India is a veritable treasure trove for wildlife lovers and enthusiasts. With 543 designated wildlife sanctuaries in the country, India’s biodiversity is incredibly rich, with these wildlife sanctuaries covering a wide variety of climates and terrain. India’s teakwood forests, grasslands, snow covered peaks, rivers, deserts, mangroves, plains, rainforests and marshlands offering a multitude of wildlife experience. Known mainly for the Bengal tiger, India actually has 15 species of wild cat, including leopards, Asiatic lion, snow leopard and rusty spotted cat, which is 40% of the total number of wildcat species in the world. In addition it is home to the one horned rhino, Asiatic lions, sloth bear, red panda, lion tailed macaque, golden langur, flying squirrels, wild dog, woolf, desert foxes just to name a few of the exotic mammals. In addition it has over 1300 species of birds, 610 species of reptiles, 1500 species of butterflies and 270 species of snakes.
Here we have listed some of our favourite wildlife reserves and those which can easily be incorporated into most itineraries and which offer incredible experiences for the most avid wildlifer to someone who would just like to dip their toes into India’s wilderness.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Located in the central state OF Madhya Pradesh Bandhavgarh is believed to have the highest density of tigers on earth. A relatively small park, it also has the atmospheric, crumbling Bandhavgarh Fort, which towers above the forest below, and where vultures circle on the thermals. In addition to tigers, the park has a large array of wildlife including sloth bears, deer, leopards, dhole (wild dogs) and 250 species of birds.
Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary
Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is a real hidden gem located in the Kumaon foothills of the Himalaya in Uttarakhand. It is a beautiful mountain nature reserve clad in dense forests of oak, pine and rhododendron, with miles of woodland paths to explore. The park has the enviable claim to some of the most breathtaking views of the Himalaya – wake up to sunrise over the great Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi, Trisul and Panchachuli. At an average altitude of 2400m it also offers a great escape during the summer month. The sanctuary was declared an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International and it has more than 200 species of birds in the sanctuary. The dense forest is also home to Barking Deer, Himalayan bear, leopard, fox, musk deer, porcupine, flying squirrel and jungle cat.
Jawai Leopard Conservation Reserve
Jawai is a small village about 130km from Jodhpur and offers wildlife enthusiasts a very unique opportunity to see leopards thriving in and among human habitat. Declared a leopard conservation reserve in 2010 the leopard cohabits with the villagers and other animals, and no major cases of animal-human conflict has ever been reported. The landscape is stunning, large granite boulders strew the landscape, the beautiful Jawai dam (which attracts a large number of migratory birds in the winter months) which is populated by the traditional pastoral Rabari community, who wear the distinctive and vivid red turbans.
Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh is one of India’s largest National parks, with a core area of over 900 square km. It consists of beautiful saal and bamboo forests, an expanse of open grassland and many lakes and rivers. Sunrise in this park is surely one of the most spectacular. As well as a very healthy population of tiger, the park is home to leopards, dhole, sloth bear and barasingha (swamp deer) which were brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to an astounding conservation effort. It is definitely a park for those who want an all round nature experience.
Kaziranga National Park
Located in the North Eastern state of Assam, and on the banks of the mighty Bhramaputra River, Kaziranga is one of the last bastions of the One Horned Rhino. The park has seen the population of the rhino which dropped to a terrifying 12 in the 1950s to a healthy number of over 1250 now. This is thanks to hardcore conservation efforts. In 1985 Kaziranga was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the rhinos are the main draw the park also has elephants, tiger, gaur, Hoolock Gibbon, swamp deer, otters, badgers and leopards. Thousands of migratory birds arrive at the park every year.
Nagarhole National Park
Nagarhole , also known as Kabini after the river that runs through the park, is located in the southern state of Karnataka. Once the hunting ground of the Mararaja of Mysore, it is now a pristine paradise for wildlife lovers, and is certainly south India’s most picturesque wildlife reserves. The Kabini makes Nagarhole the perfect park to do a game drive by boat or even a traditional coracle. With vast herds of wild elephants, tiger, leopard and one of India’s best places to see black panther, Nagarhole is a real delight.
Panna National Park
Often overlooked in favour of some of its more famous MP based parks, Panna National Park is a real gem of a park. Located just 45 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage erotic temples at Khajuraho, it is easily incorporated into any itinerary. It is a relatively newcomer having been declared a tiger reserve in 1994, however the park which struggled with severe poaching, has now made an incredible come back. Consisting of dry deciduous forest, gorges and plateaus which feature spectacular waterfalls and water bodies, it is also one of the most picturesque parks. Enjoy jeep safaris as well as tranquil paddles on the River Ken to view the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
Pench National Park
Another area of beautiful wilderness in Madhya Pradesh with miles of teak and bamboo forests, open meadows of tall grassland, the landscape of Pench inspired Rudyard Kipling to pen The Jungle Book. Covering over 700kms the park is home to a healthy population of tigers, as well packs of dhole and stripped hyena. For birders the park offers an impressive experience, with 270 species.
Ranthambore National Park
Easily the most well known and accessible for most overseas travellers to India, Ranathambore is the best place in Rajasthan to catch a glimpse of tigers. The park is a vast expanse of deciduous forests and wild jungle scrub, glassy lakes and open meadows, hemmed by the Aravali hills. It was a former royal hunting ground, but in 1972 it was converted into a wildlife reserve under the Project Tiger conservation programme. At the heart of the park is the 10th century Ranthambore Fort, with crumbling temples and chhatris. As well as tigers, there’s plenty of other wildlife to see, including leopards and other jungle cats (although you will need a great deal of time and patience to see them), sloth bears, honey badgers, striped hyenas, sambar, nilgai and marsh crocodiles. The dry deciduous forest and tropical wetlands also means that the park is an excellent spot for bird watching with over 300 species.
Satpura National Park
Another truly remarkable national park in Madhya Pradesh, Satpura has the notable boast of being the only park where walking safaris are permitted, which opens the park to a totally different vantage point to explore. In addition to jeep safaris, the Satpura Reservoir also offers the opportunity of doing boat safaris. Famous for its dramatic landscapes Satpura remains largely unknown as a wildlife haven – the rugged landscape, verdant jungles and waterfalls offer a very diverse landscape experience, and it is one of the best places in India to spot leopards who are the main predators of this park. It also has a significant population of sloth bear. With just a handful of wildlife lodges, all offering excellent guiding experiences, you can also be assured that the park will not be overrun with jeeps and other visitors, making it one of the most rewarding parks in central India.