If spending three or four days confined in a vehicle as you wait to see a solo tiger or leopard saunter past sounds like an exciting prospect, Dev Goswami & Anindra Siqueira have just the thing for you. Here are some of the best wildlife destinations — both in India as well as around the world
There is something about nature and wildlife that makes us feel right at home. Perhaps it’s because nature, as Yogi Shah, co-owner of The Backpacker Co., tells us, helps you reconnect with yourself. Suchna Shah, co-owner of The Backpacker Co., adds, “Because of our chaotic lives, in which we are always meeting new people, we tend to forget ourselves. Returning to nature and wildlife is like pressing the pause button, helping you to reflect and introspect on what has happened and recharge your batteries.” If, like us, you were nodding enthusiastically while reading what they said, then this article is for you! We talk to Yogi and Suchna as well as Shibani Phadkar, senior vice president & head (leisure travel outbound, products, contracting, operations & tour management) at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd and Rajeev D. Kale, president & chief operating officer (MICE, domestic & sports tourism) at Thomas Cook India, and bring you a list of the best wildlife destinations, should be on your travel bucket list. We also speak to popular travel website HolidayIQ.com for insights and bring you inputs from a few of their travellers.
SPOTS WITHIN INDIA
Jim Corbett National Park
Probably one of the most famous wildlife reserves for a vacation in India, Jim Corbett National Park is where you should go if you want to catch a glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger. It also has elephants and leopards, so that’s two of Africa’s big five right there! Rajeev says, “Jim Corbett National Park, situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, is a haven for wildlife lovers in India, especially given its convenient connectivity with Delhi.” The national park also offers several adventure activities, as Manju, a HolidayIQ.com traveller tells us — “There are activities such as river crossing, trekking and nature walks. The thrill of travelling in an open jeep in a jungle was the best part of the trip.”
Ranthambore National Park
About 130km from Jaipur, Ranthambore has a wide variety of wild animals to see, including tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals, wild boar and other jungle cats. HolidayIQ.com tells us that Ranthambore National Park is best known for its tiger population and is home to Machli, the most photographed tiger in the world. Zoobie Sidhu, a HolidayIQ.com traveller adds, “Even if you do not spot a tiger, there is enough wildlife to see — deer, sambar, antelope, peacocks, leopards and several birds. Also, make sure that you visit the handicraft centres, where women self-help groups are actively involved.”
Located on the Ganges Delta in West Bengal, the allure of Sunderbans is unmatched. Rich in flora and fauna, the region is densely covered by mangrove forests and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger — it’s home to over 400 Bengal tigers. You can also expect fishing cats, boars, chital and salt water crocodiles. Abhijit Gupta, who’s travelled here, has this to say on HolidayIQ.com: “The best way to explore the Sunderbans is by a boat safari along the narrow river channels, with mangroves along both banks. Must-visit places include Dobanki, Sudhanyakhali, Sajnekhali and Panchmukhi.”
Kaziranga National Park
A world heritage site, the Kaziranga National Park is located on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra river. The park is divided into five sections and an elephant or a Jeep safari are the most convenient and popular ways to explore the sanctuary. You can catch glimpses of elephants, wild water buffalo and swamp deer, and the park is home to a variety of migratory birds, water birds, predators, scavengers and game birds. Rajeev says that this is the only natural setting in the entire world where you can see the endangered, one-horned rhino. Shilpa Shinde, a HolidayIQ.com traveller adds, “Of course, the jungle safari for the rhinoceros is the prime reason to be here. Also, about two kilometres from the park, do check out the entire village, which has been erected by the Assam government to emulate the lifestyle and architecture of local tribes in Assam.”
Kanha & Bandhavgarh National Parks
Both these national parks are located in Madhya Pradesh, so, it’s a prudent idea to visit both during a vacation. Bandhavgarh is known to have the highest density of the Bengal tiger. Rajeev tells us, “Bandhavgarh is known as the land of the white tiger, even though white tigers no longer exist here. This is definitely a delightful wildlife getaway with good connectivity of overnight train journeys.” HolidayIQ.com tells us that the national park is also popular for its leopard population and you can also look forward to barking deer, Indian bison, gaur and sarus cranes. Kanha National Park, on the other hand, is the largest wildlife reserve in central India. Girija Muralidharan, has this to say about Kanha on HolidayIQ.com: “This tiger reserve was vividly portrayed in Kipling’s Jungle Book. The whole experience in the eerie silence of the dense forest during sunset is a moment to be remembered and cherished forever.”
Tadoba Tiger Reserve
Not as well-known as India’s other wildlife destinations, Tadoba’s main attraction include the jungle safari trips that it offers. The reserve has a tiger population that’s multiplying along with other mammals including leopards, hyenas, civets and chitals. HolidayIQ.com traveller Preeti tells us,“Tadoba offers the best chance for a tiger sighting. The whole experience of tracking and spotting a tiger in an open vehicle is thrilling. You may even spot a bear, barking deer, crocodile or leopard. There are plenty of beautiful birds too.”
Gir National Park
Rajiv tell us that Gir is the only place in India where you’ll get to witness the majestic Asiatic lions uncaged. In fact, the park’s lion population is so large that the sanctuary is now considered too small for them! The forest department organises lion shows every week, giving you the opportunity to watch the lions on a hunt. The park also has lodges located deep inside the forest — you’ll have to spend the night there and wake up at dawn the next morning in order to watch the lions, as they come out at sunrise to drink water.
Ah, how could this not be part of our list? It isn’t all fuzzy lemurs dancing to I Like To Move It Move It in Madagascar, as DreamWorks may have you believe. In fact, it’s nothing like that. Separated from the mainland of Africa for about 165 million years, the island of Madagascar has unique wildlife. The 34 known species of chameleons will dazzle you with their photo-adaptive abilities. Around 80% of the wildlife believed to be seen in Madagascar are endemic to this island, making this a destination that simply has to be on your travel bucket list.
Yes, we mentioned both these bordering African countries together for the simple reason that they have so much to offer! South Africa is known for the popular Kruger National Park and taking a safari ride through the reserve will be an unforgettable experience. The country is also home to the majestic Victoria Falls, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Botswana offers several game parks, which you can explore on an elephant-back safari.
Oh, the Galapagos! Do we love any travel destination more? Formed and shaped over a period of at least two million years, each of the many islands of this Archipelagos has its own, very unique attractions — the work of millions of years of evolution. You will find animals here that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. An example of this is the marine iguana, endemic to the Galapagos. Yogi and Suchna tell us, “Having evolved in an environment that is largely free of land-based predators, the creatures of the Galapagos are more likely to treat visitors with inquisitiveness than with fear or hostility — making for some truly incredible encounters.” You can look out for land iguanas, knocking woodpeckers, giant tortoises, pink flamingoes and sea lions.
Maasai Mara in Kenya
Shibani tells us, “The Maasai Mara in south-west Kenya is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife reserves, offering a gamut of options — from a simple camp concept with platform tents and a gorilla-tracking safari, to staying at a lodge overlooking the stunning Lake Mutanda and volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. You can also trek through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, spending an hour with the mountain gorillas!” Yogi and Suchna add, “While travelling through the world-renowned Masai Mara and the open Serengeti plains, on to the lakes of the Great Rift Valley and the dramatic scenery of the Ngorongoro Crater, you will spot a wealth of exotic predators and peaceful herbivores.”
The Sabah region, which is located on the world’s third largest island, Borneo, offers natural beauty and rare wildlife. Yogi and Suchna tell us, “The area houses exotic animals, ancient traditions, hot springs, tribal villages and loveable orangutans. There is something for everyone here!” You can look forward to watching giant turtles lay eggs on Turtle Island, orangutans at Sepilok and explore the steamy Kinabatangan rainforest.
The Great Barrier Reef
One of the seven wonders of the world, The Great Barrier Reef, located off the coast of Australia, will provide you with one of the most unique, memorable experiences of your life. There is an extremely wide variety of marine life that you can explore here. The 200-km-long reef offers snorkelling and diving, which are the best ways to explore the wildlife at this beautiful and colourful destination.