The Little Rann of Kutch – an expanse that spans across nearly 4,953 sq km – is hauntingly beautiful. The Rann, which means salty desert, is an unbroken expanse of arid, cracked mudflats that are bordered by shimmering white salt pans, and elevated sandy islands called bets that support the few stubborn patches of green. Scorching terrain like this is only for the tenacious – fitting then, that the Rann is the last bastion of the Asiatic wild ass.
This sweeping desolation is also home to numerous other mammals like chinkara, striped hyenas, white-footed foxes and jackals. It is also a thriving birding ground. In the monsoon, the Arabian sea sweeps across this region, attracting a host of birds. Believed to be the only nesting colony of lesser flamingoes, the marshes and scrublands of the Little Rann of Kutch are home to other birds such as Dalmatian pelicans, demoiselle cranes, lesser floricans as well as raptors like steppe eagles and merlins among others.
When to go Travel to the Little Rann of Kutch anytime between October and March. It is flooded during the monsoon, from June to October. While wild ass foals can be spotted right after the monsoon, November to February is best for birding.
These virgin tracts that engulf the slopes of the Eastern Himalayas may seem almost primordial in their tranquility when, in fact, they host a profusion of life. The coronets of lofty trees entangle the floating clouds, while down below are carpets of bamboo, ferns and grasses. The branches rustle with grizzled giant squirrels, pig-tailed macaques, red pandas, clouded leopards and five types of hornbill including the rufous-necked hornbill and brown hornbill. The silvery fluting notes of the recently discovered Bugun liocichla float across the canopy. You can also hear the haunting “hoooo” of the hoolock gibbon, India’s only ape.
The undergrowth too rustles with the tread of the takin, serow and mithun, as well as the brilliantly coloured Blyth’s tragopan, one of 10 pheasants found here. Snakes like the recently discovered Kaulback’s pit viper slither across the fecund forest floor while rare butterflies flit among piles of leaves. If this isn’t enough, Arunachal Pradesh is the northernmost reach of the Asian elephant as well as the easternmost limit of the royal Bengal tiger. The snow-clad peaks higher up are home to the snow leopard too.
Indeed, Arunachal Pradesh is where the wild things are.
When to go Best visited between October and April, Arunachal Pradesh receives heavy rainfall between June and September. February is when the weather is most pleasant.
India’s only grassland national park in Velavadar in Gujarat, is a vista of golden grasslands dotted by herds of India’s most swift and beautiful antelope – the blackbuck. So swift, that Maharajas of yore used trained cheetahs to hunt it down. So beautiful, that it was considered foremost among antelope in ancient India. Playing cat and mouse with the blackbuck is the endangered Indian wolf, while other fauna like striped hyenas, Indian foxes and golden jackals scour the savannah in search of smaller animals like hares, gerbils, and shrews.
During winter, countless harriers throng these happy hunting grounds in search of larks and other small prey. Velavadar counts among the world’s largest roosting sites for harriers. Other migrant raptors like steppe and Bonelli’s Eagles also join the frenzy. Also on display is the lesser florican that high-jumps its way into the heart of a willing female. Further south, the Gulf of Khambat skirts the grasslands. This network of grass, mudflats and wetlands is home to a plethora of aquatic birds such as white pelicans and flamingos.
When to go October to March is the best time to visit Velavadar. Summer tends to be very hot, and the park is shut during the monsoon.
Masinagudi is home to the usual suspects like tigers, deer, gaur and elephants. Go for its surreal beauty. An early morning drive reveals a forest mantled in gossamer mist, which filters soft shafts of sunlight over plateaus, gorges, marshes and streams. Macaques, langurs and leopards occupy the canopies of trees like teak, red silk cotton and rosewood. The abundance of lantana, although an invasive weed, provides ample cover to stalking tigers and dholes. Elephants feast on bamboo brakes while chital and gaur flock the banks of the Moyar river for a drink.
Apart from its aesthetic appeal, Masinagudi is an important corridor that connects Mudumalai Tiger Reserve with the rest of the Nilgiri Biosphere. A popular birding spot, this region is home to 320 species of birds, many of which can be seen flitting about the low canopy. Commonly seen birds include chestnut-headed and green bee-eaters, grey jungle fowl and raptors as well. Look out for the Malabar parakeet, green-billed malkoha, Loten’s sunbird as well as Malabar crested lark.
When to go The best experiences in Masinagudi can be had from November to February. The weather gets moderately warm during summer. The reserve remains open during the monsoon, but the undergrowth may hamper sightings.
From the Eastern coast of India extending across Bangladesh, is a labyrinth of islands called the Sundarbans. The only way to explore the Sundarbans is by boat. A sudden turn by a creek may lead into a narrow channel, unexpectedly opening out to the sea. The region is rife with stories of man-eating tigers but a sighting is exceedingly rare. Here, the tiger is truly the phantom of the forest.
The trellis of mangroves on the shore shields an astounding array of wildlife. Estuarine crocodiles and Bengal monitors lie low in the glutinous mud, nine species of kingfishers dart about among the mangroves’ aerial roots while egrets, sandpipers, plovers and even rare lesser adjutants fastidiously keep an eye out for errant fish and crabs. A keen eye and some luck can reveal the rare Irrawady dolphin in the waters while predators like fish eagles scan the skies. In the Sundarbans, Nature dictates the rhythm of life. Go, if you’re willing to toe her line.
When to go Travel to the Sundarbans from October to March, after the monsoon.
Few would believe that an idyllic fishing village along the Konkan coast is at the forefront of turtle conservation. Fewer still would imagine that tourism has helped turn the tide for these reptiles. Every winter, Olive Ridley turtles swim up to the pristine beaches of Velas and lay their eggs. These eggs are guarded by members of the NGO Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra Mandal and the villagers, from poachers as well as predators. The eggs hatch at the onset of summer, when the village is thrown open to tourists who can witness the hatchlings being released into the sea.
At Velas, visitors can experience village life firsthand in homestays. While you wait for the turtles to hatch, you can soak in the virgin white sands. Birders will be delighted by sightings of swifts, scarlet minivets, bulbuls and other birds. The Ratnagiri coast is recognized as a breeding ground of the majestic white-bellied sea eagle, whose cries reverberate along the shoreline.
When to go While Velas remains open through the year, the best time to visit is from the last week of February right up to April, when the eggs hatch.
Few Indian forests are synonymous with both birds and big cats. The forests of Dandeli in the Western Ghats have that most elusive of cats: the black panther. Other game includes tigers, elephants, deer and sloth bears that can be spotted on a drive through the forest. Also on offer are stunning views of the Kali river as it hurtles down the Ghats. Those with an adventurous streak can even go river-rafting!
The forests bristle with trees of dizzying heights with canopies that resound with the songs of barbets, sunbirds, flycatchers as well as the calls of raptors like shikras and crested serpent-eagles, with the Malabar giant squirrel adding to the medley. The Sri Lankan frogmouth, Malabar trogon and Nilgiri wood pigeon are some of the region’s rarer birds. The stars of the avian show are the Great pied hornbills that roost at the Timber Depot by the hundreds. During the monsoons, herpetofauna like green pit vipers, flying lizards and a variety of frogs are plentiful here.
When to go Those interested in amphibians and reptiles should visit during the monsoon, from June to September. Winter provides great birding opportunities and the weather is also pleasant. Summer gets very hot.
First appeared as “7 Wildlife Getaways That Won’t Break The Bank”.
is a former Deputy Editor at thelastwilderness.org. She loves wildlife, travel, books, the rain, dogs, chocolate and other random things, in no particular order.
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