New Year escapes for the wildlife lover

For nature lovers looking for the best escapes at the cusp of the New Year, this list offers some great options

1. Corbett National Park Safari, Uttarakhand

BEST TIME TO GO: November–March

Established in 1936 as India’s first national park, Corbett takes its name from the legendary tiger hunter Jim Corbett (1875–1955), who put Kumaon (the district in which the forest lies) on the map with his celebrated book The Maneaters of Kumaon. Covering an area of more than 1300 sq km, this terai wildland is home to nearly 200 tigers, about 300 wild elephants, sloth bears, langur monkeys, rhesus macaques, peacocks, otters, gharials and several species of deer among other animals. The varied landscape of the park – ranging from dense vegetation to rolling grasslands – is an added draw.

Road: Drive out of Delhi in your car or take a public bus from Kashmere Gate ISBT to Ramnagar (Rs 180, 7hrs), the gateway to the park. Buses run hourly, although their standards may vary from luxury carriages to rattletraps.
Rail: Ramnagar is 1.5km south of the park’s reception centre. Ranikhet Express (sleeper/3AC/2AC Rs 133/345/585) leaves Old Delhi at 10.40pm, arriving in Ramnagar at 4.55am. The return train leaves Ramnagar at 9.55pm, arriving in Delhi at 3.55am.

2. Bharatpur Birding Tour, Rajasthan

BEST TIME TO GO: November–March

Established as a sanctuary in 1982, the avian-rich Keoladeo Ghana was used as the local maharaja’s hunting grounds in the 19th century and was popular for duck hunting in particular. The wisdom of protecting the area and efforts to turn it into a national wildlife reserve with demarcated borders, resound today as you walk through the dense marshland dotted with wildlife and birds. The 29sq km landscape in the lap of nature makes the urban settlement of Bharatpur, ending literally outside the park gate, appear thousands of miles away.

Road: Take NH1 from Delhi and head for Agra. Just before entering Mathura, turn right on the flyover; this road leads to Bharatpur. The journey takes about 4hrs. Alternatively, take a bus from Delhi to Agra (5hrs) and then a local bus from there to Bharatpur (1hr 20min).
Rail: The 12926 Paschim Express leaves New Delhi at 4.50pm and arrives in Bharatpur at 7.40pm (2hrs 50min). The 19024 Janata Express leaves New Delhi at 1.05pm and arrives in Bharatpur at 5.35pm (4hrs 30min).

3. Bandhavgarh Forest Safari, Madhya Pradesh

BEST TIME TO GO: November–May

Apart from the showpiece tigers, Bandhavgarh’s star attraction is the leopard – there are about 40 these creatures around here, compared to about 45 tigers. That apart, the 435 sq km park contains nearly 40 species of mammals including deer, wild boar, Indian bison, sambar, barking deer and langur, some 250 species of birds and several reptiles.

Rail & Road: From Umaria (the access town for Bandhavgarh), there are trains going to Delhi (journey time 17hrs) via Gwalior (journey time 11hrs), and Bhopal (journey time 12hrs) via Jabalpur (journey time 5 hrs). There’s also one daily train to Varanasi (journey time 12hrs) but it’s at 4.30am. From Umaria, there are hourly buses to Tala village from 6.30am to 7pm. Alternatively, you can also hire a taxi to get between the two places for about Rs 600.

4. Kaziranga Forest Safari, Assam

BEST TIME TO GO: November–March

When it comes to zoological heritage, there are few national parks in India to match Kaziranga’s vast coffers of wealth. Home to around 1800 rhinos, it boasts the world’s highest population of the hulking yet utterly cute creature – apparently, they add up to around two-thirds of the world’s entire rhino population. That apart, Kaziranga is known to house the highest density of tigers among all designated parks and sanctuaries around the world. And this is not even touching upon its resident population of elephants (believed to number around 2000), and other exotic species such as swamp deer, water buffaloes, leopards and several species of resident and migratory birds.

Road: From Guwahati, there are regular buses which run daily to Kohora, the village immediately outside the park’s gates. Fares are about Rs 330 and journey time is about 5 hrs. You could hire a taxi (Rs 2000 one-way from Guwahati).
Rail: The 12424 Dibrugarh Rajdhani departs New Delhi at 2pm and reaches Guwahati at 5.20pm the following day (journey time 27hrs 20min).
Air: There are flights connecting Guwahati to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. You may find cabbies willing to take you to Kaziranga – expect to pay Rs 2500–3000.

5. Betla Forest Safari, Jharkhand

BEST TIME TO GO: November–March

Also known as Palamau Tiger Reserve, Betla National Park is spread over the hilly landscape of picturesque Palamau district 140km west of Ranchi. Tiger sightings are relatively rare here, but you almost sure to see wild elephants roaming freely. A trip to this primitive region of Jharkhand is also worth considering because it guarantees a glimpse into the rich tribal and anthropological heritage of the state. The park is technically open all year-round, but the best time to visit is between November to March. If you can stand the heat, May is prime time for tiger spotting, as the forest cover is greatly reduced in dry weather, and animals are forced to venture out of the thickets in search of waterholes and streams.

Air/Road: Ranchi – the roadhead to Betla – has daily flights to Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. A pre-paid taxi from the airport to Station Road in Ranchi town is Rs 250. Betla is best visited by arranging an organised tour from Ranchi. Suhana Tours & Travels (tel: 9431171394; Guru Nanak Market, Station Rd) dispenses valuable tourist information and has updated security alerts for this insurgency prone area, and organises two- or three-day tours to the forests (from Rs 3500 per person per day).

6. Bandipur Forest Safari, Karnataka

BEST TIME TO GO: November–March

A part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Bandipur National Park is one of South India’s most famous wilderness areas. Covering 880sq km, it was once the Mysore Maharaja’s private game reserve and was notified as a national park and tiger reserve in 1974 (when it came under India’s Project Tiger scheme). A thriving forest, Bandipur is now a protected zone for over 100 species of animals, including tigers, elephants, leopards, gaur (Indian bison), chital or spotted deer, sambars, sloth bears and langurs. It’s also home to an impressive 350-odd species of birds.

Road: From Bengaluru, take an AC Volvo to Mysore – journey time is 3hrs. From Mysore, there are regular buses going to Ooty, which can drop you at Bandipur (journey time 3hrs), 88km away. Alternately, you can hire a taxi from Mysore for an overnight trip for about Rs 2000.

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