10 Best Wildlife Safaris in India: Discovering India's Wilderness

Be it the Himalayan snow, the lush forests stretching from the northeast to the Niligiri hills down south or the semi arid forests of Gujarat and deserts of Rajasthan, India is surely a wildlife destination of the world. Although it is nearly impossible to grade various parks as they are all unique in some way or the other, the following list of 10 Best Wildlife Safaris should always be a part of any select list, due to their outstanding ecological and aesthetic appeal:

#1 National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary

The Chambal River, which is one of the cleanest rivers of India, is a wildlife sanctuary over nearly 500 km of its run along the borders of MP, UP and Rajasthan. It has the largest population of gharial (a highly endangered crocodile species found primarily in the tributaries of the Ganges) in the world, and also harbours excellent populations mugger crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, turtles and winter birds. The river is flanked by the fabled Chambal ravines, the abode of the famous dacoits of yore, which combine with the pristine waters of the river to create a scenic treat and a unique wildlife habitat.

Best Season: Although the sanctuary is open to visitors from 16 October to 30 June, the best time to visit the sanctuary is the winter season between November to March.

How to get there: Agra and Gwalior are the nearest airports, both about 70-80 km away. Morena and Dholpur are the nearest railway stations.

Image Credit: Jo Dale

#2 Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

Located in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh, the national park is the core area of the Satpura Tiger Reserve, which is one of the largest protected areas of India, stretching over nearly 1500 sq km of pristine wilderness.The reserve supports some of the finest teak and bamboo forests in the county and a unique sprinkling of the sal forests. The famous Pachmarhi hill station with breathtaking scenery, replete with panoramic views, waterfalls, deep gorges and valleys is a part of this park.Perhaps due to its altitudinal range, the park has an unusually high biodiversity of birds and plants including rare tree ferns and bryophytes.

Apart from the tiger, the park has a very high density of leopard, wild dog, gaur, sambar and the rare giant squirrels. The Tawa reservoir that flanks the park on the north and west hosts lots of wintering migratory birds and crocodiles. This is perhaps the only national park in India where walking is allowed within the core area of the tiger reserve. Canoe rides into the creeks meandering deep into the forests offer a unique way of watching wildlife at close range. Night drives in the buffer forests of the tiger reserve is a very unique experience, too. The park is popular with quality visitors because it is one of the least crowded tiger reserves as no more than 12 jeeps are allowed in the park at a time.

Best Season: The park is open to visitors from 16th October to 30th June. While the winter months are the best to enjoy the scenery, the summer months are best for watching wildlife.

How to get there: The park is nearly 150 km from Bhopal. Hoshangabad 50 km, Sohagpur 20 km and Itarsi 80 km are the nearest railway stations. Bhopal is the nearest airport.

Image Credit: Mridul Pathak

#3 Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Located on the banks of Brahmaputra River in Assam, the Kaziranga Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.It is inhabited by the largest population of one-horned rhinoceros in the world and also has a very high density of tiger.  Apart from the rhinos and tigers, the park also boasts of the most diverse assemblage of large mammals in India, comprising of elephants, panthers, wild buffalos, gaur, hog deer, swamp deer (barasingha), sambar, barking deer, bears etc. Sprawling marshy grasslands, dominated by the tall elephant grass, are also a visual treat, especially when seen from the high perch of an elephant back.

Best Season: October to April

How to get there: You can take a bus from Guwahati (217 kms), Jorhat (96 kms) and Tezpur (75 kms). The nearest airports are at Guwahati and Jorhat. The nearest railway station is Furkating, which is about 80 km away.

Image Credit: Madhu Vathanan

#4 Sundarbans, West Bengal

There is no place on earth like this 10,000 sq km mangrove forest, straddling the border of India and Bangladesh. Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve, apart from being a tiger reserve. It is the largest mangrove forest in the world, the only deltaic habitat for the tiger in the world, and has the largest tiger population in a single habitat anywhere on the globe.

Best Season: October to February.

How to get there: Sundarbans can be reached from several points but the most convenient is Sonakhali via Canning, about 72 km from Kolkata. Entry permits can be obtained at Bagna and Canning.

Image Credit: Sandipan Paul

#5 Hemis National Park, Laddakh, Jammu & Kashmir

At nearly 7000 m altitude, Hemis national park is one of the few national parks in the trans-Himalayan cold desert of India. The park offers breath taking views of the Laddakh landscape in the Indus valley, nearby glaciers, alpine meadows and wildlife, like the snow leopard, kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass), ibex, serow, Tibetan antelope and the red fox. It is considered to be the best place to see the rare snow leopard in India. The famous Hemis Gompa monastery is situated within this national park.

Best Season: mid-June to mid-October

How to get there: The park is about 40 km from Leh, the headquarters of the Laddakh district and airport.

Image Credit: Fanus Weldhagen

#6 Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat

It is the only place in the world where the Asiatic lions are still found, and are growing.

Best Season: November to May.

How to get there: The park can be approached from Junagarh (65 km), Veraval (40 km). Ahmedabad, the state capital of Gujarat is about 360 km. Junagarh is the most convenient rail head and airport.

Image Credit: Vishwa Kiran

#7 Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand

Named after the famous hunter, this is the oldest national park of India and is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife lovers in the country. Verdant sal forests, peppered with sprawling grasslands, the chaurs, in the Himalayan foothills and terai plains, creates one of the most productive wildlife habitats. The park contains one of the highest tiger densities in India. Apart from the tigers, the park is also famous for seeing elephants, leopards and trout fishing in Ramganga river. The park also has over 500 species of birds. Corbett is one of the few wildlife parks that allows you to stay in several forest rest houses located inside the park, at very beautiful locations.

Best Time: Mid-November to mid-June.

How to get there: Ramnagar, the park headquarters can be reached by road and rail from Delhi (300 km) and all the major towns of the area like Lucknow, Varanasi and Agra. 
Image Credit: Animesh Singh

8# Fantastic Four- The Tiger Reserves of Madhya Pradesh

A tiger at Bandhavgarh National Park

Image Credit: Jagpreet Pabla

Four tiger reserves, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench and Panna are situated within 150-200 km of each other and together offer a wonderful opportunity to see the wildlife and wilderness of central India. These reserves, particularly Kanha and Bandhavgarh, are arguably the best places on earth to meet a tiger in the wild. Tracking tigers on elephant back, in dense forests, popularly called the Tiger show or sher darshan, is a unique and exciting specialty of the parks in MP.


Best Time: mid-October to June.

How to get there: All these reserves are less than 200 km from the Jabalpur railhead and airport. One can also undertake a serial journey, covering all four, using Khajuraho and Nagpur airports as points of entry and exit. 

Image Credit: Richa

#9 Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

Along with Corbett and Kanha etc. it is one of the first 9 tiger reserves of India, since 1973. It is one of the most visited national parks of India, and has a very high probability of spotting a tiger in its natural habitat. An ancient fort, the Ranthambhore, dominates the landscape for miles around and many artificial lakes lend this park a unique beauty and a very high wildlife density. Ranthambhore has perhaps been the site of the largest number of world famous tiger documentaries.

Best Time: November to June

How to get there: The park is situated at a distance of only 250 km from Delhi, close to the golden triangle comprising Delhi-Agra-Jaipur. Sawai Madhopur, the park headquarters, 15 km away, is the nearest railhead on Delhi-Mumbai trunk route. 

Image Credit: Anders Magnusson

#10 Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala

Tiger in the Periyar Sanctuary

Tiger at Periyar Sanctuary

Located in God’s own country, Periyar tiger reserve is one of the best places to see wild elephants in South India. The park is now more famous for its community based ecotourism involving former poachers and criminals as guides and hosts. Periyar reservoir lies at the centre of the park and provides a great opportunity, by boat, to see large animals like elephants, gaur, sambar etc. grazing along its banks. The famous Sabrimala temple is situated at the heart of the park.

Best Time: October to Mid-May

How to get there: Kochi airport lies about 112 km away from Thekkady, which is the entrance to the park. Kottayam, the park headquarters, nearly 115 km from Thekkady, is the nearest railhead.

Image Credit: Ana Arellano

Article By Dr. H.S. Pabla

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