Header image courtesy of Ranthambore National Park Rajasthan
India is home to a staggering array of biodiversity, and accessing it is becoming easier all the time. From jungles to deserts, each has its own unique flora, and fauna that ranges from tigers to lions to bears. Read on for five of the best animal-spotting locations, from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh.
Known as the best place in India to spot leopards, this rocky environment makes a gorgeous habitat that big cats love for its numerous caves and vantage points. Leopards are the alpha predator in this environment, so they’ve adapted their often shy behaviour to being the undisputed top of the food chain. Long regarded as holy locally, it is considered good karma for a leopard to kill farmers’ livestock, as this feeds the gods. Additionally, fast compensation comes from the government for the value of the livestock, to ensure that the populace here lives conflict-free with their feline neighbours.
All this adds up to frequent sightings, and with their lack of fear, mothers with cubs have even been known to appear quite close to safaris. This makes for an unforgettable experience with these normally elusive beauties.
Jawai Rajasthan Jawai Bandh, Rajasthan 306126, India | (+91) 1146172700
This much-loved tiger reserve in Rajasthan combines a high density of tigers with interesting historic ruins. Like many national parks in 1970s India, villages were relocated from the forest to allow nature here to rebound—which it has.
The largely abandoned ruins of the tenth-century Ranthambore Fort sit commandingly above the forest and scattered ruined cenotaphs and step-wells, and hunting lodges dot the forested landscape. Home to peacocks, tigers, leopards, and monkeys, on high holidays some devotees brave the forested wilds barefoot to participate in Hindu rituals to the deity Ganesha, after trekking to a temple contained in the crumbling hilltop fortress.
Ranthambore National Park Rajasthan, Junction of the Aravali and Vindhya hill ranges, Rajasthan 322001, India | (+91) 9212777223
Forests here, dominated at times by pencil-straight sal trees, occasionally give way to wide-open meadows with plentiful prey animals. This is top-notch tiger territory, and the park has seen years of population growth. It’s also home to other wildlife, from the massive gaur, or Indian bison, the largest bovine in existence, to the tiny mouse deer, which can weigh as little as two pounds in adulthood.
A true success story for conservation is the recent designation of a 15,540-square kilometre corridor from Kanha to Pench Madhya Pradesh that allows India’s resurging wildlife to move freely across long unobstructed stretches of central India, restoring yet more biodiversity.
Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, 460661, India | (+91) 9212777223 / (+91) 9212553107
Perhaps the most famous of Central India’s tiger reserves, the teak forests of Pench Madhya Pradesh—known simply as Pench—have been prized for their abundant wildlife since antiquity. So storied are they that Rudyard Kipling used them as the setting for his Jungle Book tales. Ironically, Kipling never actually visited Pench himself, so many of forests in his stories are more similar to other national parks. But that was his loss, as this park is among India’s most gorgeous.
It has been home to some of India’s most famous individual tigers, currently including Collarwali, the star of the BBC’s acclaimed Spy in the Jungle documentary. This majestic tigress is entirely unbothered by human interlopers, confidently going about her business. She has the distinction of having birthed 26 cubs, a world record in the wild.
Pench Madhya Pradesh, Barapatther, Seoni, Madhya Pradesh 480661, India | (+91) 9212777223
This park is less visited than some more accessible ones, which makes this incredible place even more special as you often find yourself alone in its beautiful expanses. Mixed forests at times give way to big bodies of water, and to enter the park one must first cross a river, even in the dry season. It is one of the only parks in India that allows night safaris in its buffer zones. Besides the chance to observe much animal life that stays hidden in daylight hours, this also serves as a deterrent to would-be poachers.
Home to tigers, leopards, and all of central India’s most beloved cats, Satpura Madhya Pradesh also stands out for other wildlife. It is an excellent place to catch packs of wild dogs called dholes, the only place in central India to see the massive Malabar giant squirrel, and is one of the world’s best places to observe sloth bears in the wild. These charismatic bears are the only species that doesn’t hibernate, and also the only one to carry cubs on their back.
Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh Madai, Sarangpur, Madhya Pradesh 461881, India, India | (+91) 9212777223 / (+91) 7574254394