To love wildlife, is to love travel.
We admit that we have no scientific data to back this claim, and the lack of empirical evidence may put this in question. Yet we are willing to wager that every nature enthusiast you know spends at least some part of their day dreaming about their next foray into the wild.
The more committed of this lot probably also scour blogs and interrogate one another in frantic attempts to unearth destinations that are off the radar of the masses. While we, at Sanctuary, adore the grasslands of Kanha and Kaziranga, the scrub of Ranthambhore and the lakes of Tadoba, the truth is that our collective best wilderness experiences have been in Protected Areas that almost never find mention in mainstream culture. This, upon rumination, may be the reason why they remain delightfully tranquil.
If you’re willing to trade in the swanky infrastructure offered by our more popular parks for sublime nature experiences in ‘never-heard-of-it-before’ areas, allow us to make some suggestions:
Photo: Muneer C.
NEORA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Location: Darjeeling district, West Bengal.
Size: 88 sq. km.
USP: The ‘fire cat’ or red panda.
Nearest city: Kalimpong (30 km.);
Air: Bagdogra (100 km.); Rail: Darjeeling (32 km.) (narrow gauge), New Jalpaiguri (132 km.) (broad gauge).
A stunning forest of the Eastern Himalaya, where the dense canopy often keeps sunlight from reaching the forest floor, Neora Valley has 31 species of mammals and over 265 species of birds on record. This park has rugged terrain, a plethora of orchids, and offers the chance to see a red panda in the wild.
ACHANAKMAR TIGER RESERVE
Location: Bilaspur district, Chhattisgarh.
Size: 914 sq. km.
USP: Connected to Kanha, it’s a microcosm of central India’s biodiversity.
Nearest city: Amarkantak (21 km.); Air: Raipur (172 km.); Rail: Pendra road (30 km.), Belgahna (67 km.) or Bilaspur (95 km.).
The meandering Maniyari river flows through the dense tropical forests of this rich reserve. While tiger sightings aren’t easy, the park has a healthy population of the big cat as well as of leopards, gaur, dholes, and over 150 species of birds. Interestingly, Achanakmar is linked to the Kanha Tiger Reserve. It’s time to put Chhattisgarh on the wildlife map!
BRAHMAGIRI WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Location: Kodagu district, Karnataka.
Size: 181 sq. km.
USP: The hike to Brahmagiri Peak.
Nearest City: Coorg (60 km.); Air: Mangalore (159 km.); Rail: Kannur (45 km.).
Nestled in Coorg district, and bordering Kerala’s gorgeous Wayanad district, there’s little wonder that Brahmagiri is blessed with nature’s bounty. The Borapole river cuts through the park, and the vegetation transitions from evergreen and semi-evergreen forests to shola grasslands at higher altitudes. Wildlife is abundant, and hiking routes are worth attempting.
CHANGTHANG WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Location: Leh district, Jammu and Kashmir.
Size: 4,000 sq. km.
USP: High altitude species like the snow leopard.
Nearest city: Leh (230 km.); Air: Leh (230 km.); Rail: Udhampur (492 km.).
Black-necked Cranes and Bar-headed Geese, snow leopards and kiangs, argali and urial. Part of the Hindu Kush range, the altitude of the sanctuary varies from 4,267 to 5,791 m. The cold desert tag deceives people into imagining that diversity is restricted, but more than 200 species of flora and innumerable species of fauna have been recorded here.
KAWAL TIGER RESERVE
Location: Adilabad district, Telangana.
Size: 2,019 sq. km.
USP: Some of the country’s finest teak forests, and four species of antelope.
Nearest city: Adilabad (102 km.); Air: Hyderabad (250 km.); Rail: Mancherial (50 km.).
Watered by the Kadam river, Kawal’s dry-deciduous teak forests are mixed with bamboo, Terminalia, Pterocarpus, Anogeisus and Cassias. The chinkara, nilgai, blackbuck and four-horned antelope can all be found here, along with other central Indian species. Large tracts of this forest are virginal, and have never seen human interference.
GALATHEA NATIONAL PARK
Location: Andaman district, Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Size: 110 sq. km.
USP: Endemic island flora and fauna.
Nearest city: Car Nicobar (275 km.); Air: Port Blair (550 km.); Dock: Campbell Bay.
Located on the Great Nicobar Island, along with Campbell Bay National Park, this park forms part of the Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve. Its mangroves and tropical forests harbour dozens of floral species, of which as many as 200 are believed to be endemic. The wildlife too is varied, and special mention must be made of the giant robber crab and Nicobar Pigeon. The park can only be accessed through water or air.
BALPAKRAM NATIONAL PARK
Location: South Garo Hills District, Meghalaya.
Size: 339 sq. km.
USP: Cliffs, caves, carnivorous plants and unsolved mysteries.
Nearest city: Williamnagar (15 km.), Tura (120 km.); Air: Guhawati (220 km.); Rail: Guhawati (220 km.).
Calling all adventurers! With plateaus, hills, caves and canyons, Balpakram’s forested landscape is home to the likes of the golden cat. Seven species of primates, wild water buffaloes, marbled cats, and elephants are other noteworthy denizens. The park finds special place in Garo lore, and local myths give it an element of mystery. Flora aficionados will also find plenty to observe as the park is famous for its medicinal and pitcher plants.
MARINE NATIONAL PARK
Location: Jamnagar district, Gujarat.
Size: 270 sq. km.
USP: The easily observable, diversity of marine life.
Nearest city: Dwarka (110 km.); Air: Jamnagar (53 km.); Rail: Jamnagar (53 km.).
This archipelago of 42 tropical islands, off the coast of Gujarat, constitutes India’s first marine sanctuary. Ecologically fragile, it lies in an inter-tidal zone, is inundated by water twice a day, and includes habitats like mangroves, mud flats, coral reefs, estuaries, sand bars, and marshes. With luck on their side, visitors can spot everything from blue whales and dugongs, to corals and octopus, to a multitude of water birds.
MATHIKETTAN SHOLA NATIONAL PARK
Location: Idukki district, Kerala.
Size: 12.82 sq. km.
USP: Hiking trails through the various habitats of the park.
Nearest city: Pooppara (3 km.); Air: Cochin (117 km.); Rail: Kottayam (144 km.).
So dense is this forest that local elders believe it was named Mathikettan, literally ‘mind confuser’, because of how easy it is to get lost in. An important elephant corridor, the park is a biodiversity hotspot, and is neighboured by two other national parks. Hikers must put Mathikettan on the top of their travel list for there are plenty of jungle trails to explore.
TIPESHWAR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Location: Yawatmal district, Maharashtra.
Size: 148.63 sq. km.
USP: Growing tiger population.
Nearest city: Adilabad (64 km.); Air: Nagpur (170 km.); Rail: Adilabad Railway Station (64 km.).
This compact dry deciduous forest, in the far south of the state, is a green oasis. The tiger population of Tipeshwar has been consistently rising, thanks to good management and protection. While two notified villages exist within the park, relocation measures have been initiated.
Before you rush off to plan your itinerary, book your tickets and pack your bags, promise us just one thing – to leave these spots better than you found them and to share their magic with only those who will appreciate it.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 10, October 2015.