This month's newsletter coincides with the arrival of summer in India which also means the monsoon is not far away.
While this is not generally the most favourable time of the year to visit India, with soaring temperatures and high humidity in most regions south of the Himalaya, it is a period in which wildlife enthusiasts will revel, as sightings of otherwise elusive animals are more frequent than at any time of the year.
With this in mind, this newsletter focuses on India's wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks.
Any of these parks can be visited on a tour of the specific area in question and now is the perfect time to start thinking of this kind of trip-of-a-lifetime for next year!
The big three National Parks (Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench) in Madhya Pradesh represent the best opportunity to see the majestic Royal Bengal tiger in the wild. These parks remain strongholds of tiger habitat due in no small part to their remoteness from significant human populations. While this means that it takes time to access these Parks, for the visitor with the time to invest in making the journey to the rewards are immense. For visitors with less time to spare, but who still want the chance of see a tiger in the wild, we recommend Ranthambore in Rajasthan (which can be easily included in any journey around that state) or Corbett National Park in the state of Uttarakhand which can be accessed from Delhi with ease.
Bandhavgarh National Park is located around 5 hours' drive from the famous temples of Khajuraho and boasts a great diversity of vegetation and landscapes, making it prime habitat for many of the prey species on which tigers (and the more common but much more elusive leopard) depend for their survival. Areas of dense forest are interspersed with grasslands and many small rivers run through the park. The scarcity of water as the heat increases towards summer is the primary reason it is better to visit these parks in late February through to early May.
As the amount of accessible water decreases and thick undergrowth starts to die back with the increasing heat, it is easier for the Park naturalists and trackers to assess where each of the Park's tigers will be likely to appear, making sightings in these months as close to a certainty as possible. While sightings of tigers are the focus of safaris in Bandhavgarh, the Park is rich in wildlife of all kinds, with frequent sightings of spotted and sambar deer, langur monkeys and a vast array of birdlife pretty much guaranteed. The diversity of vegetation and the slightly undulating nature of the terrain in Bandhavgarh mean there is a surprise around almost every corner.
Kanha, around 6 hours drive south of Bandhavgarh, is the most remoteof the three National Parks under discussion here and is most likely to be visited inconjunction with one (or both) of the other two.
Kanha is a very large Park (some 940 sq km with a similar sized 'buffer zone' making it one of the biggest in India) but the vegetation is somewhat more homogenous than at Bandhavgarh and vast expanses of grassland allow for excellent tiger sightings. The large size of the Park and the existence of more than one entrance gate make it likely that you will encounter few other humans during your jeep safaris here. One significant species found at Kanha but not elsewhere in the region is the swamp deer; large herds can be seen in the grasslands of the Park.
It is also possible to trek on the fringes of Kanha (but obviously well away from the habitat of the Park's big cats!) and to visit villages on the periphery of the protected area.
Pench, the most southerly of these Parks, is the easiest to access as it is only 70km from the city of Nagpur, which in turn is serviced by regular flights from Mumbai. Although some of the territory of Pench National Park is in Maharashtra state, the vast majority (around 90%) is in Madhya Pradesh. Most famously, Pench was the inspiration for Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book stories, written in late 19th century. The vegetation here is very different, being predominantly teak forest; the diversity of wildlife found in Pench is easily the equal of Bandhavgarh and Kanha. Jackals, jungle cats, porcupines, palm-civets and even the elusive dhole (wild dog) are sometimes sighted.
We've added a new itinerary to our website which shows how these 3 wonderful National Parks can be linked in a 2-week tour.
Click here for "On the Trail of the Tiger".
A fourth park in Madhya Pradesh, Satpura, is also worthy of inclusion during a really comprehensive tour of this region. Located roughly halfway between Bhopal and Nagpur (in Maharashtra), this 1400 square kilometre park is, as yet, little visited by tourists and offers excellent opportunities for tiger sightings, as well as hiking and a sense of being well off the main trail. The rugged terrain of Satpura and its isolation makes it one of the hidden treasures of Madhya Pradesh.
The north-east corner of India is a relatively remote region which is renowned for its tribal enclaves, stunning scenery and unique cultures. In the state of Assam one will also find the largest concentration of Indian one-horned rhinoceros anywhere on earth and the spectacular Kaziranga National Park is without doubt the best place to see these magnificent animals. It is possible to visit Kaziranga in as little as 4 or 5 days from either Delhi or Calcutta, with regular flights from both cities servicing the regional airport at Guwahati. From here it is a 5 hour drive to Kaziranga, an expansive park dominated by grasslands and home to a vast array of wildlife including elephants and tigers as well as the famous rhino population.
An itinerary which features a more leisurely and explorative tour of this region can be found here "Tea, Tribes & Rhinos, North East India Tour".
The Nilgiri Biosphere in southern India is one of the largest areas of protected forest habitat in all of Asia. This vast area, comprising a number of National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries across the 3 southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is by far the best region for the serious wildlife enthusiast to focus on in the south. Consisting of a variety of habitats from grassland, dry deciduous forest, swampy bamboo-dominated areas, large lakes and high peaks, it is no wonder this area is considered one of our planet's biodiversity hotspots.
Virtually all of India's iconic animal species can be found in the Nilgiri area with elephants and leopards being arguably easier to spot here than anywhere else in the country. As a tourist destination, the many regions of the greater Nilgiri Biosphere are easily accessible from Mysore and Bangalore, with the world-famous Nagarhole National Park being an easy 3 hour drive from the wonderful city of Mysore.
A sample itinerary covering some of the best parts of this region can be viewed here "Southern Nature & Wildlife".
India's wildlife, from the large mammals discussed here to a vast array of bird species and everything in between, is a treasure and we feel strongly that by visiting the remaining habitats where these majestic animals live, visitors can help the overall push to conservation and just as importantly the education of local people to the immense value of preserving India's remaining areas of natural beauty.
In this month's newsletter we have used some very special photos from Susan Schermer. Susan travelled with India Panorama, and has kindly allowed us to use some of her photos. Click here to go to our Photo Album from Susan.