Tigers, leopards, rhinos, elephants, lions and more. From tracking big cats in the Himalaya mountains to scouring for rhinos in the marshes of Assam – we seek out India’s wildlife
1. Tigers in Maharashtra
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Chandrapur Tiger in Maharashtra, India (Shutterstock)
Around 70 Bengal tigers stalk the jungle of Tadoba-Andhari, one of the most densely populated of India’s 48 tiger reserves. The chances of spotting a big cat on safari here are high, with its large watering holes and lakes making ideal stakeout points. Look out, too, for nilgai, India’s largest antelope, as well as sloth bears and over 200 bird species. How to see:
The park’s open year-round, with the hotter months (Mar–May) best for tiger-spotting and thinnist crowds. Big cats can be spotted in and around Tadoba Lake and the relocated village of Jamni.
2. Rhinos in Assam
Kaziranga NP, Golaghat & Nagaon Rhino in Assam (Dreamstime)
The 1,500 Great Indian one-horned rhinos that roam the swamps of the vast UNESCO-recognised Kaziranga National Park represent the bulk of the world’s population. Tiger sightings are rare, but with Asian elephants, water buffalo, and Ganges river dolphins found in its oxbow lakes, there is plenty to see. How to see:
The park opens Nov-April. Of the four ranges, the central is the most accessible, with the best chance of spotting rhinos after the tall grasses burn away in mid-winter.
3. Leopards in Rajasthan
Aravalli Range, Pali Leopard in Ranthambhore tiger reserve (Shutterstock)
Amid the farms and temples that scatter Jawai’s Aravalli mountains stalk some 50 leopards – among the densest collection in India. Visitors will find a growing number of stay options centred on an area where big cats still roam wild alongside the Rabari villages and herdsmen. How to see:
Oct-Mar are coolest. JAWAI
, Varawal Leopard Camp
, Godwad Leopard Safari Camp
and Castle Bera Homestay
all run wildlife tours in the foothills of Aravalli.
4. Snow leopards in Jammu & Kashmir
Hemis NP, Ladakh Snow leopard, India (Dreamstime)
There are reckoned to be as many as 75 snow leopards on the slopes of remote Hemis National Park but no one really knows, such is the animal’s shyness and the difficulty of the terrain. You’re still looking at an ascent to around 3,500m in sometimes freezing temperatures. Patience is needed as you look for tracks, but the reward is seeing one of the world’s most elegant species in its element. How to see:
Between Nov-Mar sees the leopards descend to lower elevations as they seek warmer slopes. Many travel companies run multi-day leopard-spotting tours from Leh, including transport and homestays. Any sightings will be at distance though, so bring a good pair of binoculars.
5. Birdlife in Rajasthan
Keoladeo Ghana NP, Bharatpur Birdlife in Rajasthan (Dreamstime)
The UNESCO-listed wetland refuge of Keoladeo draws some 375 recorded bird species, with around half resident year-round. A water shortage has hit the park in recent times, for which some partly blame the loss of the Siberian crane to the area, but this remains India’s best birding location. Look for sandpipers and redshanks in the marshes as well as Indian spotted eagles patrolling the skies above. How to see:
Go Oct-Feb to spot migratory birds. Good views are to be had from the Sapan Mori crossing, or around Keoladeo Temple where local birds start roosting in its trees from August. In July, see the courtship ‘dance’ of the Sarus cranes.
6. Elephants in Kerala
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Mlappara Elephant bathing in Kerala, India (Shutterstock)
Located deep in the Western Ghats, Periyar is home to around 1,000 wild Asian elephants who roam the marshes and evergreen forests beneath the Cardamom Hills and splash in the waters of the park’s artificial lake when the summer sun is highest. Trekkers can also encounter guar, India’s huge but bashful bison, as well as sambar and barking deer. How to see:
During the hotter months, between Mar-June, is the best (and least busy) time to see Periyar’s elephants, as they spend a lot of their time bathing. The small Forest Department boats are ideal for getting close, as are the park-run nature treks.
7. Tigers in West Bengal
Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, Sundarbans Tiger in West Bengal (Dreamstime)
Deep in West Bengal’s 3,500 sq km of UNESCO-listed mangrove forest live around 100 Bengal tigers. Boat tours plough the Sundarbans’ vast arterial network of channels and tributaries, threading islands and coastal forests from Hooghly to the border with Bangladesh and beyond. Tiger sightings are rare, but the search is electric, and you can spot saltwater crocodiles or rare Irrawaddy dolphins. How to see:
Luck plays a big part in any sighting but the cooler months (Oct–Mar) help; winter sees the return of migratory birds and crocodiles basking on the muddy banks as the water temperature sinks. Main Image: Tiger in India (Shutterstock)