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India

India contains a remarkable breadth of natural history to rival the world’s best wildlife destinations

Tailor-Made Holidays
To India

Although better known for its cultural treasures, India is also of immense interest from a natural history viewpoint. The Subcontinent’s tropical location, varied topography and position astride the wet monsoon winds have resulted in all of sixteen different forest types.

Within the forests and on the grassy plains there is an extremely rich and varied fauna, although today much survives only in restricted reserves. As one investigates the wonderful panoply of India’s wildlife, it is clear the Indian Subcontinent did indeed break away from Africa (then part of Gondwanaland) on its slow collision course with Eurasia (which formed the mighty Himalaya).

It is revealing to learn that India has elephant, leopard, lion, hyena, antelope, rhinoceros, caracal, jackal, and had, until its recent extinction, cheetah. These “African” species have combined with many, such as the mighty tiger and cunning red fox, which migrated from Eurasia over the millennia, giving rise to a remarkable breadth of natural history to rival the world’s best wildlife destinations.

A wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Dan Burton

Best Time To Visit India

The winter season, from October to March, is the time most visitors travel to India, when high pressure builds up over Central Asia giving rise to mainly dry and sunny weather (although it can also be cool and overcast). From April onwards, the heat becomes unbearable and there may be heavy rains, which render travel nearly impossible. During winter, it can be very cool – even cold – in some tiger reserves and cultural attractions in the north, especially in the early mornings when the first game drives venture out: so warm clothing should be packed. April and May are oppressively hot but can be great months for tiger sightings as the cats spend most of the day wallowing in the last few waterholes.

India Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

Approximately 9 hours from London to Delhi

Time Zone

GMT +5

Language

Over 20 different languages. English is widely spoken

Population

1.252 billion

Highlights

What To See

Little Rann of Kutch Sanctuary

Created in 1973, Little Rann of Kutch is one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in India, spanning some 4950 square kilometres in area and comprising a range habitats from saline desert plains, arid grasslands, rocky and thorn scrub to lakes and marshes.

The sanctuary is best known for its herds of the handsome, chestnut brown Asiatic wild ass which does not survive elsewhere and is the last of India’s wild horses. They are found in herds of 30 or so and are capable of withstanding severe dehydration. Little Rann of Kutch also supports a thriving population of gazelle, blue bull, wolf, Indian fox, jackal, jungle cat and hare. Birds include the houbara bustard, spotted and Indian sand grouse, francolin partridge, bustard quails, desert wheatear, desert larks, steppe eagle, imperial eagle, short-toed eagle, five species of vulture, laggar falcon, flamingos, pelicans, ducks, cranes and storks.

Jamnagar Marine National Park

In 1980 Gujarat created India’s first Marine National Park spread over an area of nearly 458 square kilometres in the Gulf of Kutch, 30 kilometres from Jamnagar. Here corals come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes, from the convoluted brain coral to ones that resemble deer antlers. Turtles, shrimp, sponge, eels and sea urchins lurk among the corals and huge schools of fish create a riot of colour. Here you can see dolphins and octopuses, and the large dugong, a marine mammal of the Sirenea order similar to the manatee of the Americas. The park has dense mangrove growth which provides fish with a nursery and scores of birds with nesting and roosting sites.

Sasan Gir National Park

Lying on the southwest fringes of the Saurashtra peninsula (west-central India), Sasan Gir National Park is the last home of the remaiting 500 or so Asiatic lions. It was created in 1913 and given sanctuary status in 1965. Once close to extinction, Asiatic lions have been steadily rising in number since 1980 in this safe haven: about 239 lions were reported in 1985 and current estimates are over 500. The vegetation consists of teak with a mixture of deciduous trees, including sal (Shorea), dhak (Butea frondosa), and thorn forests. The terrain is rugged with steep rocky hillsides. A few springs exist, but their flow is erratic depending upon the season.

Confined to this forest since 1884, the Asiatic lion is slightly smaller than its African cousin – nevertheless a large male is quite a sight to behold. The best time to observe the big cats is at dawn and dusk, when they are on the prowl.
Sharing the Gir forest with the lions is an impressive variety of wildlife. About 200 leopards frequent the sanctuary and are regarded as being easier to see here than at any other reserve. As for prey species, there are large numbers of spotted deer, herds of sambar and nilgai, wild boar, four-horned antelope and grey langur monkeys. Carnivores include wild cat, jungle cat, golden jackal and a small but increasing population of the rare striped hyena. The 200-plus bird species include the peafowl, grey partridge, Bonelli’s eagle, crested serpent eagle, jungle bush quail, painted sandgrouse, common green pigeon and several species of dove. Sasan Gir is also home to the marsh crocodile which can be sighted easily in its rivers and particularly in the lake of the Kamaleshwar dam.

Sasan Gir National Park is steeped in history and folklore. It boasts temples of great antiquity such as Kankai Mata and Tulsishyam, a place of pilgrimage with hot springs. The forest is famous for its cattle herders, the Madharis, whose buffalo form a substantial part of the lions’ meals. Extremely hospitable, the Madharis’ lifestyle has changed little over the years and their folklore and traditions are a unique record of the coexistence of humans with lions.

Velavadar National Park

Located only 64 Kms from Bhavnagar, the park has the highest concentration of blackbuck in the world. The only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park, Velavadar is a 36 kms patch of savannah-type scrubby grassland well suited to the requirements of these lovely animals. The park is set between two rivers, a few miles from the Gulf of Cambay sea coast. The rich soil is believed to have its origins in the sea.

The principal attraction is the massive population of blackbuck, the handsome Indian antelope whose formerly widespread wild population has decreased drastically over the last century and fragmented into various pockets. The blackbuck is endemic to India and is rated among the most elegant antelopes and one of the fastest animals over a long distance. During the rule of the Maharajahs of Bhavnagar, Velavadar was harvested for grass to feed the royal cattle herds and the antelope were protected except for the occasional hunting camp.

Early March is the rutting period when one can witness mating contests between rival males. This is the time in the blackbuck year when the males establish their dominance over the harems of females and many skirmishes occur as the younger bucks seek to displace the older animals and claim their right to reproduce.

A few wolves also occur at Velavadar but the reserve exists mainly as a showcase for the blackbuck: they are definitely the star attraction here.

Other mammals seen in Velavadar are fox, jackal, jungle cat, wild pig, hare and various other rodents. The birdlife is extensive. Sandgrouse, larks and other grassland species are seen in fair numbers, and the harrier roost at Velavadar is one of the largest in the world.

Gujarat

Mahatma Gandhi’s native state, Gujarat has a wide range of scenery and habitats, including vast salt marshes, irrigated fields, deserts and good beaches. Aside from plenty of bird life, Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch has the only remaining wild asses in India and Velavadar conserves the rare blackbuck.

Bhagwan Mahveer Wildlife Sanctuary

Bhagwan Mahveer Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as Molem National Park) is Goa’s largest and most remote tract of intact forest. It is also the most ecologically rich region of Goa, where birds endemic to the Western Ghats and southern India can be found alongside a host of forest species and winter migrants, comprising an avifauna of over 250 species including orange-headed ground-thrush, white-rumped shama, heart-spotted woodpeckers, Malabar pied hornbills, black-naped oriole and velvet-fronted nuthatch.

Goa

Once a Portuguese colony and with a coastline of 65 miles, Goa is hilly and includes a portion of the Western Ghats rising to nearly 4,000 feet. The two largest rivers are the Mandavi and Zuari, between the mouths of which lies the island of Goa (Ilhas). The island is triangular, the apex (called the cape) being a rocky headland separating the harbour of Goa into two anchorages. It is a delightfully laidback and charming state with many beautiful beaches, colonial churches and hills. The people of Goa are a mix of the Portuguese descendents and the indigenous population.

Lakshadweep Islands

Of the 36 main coral islands of the beautiful Lakshadweep archipelago, a northern extension of the Maldives lying 250 miles off the Kerala coast formerly known as the Laccadives, only one (Bangaram) has a resort of an international standard. The diving and snorkelling are superb and the beaches and lagoons are exquisite. Access is by airplane from Cochin (Kochi).

Periyar National Park

Designated a tiger reserve in 1978 and very popular with locals, Periyar National Park consists of a large man-made lake on which visitors take boat rides surrounded by marsh and wooded hills. While the reserve protects many species, significant wildlife sightings other than elephant and gaur are uncommon and the beautiful setting is the main attraction.

Eravikulam National Park

Set up in 1978 to protect the endangered Nilgiri tahr (an endangered mountain goat), it is close to Kerala’s only hill station, Munnar, at 2700 mts above sea level. The park has stark yet stunning scenery of rocky outcrops and grasslands with shola forest.

Kerala

The southernmost western state, its capital is Cochin (Kochi) with its famous Jew Town and ancient synagogue, colonial houses, Chinese fishing nets and Dutch museum. Many opt for a night or two aboard a converted rice barge houseboat (kettuvallam) to cruise the many serene waterways and canals, and to spend time by the coast and visit a national park.

Anamalai National Park

In the beautiful forests of this hilly reserve can be found the rare Nilgiri tahr, a critically endangered mountain goat, as well as a host of other mammal and bird species including great pied hornbill, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, pangolin and barking deer.

Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary

Contiguous with Nagarhole, from which it is separated by Bandipur National Park, the sanctuary protects birds such as Malabar trogon, crested serpent eagle and grey hornbill, and mammals like sloth bear, hyena, wild dog and bonnet macaque.

Tamil Nadu

Once known as the Coromandel coast, the state boasts remarkable temples, cool colonial hill stations such as Ooty, rich traditions of music and dance and some highly interesting nature reserves.

Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary

The only species of ape found in India, the endangered hoolock gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock hoolock) occupies the rainforests of India’s northeast. Being a true arboreal species, the ape depends on the high forest canopy for its survival. Habitat destruction, fragmentation and alteration, and hunting have all been identified as threats to the species all along its distribution range, the primary one being loss of natural habitat. The Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in the Jorhat district of Assam is the only protected area in India to be named after a primate species. The sanctuary, with an area of 20.98 hectare, is situated on the south bank of the Great Brahmaputra river system. Despite providing protection for seven species of primates, it was formed mainly for the conservation of the hoolock gibbon and also harbours plenty of diverse bird and mammal life.

Karnataka

The meeting point of north and south, the state contains many attractions, including the World Heritage Site of Hampi, and two excellent reserves. The best known of these is Nagarhole National Park, considered the best wildlife reserve in south India.

Nagarhole National Park

A real gem, Nagarhole is a 247 square-mile park of dry deciduous forest, grassy swamp and riverine habitat supporting an astonishing array of wildlife, including 250 bird species, tiger, leopard, elephant, wild dog (dhole) and gaur. It is among the best of India’s wildlife reserves and the most important one in southern India.

Daroji Bear Sanctuary

Best visited between August and April, this unique and little-known reserve near the World Hertage Site ruins of Hampi is a haven for around 120 sloth bears, its main draw, plus leopard, hyena, jackal, wild boar, porcupine, pangolin and star tortoise, and around 90 bird species.

Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Created in 1973 and constituted as a Reserve Forest in 1978, the Sunderbans was established as a National Park in 1984, listed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1985 and declared a Biosphere Reserve four years later. The Sunderbans (sometimes spelled Sundarbans) is part of a vast estuary in the Bay of Bengal. Its mangrove forests are the only tiger habitat of its kind, with an estimated 270 of the big cats found there – these animals might represent a distinct subspecies of tiger. The trees and other wildlife have adapted to the estuarine conditions of high salinity, lack of soil, erosion and daily inundation by high tides. Fishing cat, spotted deer, wild boar, water monitor, estuarine crocodile, river terrapin, olive Ridley turtle, ground turtle, king crab, rhesus monkey and mud skipper can be seen there as well as 230 or so bird species. These include red jungle fowl, lesser whistling-duck, cotton pygmy-goose, streak-throated woodpecker, coppersmith barbet, brown-winged, stork-billed, black-capped, pied and collared kingfishers, Brahminy kite and white-bellied fish eagle.

Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, comprises large stretches of swamp interspersed with broad tracts of tall elephant grass, evergreen forests, watercourses and reed beds. With its backdrop of the mighty Himalaya, Kaziranga is on an impressive scale – with wildlife to match. It is one of the best places to see the rare great Indian one-horned rhinoceros with a population of over 2000 animals (around 80% of the global population).

Indian elephants are plentiful as are herds of wild water buffalo, wild boar, grazing sambar, hog deer and swamp deer. There is also a healthy tiger population with up to 160 individuals, giving one of the highest tiger densities in India: however, the terrain and vegetation make the cats fairly difficult to observe.

Kaziranga boasts a tremendously varied bird list. The wetlands attract storks, herons, wildfowl and waders, with significant numbers of spot-billed pelicans, bar-headed geese, and black-necked, greater and lesser adjutant storks. From time to time the waterbirds are alarmed by the appearance of grey-headed or Pallas’s fish-eagles, just two of an impressive variety of raptors. Pied harriers glide over the waving grasses, occasionally startling a Bengal florican or a noisy flock of red-breasted parakeets.

Your day would usually begin with an elephant safari at dawn to watch the sun rise through the early morning mists and for close sightings of deer, rhino and wild elephant which are very tolerant of the elephants’ presence. This is also your best chance of glimpsing tigers stalking in the undergrowth. Game drives allow you to explore further afield: there are also a number of towers giving superb wildlife viewing over the lakes and marshes of this extraordinary national park.

Manas National Park

Extending into Bhutan, Manas National Park forms one of the largest uninterrupted protected areas on the subcontinent and is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of great importance. A total of 55 mammals have been recorded in Mana and some of the most sought-after Himalayan foothill bird species are found there including the Bengal florican, great hornbill, ibisbill and red-headed trogon.

Passing through the heart of the park is the Manas River, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra. The landscape is a mixture of dense rainforests and grasslands providing ideal habitat for rich birdlife and a variety of rare and endangered endemics such as golden langur, and more readily recognisable Indian mammals such as tiger, elephant and one-horned rhinoceros.

Nameri National Park

The landscape of Nameri National Park is characterised by semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests. Over 600 species of plants and more than 30 species of mammals have been recorded at Nameri – the park is an important conservation area for tiger and Asian elephant. Birdlife is varied and abundant, with nearly 400 species finding their way onto an ever-expanding checklist. Perhaps Nameri’s most important avian residents are its white-winged ducks – a sizeable population of this highly endangered anatid is known to inhabit the park’s forest pools, representing the core of the remaining Indian population of 150-odd pairs. The dazzling array of birdlife also includes white-cheeked partridge; great, wreathed, crested and pied kingfishers; Amur falcon; grey-headed and lesser fish eagles; slender-billed oriole; Jerdon’s babbler; long-billed plover and ibisbill.

Assam

The Indian state of Assam holds a special attraction for Asia wildlife enthusiasts, boasting four important national parks and three UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites. Little-visited and rather tucked away in the north-east of the subcontinent, Assam is a land of mighty rivers and fertile plains laid out at the foot of the Himalaya.

Remarkable for the richness of its flora and fauna, Assam’s natural history represents a melting pot of east and west species – many found here are at either the westernmost or easternmost points of their range. Assam’s three most rewarding national parks are Manas, Nameri and Kaziranga, home of the endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceros.

In Manas alone, a total of 55 mammals have been recorded, and some of the most sought-after of the Himalayan foothill bird species live there. India’s iconic mammal life is also well represented in Assam – one can spot Asian elephant, tiger, or even a critically endangered pygmy hog while exploring the state’s extensive wetland, forest and grassland habitats.

Bordered by the mighty Brahmaputra River, Kaziranga holds more than just the one-horned rhino: there you can see wild boar, herds of wild buffalo and elephant and many species of ungulate.

Satpura National Park

Established in 1981, Satpura National Park covers an area of 524 sq km of unique central Indian highland ecosystem in Madhya Pradesh. The terrain is extremely rugged and consists of sandstone peaks, narrow gorges, ravines and dense forests, with altitude ranging from 300 to 1352 metres.

Satpura is home to large numbers of gaur (Indian bison), spotted deer, samba deer and wild boar and it is also the northernmost range of the Indian giant squirrel. The park has a reputation for good leopard sightings plus very good chances of seeing sloth bear and packs of Indian wild dogs. There is a healthy tiger population of over 60 animals; however they are fairly timid mostly keeping to the hills during the day and roaming the meadows at night, their fresh tracks being the only sign of their nocturnal wanderings.

The park is refreshingly free from mainstream tourism and very few other vehicles are seen during game drives. In addition, the varied mix of elephant safaris, walking tours, game drives, boat safaris and birdwatching by canoe creates an all-round wildlife experience not found in most of India’s reserves.

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India Specialist

Jonathan Morris

Area Specialist

Expect to venture out in the early morning and late afternoon with plenty of downtime in the day: a great opportunity to go through all of your wonderful tiger shots. In the northern reserves, it can be very cold in the early morning, so take warm clothing including hat, gloves and scarf.

If you have any questions regarding travel to India, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965