Everyone knows about India’s most famous national parks, such as Corbett andRanthambore but, in this issue, we go wild in some of the country’sother parks and bird sanctuaries.
Bandipur National Park,Karnataka
Once a hunting reserve for the Maharaja of Mysore,Bandipur National Park was established in 1974as a tiger reserve under Project Tiger. Along withthe adjoining Nagarhole National Park, it is oneof the top tiger reserves in India and part of theNilgiri Biosphere Reserve (2,183 sq km) – the largestprotected area in southern India and largest habitat ofwild elephants in South Asia. Bandipur has a wide range of habitats includingdry forests, wet forests and shrublands, and supportsa good population of endangered and vulnerablespecies. It is also home to more than 200 species of birds.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Pack your bags and get ready to see the massive onehornedbeast that can sprint over 25 miles an hourand weighs as much as an SUV! Set in the unspoiledwilderness at the edge of Brahmaputra River, inAssam, and famous for hosting the world’s largestpopulation of the threatened one-horned rhinoceros,Kaziranga is counted as one of the best Indian wildlifesanctuaries. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Park is knownas the home of the ‘Big Five’(rhino, tiger, wild buffalo,elephant and, swamp deer), which thrive in the jungleand tall grass habitat. It was established in 1908 tosave the rhinos and acquired national park status in1974. Visitors can explore the Park on 4WD safaris orelephant.
Hemis National Park, Jammu &Kashmir
Set out to Hemis National Park, the largest in SouthAsia, to look for the most sought-after animal on anywildlife enthusiast’s checklist. King of the Himalayas,the elusive snow leopard, can be found here on thePark’s chilly heights. The regal predator is a master ofcamouflage and blends seamlessly with the snow. The International Union for Conservation of Naturehas listed this beautiful animal as endangered. Tocatch a glimpse of this Himalayan cat that survivesextreme temperatures and a challenging terrain wouldbe the experience of a lifetime. Spread across 4,400 sq km, the Park is situated in thenorthernmost district of Ladakh and offers sceniclandscapes. A perfect combination of mountains,alpine plants, steppe, and wildlife, Hemis holds visitorsspellbound by its magnificent views of the Stok KangriPeak.
Keoladeo National Park,Bharatpur, Rajasthan
Formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, theKeoladeo National Park is a globally importantbreeding and feeding spot for migratory birds.Regarded as the top birding destination in India, thePark was initially established as a duck-hunting reservefor the Maharajas in 1850s.
Covering an area of 29 sq km, the Park is a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site offering sightings of as manyas 400 bird species including many rarities, endemicspecies and summer or winter migrants. The avianguests in this park arrive from countries as far asChina, Siberia, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
The man-made wetlands of Keoladeo are dependenton the monsoon and external water sources. A goodmonsoon shower submerges over one-third of thepark. Strategically located in the middle of the CentralAsian migratory flyway, birds like ducks, coots, waders,geese, and pelicans congregate here in winter beforeflying to other regions.The world’s tallest flying birds, the rare sarus cranes,frequent the Park while ospreys, steppe eagles, andpale and marsh harriers also make their way to variedhabitats of the sanctuary.
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Andaman Islands
India’s Andaman Islands offer an unusual nationalpark – an underwater one, which is sure to take yourbreath away. Established in 1983 for marine lifeprotection, the Mahatma Gandhi Marine nationalpark at Wandoor comprises 15 islands in the Bay ofBengal. Out of the 15, Jolly Buoy and Redskin arethe two places where tourists are permitted. Over 135types of coral and hundreds of fish species can befound here. It is also a favourite breeding ground forleatherback, green, olive ridley, and hawksbill turtles.The islands are said to have been visited by MarcoPolo in the 13th century.
Visitors with basic swimming skills can snorkel andget up close to the vast shoals of colourful fish. Nonswimmerscan also enjoy the underwater beauty bytaking a glass-bottomed boat ride.Permits for the boat ride need to be pre-arranged fromthe tourist office in Port Blair. The Wandoor Jettyorganises five boating trips daily except Monday.
Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’,the jungles of Pench spread across 758 sq km andare home to majestic tigers. Located at the base ofSatpura Hills, Pench straddles two states. Sixty percent of the park lies in Madhya Pradesh (MP) andthe rest in Maharashtra. The MP side of the park hasmore tigers.Pench is also a hit with bird lovers and has over 285species of resident and migratory birds.
The river Pench, the lifeline of the jungle, runsthrough the park and divides the reserve in two. Withmost of the tourists rushing to more popular tigerreserves, Pench is pleasantly quiet. Enjoy the wildlifeand the thick forest cover by taking an elephant or ajeep safari.
Tadoba National Park,Maharashtra
Maharashtra’s oldest and largest National Park,Tadoba is also known as the TadobaAndhari TigerReserve. The reserve was declared a National Parkin 1955. Covering an area of 1,727 sq km, the Parkis divided into three zones, namely, Tadoba, Kolsa,and Morhurli. A jeep safari in any of the three zonesenables visitors to explore the abundant wildlife.Tadoba, also known as ‘the jewel of Vidarbha’,is slowly becoming more popular with wildlifeenthusiasts because of the increased number of tiger sightings.