranges. Each of its 10 zones takes you through different terrain, a mix of dry deciduous forests, crags and open grasslands dotted with the ruins of ancient temples, mosques, hunting pavilions and chhatris. On one of the scenic routes, you will come across a beautiful old hunting lodge, now swathed under creepers and trees. 

machhali tigress ranthambore
Machhli, aka The Lady of the Lakes, is Ranthambore National Park’s most famous tiger. (Photo: Courtesy Ranthambore National Park)

Ranthambore was the private hunting grounds of the Jaipur’s maharajas. In 1973, it was taken over under the Project Tiger scheme and converted into a protected sanctuary. The park houses six lakes—Gilai Sagar, Mansarovar, Malik talao, Raj Bagh and Padam Talao—which offer prime opportunities to spot a tiger. However, while the big cats of Ranthambore—such as the late Machli, aka, the Lady of the Lake—have acquired near mythological status over the years, it would be remiss to ignore the national park’s other inhabitants such as marsh crocodiles, palm civets, sloth bears, macaques and Indian flying foxes. In the off season, between October and March, Ranthambore becomes a birders’ paradise as migratory birds flock to its lakes. Watch out for the Serpent Eagle, Great-horned Owl, Greylag Goose, Indian Grey Hornbill and Sarus Crane.

If you’re planning a visit, we recommend booking your safari at least two months in advance as slots are limited and sell out quickly. For a more intimate experience, choose a quieter 6-seater jeep over the noiser 20-seater canters. 

Many of Ranthambore’s tigers are unperturbed by the presence of humans. They can often be spotted roaming the periphery of the park and sometimes come right to the main tourist stretch after dark. The big cats have been known to interrupt guests’ bonfire gatherings at Aman-i-Khas, which is located on the fringes of the park. A guard is usually posted at a watchtower to alert the staff of a tiger on the prowl.

Lesser-known fact: Machli, the famous Ranthambore tigress, produced 11 offspring in her lifetime and was awarded not just several epitaphs such as ‘Tigress Queen of Ranthambore’, ‘Lady of the Lakes’ and ‘Crocodile Killer’, but also the wildlife ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the Indian government by helping the government earn nearly US$100 million in ticket sales, book sales and other merchandise in her lifetime.

Where to stay: Book yourself a luxury tent at The Oberoi Vanyavilas. Inspired by the royal tents in travelling caravans, they’re furnished with a canopied king size bed, a writing desk, plush armchairs, a claw-footed bathtub and teak floors, and come with a private garden. Each tent is walled in giving you an air of privacy. The regal all-day fine-dine features a menu of authentic Rajasthani dishes, which changes daily. For a nightcap, settle down at the cosy bar that’s reminiscent of old hunting lodges. Vivanta by Taj Sawai Madhopur is a heritage hotel that was once an old lodge. You can check into one of 20 spacious, contemporary suites, and admire the original Art Deco-style dining hall, bar and lounge here. On the edge of the sanctuary stands Aman-i-Khas, a property with luxury tented accommodation. Even its dining space, the reading lounge and the spa are housed under luxury tents. They offer not just safaris into the forest, but also sojourns to the Chambal river and camel safaris to the hills around from where, Ranthambore looks lush sprawled out as a green oasis.

When to go: March to June is peak season. While wildlife sightings may be limited in the colder months, October to March offers birding opportunities.

Getting there: Ranthambore National Park is easily accessible by rail. The nearest railhead is Sawai Madhopur Railway station, at about 13km from the park. The closest airport is Sanganer Airport in Jaipur. From here, you can take a taxi or bus onwards to Ranthambore.

Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

First established as Hailey National Park in 1936, Corbett National Park was rechristened after the famous naturalist and photographer Jim Corbett in 1957. In 1973, it became the birthplace of the Indian government’s tiger conservation programme, Project Tiger. The park is spread across 520sq km of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, spanning hills, marshy depressions, riverine belts, grasslands and lakes, and is fed by the Ramganga and Kosi rivers.

The stars of Corbett are its 164 tigers and 600 Asian elephants, alongside black bears, hog deer, sloths, otters and the endangered gharial crocodile. Of its five zones, the Dhikala Zone and Bijrani Safari Zones are the most popular choices for wildlife enthusiasts. If you’re a birder, head to the Durga Devi Zone for a chance to spot species such as the Great Pied Hornbill, White-Backed Vulture, Indian Pitta, Scarlet Minivet and Golden Oriole. While its draw is its big cat sightings, Corbett is also blessed with a diverse host of flora, including a variety of flowering trees and shrubs amidst clusters of sal and bamboo.

During his lifetime, Jim Corbett recorded gripping tales of his encounters with man eaters and other wildlife in books like Man-eaters of Kumaon and Jungle Lore. Equally terrifying are colourful details of his encounters with the supernatural. He wrote of a fearsome banshee who roamed the lower reaches of the Himalayas and whose sound could “curdle one’s blood and arrest one’s heartbeat”. According to local lore, the banshee roams the lower reaches of the Himalayas and lures victims by shape-shifting into a bird.

 When to go: Corbett National Park is open between November and June.

Where to stay: Corbett National Park is among the few in India that allow visitors the chance to spend the night in the heart of the jungle. The government-run Dhikala Forest Guest House must be booked a minimum of six weeks in advance, and is available for a maximum of three nights. Outside of the park, Ahana – The Corbett Wilderness offers an eco-conscious luxury stay with Victorian-style suites. You can also check into elegant cottages at the Taj Corbett Resort & Spa, situated on the banks of the river Kosi. The verdant property offers a jungle lodge-like feel and comes with a pool, fitness centre and spa. Jim’s Jungle Retreat is a quaint wildlife lodge situated across 15 acres of replanted forest. Choose from among 11 jungle and bungalow-style cottages inspired by British Raj-era lodges and resthouses. Lebua Corbett features a selection of modern suites, villas and residences, perched at the edge of the national park. The luxury resort will also book bespoke safaris, birding trips and nature walks for you.

Lessert-known fact: The tigers in the park have been known to kill much larger animals such as buffalo and even elephants for food. 

Getting there: Buses are available from Delhi, Moradabad and Haldwani to Ramnagar, the closest town, which is 15km away. Trains also run from Delhi to Ramnagar, the nearest railhead, from where you can take a taxi to the park.

Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka

Once the hunting ground of Mysore’s Wodeyar dynasty, Nagarhole was declared a Project Tiger reserve in 1999 and is also part of the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve, which was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. It’s situated at the foothills of Brahmagiri hill range of the Western Ghats in the east and bordered by the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary on the south-west and the Kabini reservoir on the south-eastern side, which further connects it to Karnataka’s Bandipur Tiger reserve.

Nagarhole National Park
The best place to spot wildlife at Nagarhole Tiger Reserve is by the backwaters of the Kabini river. (Photo: Courtesy RealityImages/Shutterstock)

 The richly forested reserve has a high density of tigers and Asiatic elephants (11.9 tigers/sq km and 1 elephant/sq km)—the backwaters of the Kabini river are your best bet to observe the gentle giants in the summer. You’ll also spot leopards, bears, gaur, palm civets, mouse deer and otters. The reserve also hosts 252 species of birds, including the endangered Oriental White-Backed Vulture, the threatened red-headed vulture and Oriental White Ibis, the greater spotted eagle and Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.

Wildlife photographer and cinematographer Shaaz Jung, who hails from the royal families of Bhopal, Pataudi and Hyderabad, lovingly documents the leopards of Kabini, whom he calls his “first love”. His 2020 documentary, The Real Black Panther, is set in Nagarhole Tiger Reserve and follows the tale of a young panther, Saya, his pursuit of female leopard Cleopatra as his mate and his territorial battles with Scarface, the dominant leopard in the area.

Lesser-known fact: Nagarhole remains a stronghold of the large-tusked elephants and often, herds stray into neighbouring farms, leading to growing animal-human conflict. The forest officials are experimenting with lining the forest edges with bee boxes to keep the elephants out of the farms and within the forests.

Where to stay: Evolve Back Kabini is perched close to the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve. Its Pool Reserve villa lets you feel at once one with nature and cradled in luxury—you’ll get to gently drift off right under the night sky. The resort also offers picturesque dining experiences, including a private boat ride, by the Kabini river. The Serai Kabini promises your own little pocket of serenity with quaint cottages and a waterfront villa. If you’re feeling especially indulgent, book The Residence, which comes with a living room, bedroom, two private verandahs and a jacuzzi.

When to go: While the weather is more pleasant from November to February, April and May offer the best opportunities to spot wildlife as the heat draws them to water bodies.

Getting there: Nagarhole Tiger Reserve is a five-hour drive from Bengaluru (221km) and a three-hour drive (80km) from Mysore. Mysore Junction is the nearest railhead that’s connected to major Indian cities such as Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad. Taxis and buses will ferry you from Mysore Junction to the reserve.

Silent Valley National Park, Kerala

Silent Valley National Park
Silent Valley National Park is deeply forested and brimming with biodiversity. (Photo: Courtesy Kerala Tourism)

In 1978, the then Indian prime minister Morarji Desai sanctioned a plan for a hydropower project over the Kunthipuzha river in Kerala which would have eventually degraded the entire forest system surrounding it. The people-led movement against the controversial project drew national and international attention, making it a significant milestone in modern Indian environmental history. Romulus Whitaker, herpetologist, conservationist and founder of the Madras Crocodile Bank, was one of the first to raise an alarm in the early ’70s.

Among those who have also been commended for the success of the protests are members of the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), for not only rallying support for the cause but also for having sound scientific backing for their arguments against the building of the dam. In 1984, Silent Valley was notified as a national park by Indira Gandhi and inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi the following year. The 89.52sq km region forms the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and is one of the last undisturbed tracts of rainforest in India.

Nilgiri Tahir at Silent Valley National Park
A flock of Nilgiri Tahir at Silent Valley National Park. (Photo: Courtesy Kerala Tourism)

The region is ensconced within high ridges and steep escarpments, which have allowed it to develop its own micro climate. The result is a deeply forested valley rich in biodiversity, including the second-most endangered primate, the Lion-tailed Macaque, the Nilgiri Langur, Malabar Giant Squirrel, the Nilgiri Tahr, the elusive Malay/Tiger bittern, the rare Travancore tortoise and several species of snakes such as the King Cobra and Ceylon Cat Snake. It’s also home to 164 species of butterflies, like the rare Malabar Banded Peacock, and 400 species of moths. The national park has designated trails and can be explored by foot.

Suresh Elamon’s 2018 short film Kananam, The Spirit of Silent Valley beautifully documents this ecological haven and its many inhabitants, several of which are endemic to the Western Ghats.

Lesser-known fact: The Silent Valley is counted among the rare rainforests that are comparable to the rainforests of the Amazonian basin or of Panama rainforests. The valley was originally known as Sairandhri, another name for Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. The river flowing through it is called Kunthipuzha, after their mother. Some Englishmen stumbled upon the virgin forest by chance and discovered that it was free of white noise caused by cicadas after dark, common in other forested areas. They named it the Silent Valley.

Where to stay: For those interested in camping, Kerala Tourism offers trekking packages that include tented or cottage accommodation at designated areas in the buffer zones of the valley. Set amidst cocoa, rubber and spice plantations, Planters Retreat is a lush homestay about an hour’s drive from Silent Valley. The heritage home promises three spacious bedrooms, verandahs to laze on, a well-stocked library and home-cooked meals. The eco-friendly Great Hornbill Resort comes with spacious cottages that provide laidback luxury amidst verdant environs. 

When to go: December to April is the best time to visit. Avoid the monsoons.

Getting there: Mukkali, the base camp of Silent Valley National Park, is accessible by road from Palakkad (60km), Coimbatore (70km) and Kozhikode (120km).

Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Tiger
Bandhavgarh National Park is known for having the highest density of tigers. (Photo: ananth-tp/Shutterstock)

A former hunting ground of the Maharaja of Rewa, this compact national park now has the highest density of tigers in India. It’s home to an estimated 70 big cats and welcomed six new tiger cubs and three leopard cubs in mid-2020. So, if you’ve had near misses with the big cat elsewhere, here’s where you should try your luck. The terrain is a mix of rocky hills, grassland and sal forests. Among its four dedicated zones, some say Tala offers the best chances of seeing a tiger as well as several butterflies — you may be able to catch some wildlife in action at Golapur pond. Bandhavgarh is also home to elephants, leopards, jackal, wild boar, barasingha (swamp deer), barking deer and sloths. While tigers may be the stars of the show, the mix of dense tropical forest, scrub and wetland also makes it a rich habitat for 150 species of birds, including the Black Ibis, Golden Oriole, Brahminy Starling and Egyptian Vulture.

In 1951, Maharaja Martand Singh caught a male white tiger cub from the forests of Bandhavgarh. He christened him Mohan and kept him in captivity in Govindgarh fort where he fathered 34 cubs out of which 21 were white. It is believed that all the white tigers of the world are his descendants.

Lesser-known facts: The famed mystic poet, Saint Kabir Das resided on the hills of Bandhavgarh during the 14th century. A temple atop Bandhavgarh fort hill commemorates the place of his meditation to his disciples.

Where to stay: Mahua Kothi, by Taj Hotels, adjoins a 45-acre private forest on the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park. The property includes 12 luxury mud cottages, each with their own private patio. Enjoy a traditional meal at the alfresco dining spot that’s set up chaupal-style or a more romantic, lantern-lit one by an old Mahua tree. Samode Safari Lodge offers private villas each with a lounge, bedroom, ensuite bath, open-air bath and private verandah; plus a library, swimming pool and spa.

When to go: The park is open between October and June. November to February offers the most favourable weather, but the hotter months of March to May, which leaves most of the jungle dry, are the best time to spot a tiger.

Getting there: Bandhavgarh National Park is accessible by road from Jabalpur (200km), Katni (100km), Umaria (35km), Khajuraho (250km), Nagpur (490km) and Varanasi (350km). The nearest railheads are Umaria and Katari. Jabalpur and Khajuraho are the closest airports and are well-connected with most major Indian cities.

Hemis National Park, Ladakh

Hemis National Park
In winter, the elusive snow leopard descends to the lower reaches of the Himalayas at Hemis National Park to hunt. (Photo: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock)

At an area of 4,400sq km, Hemis National Park is the largest national park in South Asia. Snow leopards usually roam the upper reaches of its Himalayan terrain, but in winter the elusive cat can be found at lower altitudes when it stalks Himalayan tahr, ibex and bharal or blue sheep that descend to graze. Other animals you’ll spot here include the Eurasian brown bear, red fox and Himalayan mouse hare.

 One can also sight golden eagles, the Himalayan Snow Cock and Black-winged Snow Finch at the Rumback valley region of the park, which is great for birding. Since no vehicles are allowed inside the park, the best way to explore is to hire a guide and trek. Keep in mind that the altitude ranges between 3,000m and 6,000m above sea level.

Lesser-known fact: Hemis National Park gets its name from the 400-year-old Hemis Gompa (monastery), located within its confines. 

Homestays  Hemis National Park
Homestays are your best option if visiting Hemis National Park. (Photo for representational purposes only)

Where to stay: There are no hotels or resorts near Hemis National Park. You can book a homestay via the Himalayan Homestays initiative by the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. The organisation has trained over 130 families to offer homestays across Ladakh in an eco-friendly and socially responsible manner.

When to go: The summer months of May to October is the best time to visit Ladakh. However, if you’re keen on spotting a snow leopard, you’ll have to plan a trip in winter.

Getting there: The park is 10km from Leh, which has the nearest airport, and is connected by flights from Delhi, Srinagar and Chandigarh. Jammu Tavi is the closest railway station (21km).

Desert National Park, Rajasthan

Desert National Park
Desert National Park is best known as the home of the Great Indian Bustard.

Situated on the western-border of India within Jaisalmer and Barmer in Rajasthan, the 3,162sq ft Desert National Park is home to about 122 of the remaining Great Indian Bustards in India. The sandy, rocky region is abundant in avian life, such as the Himalayan and Eurasian Griffon vultures and the Saker Falcon, which migrate here in winter, as well as black bucks, chinkara and desert foxes. Also make a trip to the Akal Wood Fossil Park which holds fossilised remains of 180-million-year-old forests. Being a dry, arid region, it tends to get very dusty and windy irrespective of the season, so carry sunglasses, sunscreen, a cap/hat and something to cover your face at all times.

Lesser-known fact: The national park lies close to the Akal Wood Fossil Park, a protected area with deposits of fossils of forests. Some wood fossils dating as old as 180 million years have been discovered in this region.

When to go: Desert National Park is open all year round. Avoid April-July, when the heat is at its peak. December-February is the best time for birding.

Where to stay: With arches, latticed windows, jharokhas and a three-level courtyard, Suryagarh Jaisalmer echoes the architecture of a Rajasthani fort. Choose from heritage rooms, luxury suites or a haveli, which promises a little more privacy. Dine on Marwari cuisine from the kitchens of the erstwhile maharajas at specialty restaurant legends of Marwar, and unwind like royalty after a long day in the desert at in-house spa Rait. The elegant Jaisalmer Marriott Resort & Spa features rooms overlooking the Jaisalmer Fort or the Golden City, a rooftop restaurant with an open kitchen and a relaxed bar with an extensive wine list.

Gir National Park, Gujarat

India’s population of 674 Asiatic lions, according to government figures, can only be found at Gir National Park in Gujarat. Historians say that the efforts of the Nawabs of the Babi clan of the erstwhile princely state of Junagadh (now Gujarat) were among the earliest attempts to protect wildlife in India. In 1879, the sixth Nawab Ma­habat Khanji II banned all forms of hunting and trapping animals unless permitted by the state. In 1901, Nawab Rasul Khanji wrote to then governor general Lord Curzon, seeking his support to conserve the rapidly dwindling numbers of lions in the area. When his successor came of age in 1921, he thwarted requests from other maharajas to hunt in the forests of Gir.

Gir National Park
Gir National Park is the only place to spot Asiatic lions in India. (Photo: Kaushik Ghelani/Shutterstock)

The region became a sanctuary in 1965 and a core area of 259sq km was declared a national park a decade later. While you’re most likely to see a lion in the open scrub and grassland areas of the park, the hilly terrain offers opportunities to spot jackal, leopards, antelope and several deer such as chital (spotted deer), sambar (large deer), and chinkaras (gazelles).

The park is also home to crocodiles and 300 species of birds. If you’d like to learn more about the flora of the region, head to the Gir Arboretum & Birding Point, a garden cultivated from the indigenous trees and plants found in Gir. This is also a great spot to spy butterflies and birds like drongos, woodpeckers, doves, flycatchers and birds of prey. All safaris must be booked in advance from the government website.

Lesser-known fact: This is the only national park in which reside an ancient tribe with a deep relationship with the land, the forest and the animals, particularly the lion. The Maldhari tribe are co-habitants of the lions in Gir and often, on a safari, you will see them walking their cattle without much worry about a lion lurking around. They will tell you they believe the right to the forests belong to the lions and they rarely react when one of their cows or goats becomes a meal of a lion. The government, of course, compensates them for every loss.

When to go: While the temperatures are cooler between December and March, April and May allow the best wildlife spotting opportunities.

Where to stay: The Fern Gir Forest Resort features a choice of villas, suites, cottages and tents. Our pick is the Hazel suite with wooden flooring, an open sky bathroom, a verandah and your own walkway, which gives it an air of seclusion. At The Gateway Hotel Gir Forest you’ll find rooms with views of the Hiran river and the fringes of the forest beyond.

Getting there: Gir National Park is well-connected by road to key cities in Gujarat. The nearest airports are Keshod Airport (70km) and Rajkot Airport (160km). If you’re travelling from Mumbai, you can fly to Diu Airport from where you can take a two-hour cab ride to the park. The nearest railheads are Junagadh, Veraval and Rajkot.

Kanchendzonga National Park, Sikkim

red panda
The endangered red panda was declared the state animal of Sikkim in the 90s. (Photo: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock)

Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, this high-altitude biosphere reserve encompasses glaciers, pristine lakes and lush valleys with Mt Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, looming majestically in the distance. It covers around 25 per cent of the state of Sikkim and its 1,784 sq km are home to nearly half of India’s bird diversity, wild trees, orchids and rhododendrons and one third of the country’s flowering plants, and are a refuge for several endemic, rare and threatened species of animals.

Kanchendzonga National Park
Kanchendzonga National Park is a biosphere reserve that encompasses glaciers, lakes and thick forests. (Photo: niladrilovesphotography/Shutterstock)

Look out for the endangered red panda, distinguished by its russet fur, white markings on the side of its head and black belly and limbs; jackal; blue sheep; Tibetan wolf and flying squirrel. You can also spot six cat species, including the leopard, clouded leopard, jungle cat and, if you’re really lucky, the elusive snow leopard. You can also trek to Lake Menmecho, placidly set amidst conifers; the stunning Phamrong Waterfall and Mt Rathong.

Lesser-known fact: One of India’s longest glaciers, the 26km long Zemu Glacier, dots the barren high altitudes. 

When to go: The summer months of March to May are the most popular but October to February promise some stunning views of the wintery landscape.

Where to stay: The Elgin Nor-Khill Gangtok is a plush heritage hotel in Gangtok, a 45-kilometre drive from Kanchendzonga National Park. The interiors are replete with oakwood panelling, ornate furnishing and traditional folk art that honour Sikkimese heritage. Each of its 25 rooms offers magnificent views of the Himalayas. You can also book a homestay at the town of Yuksom, a popular starting point for trekkers.

Getting there: Kanchendzonga National Park is 45km from Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok. The nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, a four-hour drive from Gangtok. New Jalpaiguri (NJP) railway station is connected to Kolkata, Guwahati and Delhi

Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Kaziranga National Park accounts for 67 per cent of the global population of the one-horned rhino. Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the park is located in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra and encompasses grasslands, wetlands and forests. Its other inhabitants are elephants, wild water buffalo, swamp deer and Hoolock gibbons. It was declared a tiger reserve in 2006, but the tall grass can make spotting one a challenge. The marshlands offer sightings of birds like the lesser white-fronted goose and ferruginous duck, and come winter, the park hosts several migratory birds from Central Asia, such as the Asian Openbill stork.

Kaziranga also in part owes its existence in part to Lord Curzon, who was petitioned by his wife Mary to convert the area into a forest reserve after she visited the region in 1904 and failed to come across any rhinos.

Lesser-known fact: Besides the star attraction, the one-horned rhino, Kaziranga is the only home of the Eastern Swamp Deer. Popularly known as ‘barasingha’, the species can grow up to six feet in height. The deer have yellow hair and distinctive white spots above their spine. In summer, their coat turns from yellow to bright brown.

When to go: The park is open from November to April. It is inaccessible during the monsoon and prone to flooding.

Where to stay: The Diphlu River Lodge accommodates 24 guests at a time across its 12 semi-detached cottages, built to echo the architecture of the Mishing tribe. The lodge has its own team of naturalists who will accompany you to Kaziranga. IORA-The Retreat, Kaziranga, is conveniently located off NH37 on the Guwahati Dibrugarh Sector. The property is spread over 20 acres of tea gardens and will organise safaris to Kaziranga, a 30-minute drive away, as well as trips to the nearby Orchid Garden and Biodiversity Park and Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary.

Getting there: Guwahati International Airport (217km) and Jorhat Airport (97km) are the nearest airports. The nearest railhead is Furkating (75km), which is connected to major railway stations such as Guwahati, Kolkata and Delhi. Kaziranga is also accessible by road via NH37 from major cities in Assam such Guwahati, Tezpur, Jorhat, Nagaon and Dimapur.

Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal

Located at the delta of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, the Sunderbans is part of the largest single block of tidal, halophytic mangrove forests in the world and gets its name from the Sundari tree. At 4,264 sq km, it’s also the largest tiger reserve and national park, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The park is largely a network of estuaries, which means it’s only possible to navigate it by boat, many of which can be hired for an entire day. Besides the tiger, you’ll also encounter the fishing cat, jungle cat, rhesus macaque and otters, as well as endangered species like the Olive Ridley Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle and Gangetic dolphin.

Banbibi (or Bandevi) is revered as the guardian of the forests of the Sunderbans. Regardless of faith, locals seek her blessings before venturing out to forage for wild honey, collect wood or fish.

Lesser-known fact: The Sundarbans is the largest area of mangrove forest in the world and the only one that is inhabited by the tiger.

When to go: October to March is ideal for a trip. 

Where to stay: Sunderban Tiger Camp is a hop, skip and a jump from the Sundarbans National Park. The first government-approved jungle resort in the region, it’s a 21-room, eco-friendly property that utilises solar energy, rainwater harvesting and employs locally sourced materials and produce. 

Getting there: The nearest airport is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport at Kolkata. Regular trains are available from Sealdah to Canning after which you will have to continue your journey by boat.

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