To Extinction and Back!
The Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India, is the sole home of the endangered Asiatic lions in the world and has played a huge role in saving it from extinction.
India is a land of diversity, and this holds true even with its wildlife. Some of the most spectacular animals call this land their home; under the spotlight, however, are the Big Five―the Asiatic elephant, the gaur, the leopard, the royal Bengal tiger, and the sloth bear. A country in which once hunting grounds thrived, national parks brought about a welcome change.
From the first established park in 1936, until now, the country has more than a hundred national parks. Of all these parks, we will profile the top 14 national parks in this Buzzle article. These famous parks shelter animals, ensure their safety, and prove to be potential breeding grounds of some endangered species. The parks mentioned below are in no particular order.
1. Jim Corbett National Park
Bengal tiger, Himalayan bear, and sloth bear.
How To Get There: The nearest airport to Jim Corbett National Park is at Pantnagar (49 mi); the nearest international airport being New Delhi (183 mi). The nearest railway station is Ramnagar (5 miles); the Ranikhet Express currently serves this station. Major cities near the park are Lucknow (90 mi) and Nainital (41 mi).
Accommodation: Corbett Tiger Reserve
Best Time to Visit: 2nd week of November to 2nd week of June.
Established as Hailey National Park in 1936, Jim Corbett is Asia's and India's first national park. Essentially established to protect the endangered Bengal tiger, the park today shelters 50 species of mammals, 580 species of birds (excluding 6 species of migratory birds), 25 species of reptiles, and 480 species of plants (including 110 species of trees). The most common mammals found here are the sloth bear, Himalayan bear, otters, barking deer, sambar deer, hog deer, and the chital. Other mammals include Indian gray mongoose, langur, yellow-throated martens, Himalayan goral, Indian pangolins, and rhesus macaques. Small cats such as the fishing cat, leopard cat, and the jungle cat are also found in the park. Just like the Bengal tiger, efforts to preserve the local crocodiles from extinction are also proving to be helpful. The safaris in the Jim Corbett National Park are some of the best wildlife safaris in the world. Park Timings: Roughly from sunrise to sunset. Different zones have different entry and exit timings, which change as per season. There is a 2- to 3-hour break in the afternoon.
2. Kaziranga National Park
Bengal tiger, One-horned rhino, wild buffalo, and the Ganges dolphin.
How To Get There: The nearest airport is in Jorhat town (53 mi). The nearest railway station is Furkating (80km), which is well-connected to Guwahati. You can also get in by bus from Guwahati (134 mi) or Jorhat (53 mi). Other towns such as Nawgaon, Dibrugarh, and Tezpur are closer (46 mi); buses from Tinsukia are also an option.
Accommodation: Assam Tourism
Best Time to Visit: Mid-November to early April.
A World Heritage Site, the Kaziranga National Park is perhaps the most famous national park in the country. The park is home to two-thirds of the world's one-horned rhinos, and the largest population of the wild water buffaloes. The rivers in the national park shelter the endangered Ganges river dolphin. In all, the national park is home to 15 threatened (as per the IUCN Red List) mammalian species. The park is also recognized as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Globally, the park proudly possess the highest density of tigers among all the protected areas. The reticulated python and Indian python (largest snakes in the world) are found here along with the longest venomous snake―the king cobra. The endemic Assam roofed turtle is one the 15 species of turtle found here. Hispid hare, Indian gray and small Indian mongoose, Bengal fox, Chinese ferret-badger, and Chinese pangolin are other mammals seen in this park. Park Timings: 9am to 6pm
3. Bandhavgarh National Park
State: Madhya Pradesh
Bengal Tiger, leopard, sambar deer, and muntjac.
How To Get There: The nearest airport is Jabalpur (123 mi). Katni and Umaria are two railway stations near the park with good connectivity to several major Indian cities. Buses from these places are easily available at regular intervals.
Accommodation: Madhya Pradesh Tourism
Best Time to Visit: November to February; however, drying up of vegetation makes tiger sighting easier from March to May.
Locals say that you're unlucky if you see just one tiger in this national park. Not surprising since the park boasts one of the highest known population density of tigers in India. However, albeit the most prominent, the tiger is not the only showstopper at Bandhavgarh. It also has a huge breeding population of leopards. Apart from these big cats and other 37 species of mammals, it is also home to approximately 250 species of birds, and 80 species of butterflies. An interesting fact about this national park is the appearance of its tigress Sita on the cover of National Geographic. It is said that Sita, till today, is the most photographed tiger in the world. At the center of the park, lies Bandhavgarh fort, which is home to caves that date back to the 1st century. Park Timings: Roughly from sunrise to sunset. The park might open/close early or late depending on the season. There is a two- to three-hour break in the afternoon.
4. Bandipur National Park
Tiger, elephant, dhole, and four-horned antelope.
How To Get There: The nearest city is Mysore (55 mi); the nearest international airport is in Bangalore city (142 mi). It is advised that you drive down from Bangalore; it's a scenic drive.
Accommodation: Staying Options in Bandipur
* Click on 'Online Reservations'; you might have to create an account to book a room.
Best Time to Visit: Winter months from November to February are good because of the climate, but are a disappointment when it comes to wildlife sighting. If it's the wildlife you want to see, bear the heat, and visit the park between March and May.
Once a private hunting reserve for the Maharaja of Mysore, the Bandipur National Park was essentially established as a tiger reserve under Project Tiger. It is one of the most popular national parks in southern India, as it protects several endangered and vulnerable species. The most common animals sighted in this national park are Indian elephants, tigers, gaurs, and sloth bears. It is also home to the four-horned antelopes (vulnerable) and dholes (endangered). It is also home to approximately 200 species of birds, a few among them are red-headed vultures, Indian vultures, brown fish owls, crested serpent eagles, and hawk-eagles. Rat snakes, spectacled cobras, and vipers are few of the reptiles found in this Indian national park. Traveling through this national park amidst valleys, rivers, and forests is an experience in itself. Private vehicles, except for resort cars, are not allowed inside this park, which astonishingly, is home to one-fifth of the global elephant population. Safari rides on tourism department buses, costing INR 25 per person, are available at 6am, 7am, 8am, 4pm, and 5pm. Park Timings: 6:30 to 9 AM & 3:30 to 5:30 PM
5. Bannerghatta National Park
Tiger, elephant, and leopard.
How To Get There: The nearest city international airport is in Bangalore (13 mi). You can drive down to this place, but the notorious traffic means this small distance can take about an hour.
Accommodation: Karnataka Tourism
* Click on 'Destinations', then 'Wild', and then on 'Bannerghatta National Park'.
Best Time to Visit: September to January
India's first ever Butterfly Park was established here, now protecting 20 species of butterflies. In the 90s, the park attracted negative publicity after a 5-year-old girl was killed by a 15-year-old tiger; however, no such incidents have taken place since then. In 2002, the national park, a museum, and the zoo were together brought under the name of Bannerghatta Biological Park. The park offers safari options. On a visit to this park, you can see tigers, lions, panthers, leopards, bears, and elephants. This park is also a part of an elephant corridor. With a huge diversity in the type of animals it protects, this national park is today one of the richest zoological reserves in India. Remember, the park is closed on Tuesdays. Park Timings: 9am to 5pm
6. Eravikulam National Park
Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri pipit, Nilgiri wood pigeon, and resplendent shrubfrog.
How To Get There: The nearest airports are in Kochi, in Kerala (91 mi), and Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu (108 mi); Munnar, a beautiful hill station is 6 miles away. The nearest railway stations are Aluva, in Kerala (74 mi), and Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu (102 mi).
Best Time to Visit: September to November (for the weather and some wildlife) and from April to June (for a better chance of sighting wildlife).
There are no accommodations in this park. Tourists are advised to stay at Munnar, a town that is a 45-minute drive away.
This national park is famous as the home of the largest surviving population of the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius
); approximately 700 exist in the park as of now. Mammals that call this park their home include tigers, leopards, dholes, wild dogs, and the jungle cat; these are also the top predators in this park; 26 species of mammals are known to live in this park. Others include the Indian muntjac, sambar deer, and gaur. Endemic birds such as the Nilgiri pipit, Nilgiri wood pigeon, Nilgiri flycatcher, Kerala laughingthrush, and black-and-orange flycatcher are few of the 132 species of birds found in the park. Apart from endemic birds, the park is also home to endemic butterflies such as the red-disk bushbrown and the Palni four wing; the butterfly species in the park total 101. A new species of frog was discovered in the park couple of years back, now called resplendent shrubfrog (Raorchestes resplendens
); the amphibians' species total 19. Private vehicles are not allowed in the park. Park Timings: 7am to 6pm
7. Gir Forest National Park
Asiatic lion, nilgai, and marsh crocodile.
How To Get There: The nearest airport and railway station is at Rajkot (65 mi); buses and taxis are available easily. It's roughly a three-hour journey. Another point of access is from Junagadh, and the journey to Gir National Park or Sasan Gir takes about 2 hours. Taxis and buses are easily available on this route as well.
Accommodation: Forest Department, Gujarat
* Name of hotels are mentioned towards the end of the page; run a separate search for them.
Best Time to Visit: December to March are peak tourist months. Too many crowds. March to May―the summer months―increase your chances of sighting more lions.
Famous as the sole home of the Asiatic lions, Gir Forest National Park is one of the most renowned national parks in the world. In the 1990s, the population of the Asiatic lions was just 15; today, it stands at approximately 411. The national park is home to roughly 38 species of mammals such as the Asiatic lions, leopards, striped hyenas, and sloth bears. Other animals include the four-horned antelope, chinkara, chital, golden jackals, and nilgai. It also provides shelter to 37 species of reptiles such as the monitor lizard, marsh crocodiles, and pythons. Apart from these, it is home to 300 species of birds (including 6 species of vultures) and 2,000 species of insects. With these figures, the total number of fauna species the park shelters, comes to 2,375. As for plants, it supports as many as 507 distinct plant species. Fortunately or unfortunately, this national park doesn't have a designated area for tourists. An Interpretation Zone has been created within the sanctuary, where tourists can spot a range of animals. Park Timings: 6am to 12pm; 3pm to 6pm.
8. Ranthambore National Park
Tiger, nilgai, and leopard.
How To Get There: The nearest airports are Jaipur (118 mi) and Kota (70 mi); the nearest railway station is Sawai Madhopur (6 mi). It is a common stop for many trains. If you plan to drive down, prefer the road from Kota; it's a state highway.
Accommodation: Rajasthan Tourism
Best Time to Visit: 1st October to 30th June. Rest of the time, the park is closed
One of the largest national parks in India, the Ranthambore National Park is considered one of the best places to spot a tiger. I will personally back this fact, as on my 3-day trip to the national park, I saw tigers on each day, a leopard, and a tiger hunting a sambar deer. Other mammals to call this park their home are the leopard, wild board, hyena, nilgai, and the chital. This park is also famous for one of the largest (considered second largest) banyan trees in the country. The park is also home to 270 different species of birds, with an abundant number of peacocks, and makes for a great bird-watching destination. The first aerial relocation of a tiger in India was done from Ranthambore to Sariska using a Mi-17 helicopter; the tiger's name was Dara. Another tiger from this park called Broken Tail has been the subject of a popular documentary of the same name. Last but not the least, the park is also home to 539 species of flowering plants. Park Timings: 6am to 9:30pm or 7am to 10:30; 2:30pm to 6pm.
9. Kanha National Park
State: Madhya Pradesh
Tiger and barasigha.
How To Get There: The nearest airport and railway station is in Jabalpur (108 mi).
Accommodation: Madhya Pradesh Tourism
Best Time to Visit: October to March for a better climate and birdwatching along with some wildlife; March to May for better chances at sighting wildlife, but poor birdwatching and climate.
The largest national park in Central India, the Kanha National Park gained fame since it was supposedly the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling's book, The Jungle Book
. The common mammals seen in the park are the Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, barasinghas, and the Indian wild dog; all of these exist in significant numbers. The barasingha is the pride of Kanha National Park as it was famously saved from extinction due to the park's efforts. Other animals include wild cats, foxes, and jackals. Apart from the animals, the national park is home to 1,000 species of flowering plants. A number of reptile species are also found here, such as the python, cobra, viper, krait, rat snake, and keelback. Also found are several species of turtles. Park Timings: 6:30am to 12pm; 3pm to 6pm.
10. Keoladeo National Park
How To Get There: The nearest airports are in New Delhi (114 mi) and Jaipur (109 mi). The nearest railway station―Bharatpur Junction―is 3 miles away.
Accommodation: Rajasthan Tourism
Best Time to Visit: Winter months from November to March. During this time, Palearctic migrants join the residents birds in the sanctuary.
Formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, the Keolodeo Ghana National Park is famous as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for hosting thousands of breeding and migrating birds every year. According to Sir Peter Scott, a famous British ornithologist, Keoladeo Sanctuary is the world's best bird area. The sanctuary was created 250 years ago and is named after the Keoladeo (another name for Hindu God Shiva) temple located inside the sanctuary. On 10th of March, 1982, the sanctuary was granted status as a national park, and in 1985, it was designated a World Heritage Site. With common birds such as the gadwall, shoveler, common teal, tufted duck, comb duck, and with threatened species, such as the greater spotted eagle and eastern Imperial eagle, this national park is indeed one of the richest bird areas in the world. It is also home to the critically endangered Siberian crane and other threatened species such as the Dalmatian pelican, red kite, cinereous vulture, marbled teal, and Baikal teal. Popularly known as 'bird paradise', it is also home to several mammals such as jackals, hyenas, nilgai, and spotted deer. So rich is this Indian park that in 1938, the then Governor-General of India, Lord Linlithgow, killed 4,273 birds in one shooting expedition. Before its conversion into a sanctuary, it was a hunting ground for the Maharaja of Bharatpur. Park Timings: Sunrise to Sunset.
11. Periyar National Park
Tiger, elephant, the lion-tailed macaque, and the Periyar lake.
How To Get There: The nearest airports are Cochin International Airport (118 mi) and Madurai (86 mi). The nearest railway stations are Kottayam (70 mi) and Changanassery (74 mi). Also, direct buses ply from all of these destinations.
Accommodation: List of Hotels and Resorts in Periyar
* Click on the 'visitor's info' tab and then on the 'where to stay' option.
Best Time to Visit: October to June
The Periyar National Park is one of the most renowned national parks in the country. It is a famous elephant and tiger reserve and is known to shelter a variety of flora and fauna. It is home to 2,000 flowering plants, 170 species of ferns, 169 families of sweet grasses, and 155 types of Leguminosae. Also, there are 145 representative types of orchids. Several plants procured from the national park are used in making medicines. The longest river in the state has its origin in this national park, so does the holy Pamba river. Apart from flora, the fauna of the park consists of 53 tigers (2010), 900-1,000 elephants, 45 species of reptiles (snakes (30), turtles (2), and lizards (13)), 320 species of birds, 27 species of amphibians, 38 types of fish, and 160 species of butterflies. Though the park is extremely rich in its flora and fauna, visitors are allowed to visit only about 34 sq mi of the park; this area includes the man-made Periyar lake. Locally, the park is known as Thekkady
. Park Timings: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
12. Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park
Bengal tiger, leopard, and king cobra, Tambdi Surla temple, and Dudhsagar falls.
How To Get There: The nearest airport is Goa International Airport, Dabolim (42 mi). The nearest railway station is Panaji (32 mi). If you're plan to drive down, take the National Highway 4A, and take an exit at Mollem.
Best Time to Visit: October to March
A lush, green landscape will welcome you when you enter Mollem National Park, located in the Western Ghats of India. Home to the country's fifth-highest waterfall―the Dudhsagar Falls―it is equally famous for its temple, built during the Kadamba Dynasty. Wildlife here includes the black panther, Bengal tiger, leopard, civet, spotted deer, wild dog, etc. The park is also famous for reptiles―king cobras, Indian rock pythons, cat snakes, hump-nosed pit viper, etc. Once here, you can also hike to the Devil's Canyon―a canyon of water-carved crevises near the falls. The park is also famous among global birdwatchers as it is home to a few birds that are endemic to the southern part of the country. Park Timings: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
13. Manas National Park
Wild water Buffalo, Assam roofed turtle, hispid hare, golden langur, and pygmy hog.
How To Get There: The nearest airport is at Guwahati (87 mi). The nearest railway station is at Barpeta Road (13 mi).
Accommodation: Department of Environment & Forests, Government of Assam
Best Time to Visit: November to March
This national park in India is contiguous with Bhutan's oldest national park―The Royal Manas National Park. Located at the foothills of the serenely beautiful Himalayan range, it is home to many endangered animals. It is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a Project Tiger Reserve, an Elephant Reserve, an Important Bird Area, and a Biosphere Reserve―all this with being a national park. Of the 55 mammal species that this park protects, 31 are threatened. It is home to more than 450 species of birds; out of these, one is the endangered Bengal florican. Apart from the mammals mentioned above, it is home to clouded leopards, capped langurs, barasinghas, gaurs, Asian golden cats, Indian tigers, Indian rhinos, etc. Park Timings: 5.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Note: Park timings are subject to change depending on weather conditions. Distances mentioned are approximate.
14. Sundarbans National Park
State: West Bengal
Bengal tiger, saltwater crocodile, Olive Ridley turtle, and Gangetic dolphin.
How To Get There: The nearest international airport is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata (100 mi). The nearest railway station is at Canning (30 mi).
Accommodation: West Bengal Tourism
* Search for 'Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge'.
Best Time to Visit: December to February
The Sundarbans is a national park like no other, quite literally. Globally, it is the largest and richest (78 species of mangroves) area of mangrove forest. Also, the only one to be inhabited by the tiger. Forming the seaward fringe of the Ganges delta, this park houses more than 400 Bengal tigers in the wild. The tigers here are said to have man-eating tendencies. They have also adapted to the forest very well; they can swim in the saline waters. This park is home to several endangered species such as the Royal Bengal tiger, saltwater crocodile, Olive Ridley turtle, Gangetic dolphin, etc. The sawfish is also found here―another 'critically endangered' species. The park is also famous for reptiles. You can see pythons, king cobras, rat snakes, and Russell's vipers among other snakes. Park Timings: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A look through these top 14 famous national parks in India will tell you how rich the country is in terms of its wildlife. While visiting all the national parks may not be possible, a trip to some will be worth remembering for life. Zero in on the animals that you want to see and you'll have a list of parks that you should visit!