Winter Visit to a National Park in India: Part 1

Although any time is a good time to be away from the maddening crowds and blaring horns, but a winter visit to an Indian national park is something really special. Nature is at its best as it transitions from the luxuriance of the monsoon to the sucking heat of the summer when fodder and water become a luxury. Although the scene changes every day as winter peaks in January and then fades into the autumn-spring-summer continuum, all four months of winter, from November to February, present their own special pleasures to the beholder.

A tiger cub in Bandhavgarh National Park

Photo Courtesy : Jagpreet Pabla

#1 Winter Landscape

Most parks open to visitors either in mid-October or November when there is only a hint of winter and young people drive into the forests with, or without, light jackets. Entire landscape presents a lush green picture broken only by the flowered grasses in the meadows. Seasonal streams are still flowing and you hear the pleasing music of a flowing brook or a dripping spring.

Meadow in winter in Ratapani Sanctuary

A meadow in winters at Ratapani Sanctuary
 Photo Courtesy : Jagpreet Pabla
Although most of the streams have now been forded, driving across small waterways can be a minor thrill for young children as the vehicle goes down one bank and comes up the other. In early season, some roads may not be ready to receive the traffic as repairing of all roads after monsoon takes time, and if, as is often the case, there are late showers, one might experience driving through slushy or muddy roads, which again is becoming a rare experience, if the park management does not close such roads. Those who remember driving over the bamboo mat spread across the waters of Charanganga, outside Bandhavgarh National Park, feel like one misses one’s childhood.
Although nature is at its beautiful best, animal sightings are rather low in the beginning of the season, as visibility is low due to dense vegetation and because the nervous mothers are still not used to human company for their young ones. December and January are real winter months in most of India. As the vegetation opens up with grasses shedding their white brooms, and the browsers thin out the bush foliage, the visibility improves and animals become more visible. In peak winters, tree foliage changes colour from green to golden, brown and grey, and some pure patches of bhirra (Chloroxylon swietenia) give the landscape a beautiful golden hue as its leaves prepare to die and shed.

Satpura National Park in winter

Satpura National Park in Winters
Photo Courtesy: Jagpreet Pabla

#2 Jungle Safari in Winters

Once you are in the park, all wrapped up in warm clothes, you forget all the hassles and enjoy the chill, scenery, sounds, suspense and wildlife. In an open jeep the chill can be really severe. Dew or frost on the grass, and smoking brooks and marshes, add a strange, mystic, awe to the environment. Often one starts seeing spotted deer, sambar, nilgai, chinkara etc. as one enters the park, depending upon which park you are in, but even the veterans keep looking for the elusive tiger, leopard or the bear behind every bush. When the parks were not so crowded, visitors could even go tiger tracking on elephant back, starting well before day break. And in winter, strangely, your bladder would start troubling you as soon as you are onboard, especially when you are expecting a tiger nearby.

One starts peeling off layers of clothes as the day warms up. Most lodges have very sunny environments so that the city dwellers have a rare chance to sun themselves between the morning and evening safaris. Most lodges organize a campfire in the evening and invite local cultural troupes to perform for the guests. By the time you finish your dinner, you are dead tired and sleepy in anticipation of another early wake up call.

This is the first part of our four-part Gypsy Shack Special Series on a Winter Visit to a National Park in India by Dr. H.S. Pabla. Dr. HS Pabla, a former IFS officer, has spent the best years of his life in and around national parks in India observing them closely. Through this article he reflects on the landscapes, wildlife encounters, and a provides detailed description of what to expect in National Parks during the winter months. 

Article By Dr. H.S. Pabla

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