5 Awesome Indian safaris
This post is a must-read for any nature lover. Here you will also find everything you need to know about planning your very own Indian Safaris as well as talking about my personal five favourite experiences. I will also discuss why India should be on your bucket list to experience the natural world in all its splendour. It is also incumbent for me to point out some considerations to make before you turn up.
I have travelled on the subcontinent for almost half a decade in total and as an avid nature lover myself visiting the countries pristine natural spaces have always been a high priority. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to see some of the most exotic and rare wildlife to be found here. I dont mind admitting it has been tough only to pick five of my favourite places. I have a deep appreciation for all creatures great and small. Well, except maybe for mosquitoes that is.
We often think of India as being overcrowded, and there is no place for wildlife. The truth is that despite it being the second-most populous country on the planet, there are still great swaths of land where the natural world can thrive. Indeed, nature puts on a grand show here and is sure to wow even the most hardened enthusiasts. I have made big promises on the information I will deliver in just one article, and I dont want you falling asleep on me so let’s not waste any time and get started, shall we?
What are the reasons to come to India for a Safari?
There are 195 countries in the world you could choose to come for a wildlife fix so why India? This an important issue to address as you could well be wondering this. Well, there are two primary reasons why it should be a focus for any naturalist amateur or not to visit. Let us take a quick look at them.
The Animals of India.
Even though India’s protected areas cover just 1.23% of its landmass, that still equates to 40501.13 square kilometres. That space is divided up into 104 national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
India is home to 8% of all the species found on earth, making it one of the 12 mega diversity hotspots globally. With 1301 species of birds, India is an Ornithologists dream. 410 species of mammals can be found here, or 8.86% of all the earth species. Including the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, stripped Hyena, Asian Elephant, Bengali Tiger, Snow leopard, common leopard and entire worlds population of Asiatic Lions to name just a few.
There are also 518 species of reptile, including 279 species of snakes. 410 species of amphibians and of that number 50% are found nowhere else in the world. Botanists can rejoice as there are 18000 species of plants and an undetermined number of insects. Put bluntly India is a wildlife enthusiasts paradise.
The distribution of biodiversity is very uneven and is concentrated into small pockets. The rainforests and jungles are where the big hauls are to be found. The conditions in the jungle are both warm and damp. The steaming jungles create the perfect conditions for life to thrive and you will be hard pressed to find a better example of what evolution can do when the conditions are just right. The biodiversity is staggering and all just there waiting for you to discover for yourselves.
In the same token, the deserts and high mountains provide a refuge for many species that you won’t find anywhere else on earth. In terms of the numbers of species, it is obviously smaller than you will find in India’s forests as living conditions are a lot more hostile. To be honest there are many times when I stand in awe that life finds a way to flourish at all in these parts, but flourish it does.
The cost of Indian safaris.
India is blessed with being home to many species of megafauna. No matter how beautiful a beetle is, the Lions, tigers, and rhinoceros of the world will steal the show for most people. If you wanted to see animals like this, you might well head to Africa. The iconic national parks you can find there do indeed harbour massive numbers of grand megafauna. However, as anyone who has been to these places will know it can cost a fortune to visit.
Even the countries’ most premier national parks like Kanha come with a comparatively modest price tag for a seat on a safari. Please make no mistake I appreciate the majesty of seeing herds of wilder beasts sweeping across the plains. I’m merely stating that it can cost hundreds of dollars a day to gain entrance into some of the more famous national parks in Africa and that’s enough to make a backpacker wince. Whatever way you slice it, India offers fantastic value for your money.
Planning your Indian Safaris.
From the high mountain deserts of the north to the steaming jungles of the south, India is home to a beguiling array of landscapes. These support dynamic and fragile ecosystems that are just waiting for the intrepid traveller to discover. I dont need to sell reasons why you should come and see India’s world-famous wildlife as it sells itself with countless documentaries and epic tales. However, I do need to help my readers plan how to get the most out of their time. Let’s take a look at some considerations to make when planning your dream safari.
Deciding when and where to make your dream trip.
You can’t see it all on one trip, so the first thing you will have to do is decide what you hope to experience. I say hope because it is the natural world, and nothing is guaranteed. I remember searching for red pandas for days on end and coming up with nothing. Not a whisker! So after you have decided what puts the wind in your hair, you will have to decide how much time you can dedicate to finding the animals as no one wants to go home disappointed.
Remember to budget how long it will take to reach your chosen area of interest. It is often impossible to just step off a plane and into the wilderness. Sometimes it can take a long time to reach your chosen destination. Let me give you an example of a more extreme situation. You want to travel to the Spiti Valley in February to spot the elusive Snow Leopard as this is the best possible time to see them.
With nighttime temperatures plummeting below minus twenty-five even the Leopards think it is too cold and come down their high mountain slopes. This can take weeks to reach at this time of year, and you may have to wait for the conditions to be right to start anyway. If you are heading here or any of the other more far-flung destinations you will have to be very flexible with your dates or preferably leave them open-ended.
Of course, most of us won’t be undertaking such epic challenges. Even so, I see many tourists turn up to a premier national park-like Bandhavgarh or Panna and book a single safari. I cannot overstate it enough that its wildlife and you may or may not be lucky. It is not a zoo, after all. You have paid so much money to get here in the first place, so each time you visit, I would recommend paying for at least three safaris each time to maximise your chances.
The last point is it pays to be vigilant on what the weather is doing. While you can’t predict what exactly it will be doing on your chosen date, you can make some pretty accurate predictions. The most popular time to visit many national parks is over the winter months, but they are not necessarily the best months to spot wildlife.
It is cool in the daytime sure, but the monsoon should have hopefully just finished leaving thick foliage and numerous water sources. The odds of you spotting a Tiger are much smaller than if you came in the high summer when everything is dead. All the animals are drawn to increasingly rare water bodies making it a breeze to find them. Personally, I am happy to expose myself to the searing Indian summer in exchange for actually seeing the wildlife. Do some research as to when works for you. The more you know, the more likely it will be you will have a good experience.
Indian safari dress – what to wear.
I have discovered the most curious thing? Since I am making blogging my full-time job, I have to find out what people want to read about before writing my post. Much to my surprise, people search google for what to wear on Indian safaris almost as much as they research the safaris themselves? That’s crazy! Wearing an expensive outfit will do nothing to improve your chances of seeing wildlife.
However, the quality of your driver, engine, spotter and the behaviour of your fellow travellers will impact your chances dramatically. Since I obviously have to cover this topic, I will be handing out my usual practical advice as I am no fashion mogul.
In all fairness, the colour of your clothes will be important. Don’t wear a luminous orange jumpsuit as this will do you no favours. Try to buy clothes that blend in with your background. The good news is that much of the wildlife in the more popular parks have become accustomed to tourists and tend to be quite indifferent to your presence.
You should also ask yourself if your clothes will do the job you need them too. If you are on a desert safari, the odds are you will want to keep the sun off your skin. Cover up as much as possible. Make sure its a thin covering and baste yourself with sunscreen where ever it is your exposed. Sunglasses would not go amiss either against all that glare.
Think about where you are, and the time you are going. Do you need them to be waterproof or breathable? Do they need to keep you warm or soak up the sweat? There is no one size fits all model as there are so many environments you may decide to visit. My best advice is to dress appropriately and dont waste money on designer names when you could be investing that money into another safari. A twenty-pound pair of trekking trousers will do the same job as a two hundred pound pair if they are both made of cotton.
Safari tours in India.
Now I have to hand out advice on if you should take a tour or not? My website is geared towards budget adventure travel so you can guess what my answer is going to be cant you?
There is little point in booking a tour from your home town as you will involve a middle man for no good reason. If you have to involve a tour operator and sometimes you do, go to the nearest big town where tours leave from. Here you will find lots of competition for your money, and you will invariably get a much better deal.
So if you are going to Ranthambhore go to Sawai Metaphor and shop around. If you cannot skip the middle man completely and book it all yourself you will get a much better deal here. This will save you thousands of rupees. Unless you want to book an exclusive tour and money is no problem booking in advance is completely unnecessary.
Although this is not always the case, and there are some extreme examples. If you want to go on a multiday hike in Nangdhapa national park in Arunachal Pradesh, I strongly recommend having some plan in place as tour operators are very sparse indeed. For the very vast portion of India’s protected areas booking from your home town is simply a waste of good money.
Transport on your Indian safari.
My final tip on planning your own adventure is to discover how you will see it. The Indian government is super sensitive about you always being in a jeep if there are apex predators around. Sometimes this can be frustrating like when you need to pee, and your driver won’t let you out even though you are in a wide-open space and there is clearly nothing around.
This has happened to me on several occasions by the way, and it drives me mad. On one occasion the rangers at Sasan Gir would not let me walk around the back of the train station in case there was a Lion there waiting. I could have answered that riddle for them. No, there is not!
All of the most famous parks such as Jim Corbett, Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh etc will expect you to be in a jeep the whole time. When you get there I would advise you to not hire the whole thing as you pay by the seat. Take your time and try and find people who actually want to see the wildlife to split the costs with them. This sounds strange but I have been in many jeeps where the tourists just want a selfie with a tiger. I love all the animals and not just tigers so I found this frustrating.
In protected areas that are devoid of large predators or even in remote areas where there are but it is not practical to use jeeps walking then becomes an option. If it is you will need to ask yourself if you need any guides or permits before you turn up. If you do, it is often better to have as much of the leg work as possible done before you turn up. If you are going somewhere remote its wise to follow the boy scout code and be prepared.
I always use my lonely planet on the more popular parks to discover if I can organise something independently or not and have some idea how much it will all cost. While it is very well researched, it does not cover all of the parks, so I have to use the internet to fill in any blanks. There have been countless times I have discovered new wildlife sanctuaries I never knew existed until I turned up to a nearby town. However, the lonely planet does give a good framework to the premier parks, so here is the link.
My 5 favourite Indian safaris.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to immerse myself into India’s natural heritage and let me tell you it is a wonderland to explore for yourself. I am often taken back by the country’s sheer beauty and continually amazed at how rich and diverse the landscapes are.
From the picture-perfect jungles that could be straight out of Rudyard Kipling’s jungle book to the colourful underwater worlds of the Andaman islands. India has a little something for everyone, and now I will briefly cover my five all-time favourite experiences in the natural world. I would also love to hear yours and see how they differ. Feel free to leave your comments in the box provided.
1. Ranthambhore national park.
Many of us come to India to find the most iconic of the countries wildlife the legendary tiger. It is the worlds largest land predator and lives a solitary lifestyle. This national park has one of the highest concentrations of them on earth It may be situated in the harsh interior of Rajasthan, but it is home to a spectacular array of wildlife. To top off all this natural beauty, the core zones are centred around a whimsical looking fort that serves as a focal point for the whole area.
You will see an advertisement for Ranthambore everywhere and for a good reason. For an in-depth insight on Ranthambhore and how you can visit it without breaking the bank check out my post.
2. Sasan Gir national park.
You can find this hidden gem tucked into Gujarat’s far reaches and it is home to the whole world’s population of Asiatic Lions. Now I am aware that when people think of iconic Indian wildlife, most peoples minds will not wander to Lions, but they are here and in some numbers. The forest here is stunning and positively dripping with wildlife. Although you won’t see a tiger anywhere. The two species of cats cannot coexist as you would probably expect.
This national park is full to the rafters of incredible wildlife, and you will find it hard not to be amazed at the sheer numbers. Again, I have made a separate post on how to visit Sasan Gir, although I have to admit that I could not find a cheap way to visit no matter how hard I tried. I had to take a tour and I couldn’t find a way around it. However, this place is certainly money well invested.
3. Keoladeo Ghana national park.
This national park has won a special place in my heart. It’s in close proximity to both Delhi and Jaipur is a world away from their bustling streets. It makes for the perfect getaway when it all gets too much.
The fact you can walk around it because of a lack of apex predators makes this a top choice pick for me. While that means no tigers the animals are plentiful, and hassles are none once you are through the front gate and once you can explain to the rickshaw drivers, you just want to walk that is. It is famous for bird conservation but there is so much more here.
There are countless opportunities to get off the main path and you will have the whole place largely to yourselves. You can ensure sightings by walking and being quiet. That is not even an option if you are in the back of a jeep with a load of screaming tourists and yes that does really happen.
If this sounds like it is for you there is yet another in-depth post on Keoladeo Ghana national park, so if you are planning to head to this beautiful corner of the universe, you know what to do.
4. Hemis national park.
Set deep into the high mountain deserts of Ladakh this little slice of heaven will be explored on foot. The park is set along the mighty Indus river and is one of the largest national parks in the whole country. The star of the show is the Snow Leopard. It has the highest concentration to be found anywhere on the planet. It is straight forward enough to explore while taking on the Markha Valley trek. This beautiful walk takes you right through the national park. You won’t need a guide as it is a homestay trek, but it is hard going and you will need to be relatively fit.
I was not fortunate enough to spot a Leopard. Still, I did see some of the other incredible creatures that can be found here, including Ibex, Blue Sheep, Marmots, Lamagayers, Pikas, Red Foxes, Moutain Hares and a multitude of bird species. The wildlife here is unusual, and the landscapes are beautiful to the extreme. While sightings are not anywhere near as fast and furious as the parks down south, I do wholeheartedly recommend this place for any nature lover.
5. Jaisalmer Desert National Park.
This was my favourite dessert experience and honestly speaking, you don’t need to go into the national park itself as the desert is everywhere. The best way to explore this place is on the back of a camel, and I was amazed at how much wildlife seem to think this is an ok place to live. I was lucky enough to see the Striped Hyena, Chinkara, Black Buck, Great Indian Bustard, Soft Scaled Viper, Desert owlet, Desert Fox, Bengal Fox, Sand Grouse and The Eurasian Thick-knee. What’s more that list is far from exhaustive.
What makes this place even more magical is the timeless desert culture that you can find here. As India merges with Pakisthan, you will find a culture quite unlike anything else you will find in the country. Just an overnight train ride from Jaipur this place is a must for anyone coming to these parts. For more information on organising your camel check out my post, I have called a backpackers guide to Jaisalmer and thank me later.
In summary if my post on Indian Safaris.
Here ends another post although I must confess that no other post has given me such delight to write. I love this country’s wildlife, and I know this is a lengthy article, but I could have quite happily made it three times as long. In fact, this is the first time I have written such a huge blog in just a single day. I hope you enjoyed reading this as half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I promised to deliver a whole lot of information, and I think I did. This could well be useful to you as it comes from years of experience and a whole heap of mistakes. I truly believe India is one of the most rewarding countries to visit for any naturalist and I hope you agree too. Every time I come to a national park in India I discover new species to me and that keeps me coming back.
I am sure I have not covered everything, but I am here to answer all of your questions you may have about creating your own dream trip to in India. Just forward any questions or comments you may have, and I will get back to you. So with that said its time for me to wrap this up, so until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy planning.
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