Animals across South East Asia are a varied lot, all of them deserving of your attention
Words AMRITA LALL
Seek out sloth bears in Hampi, Karnataka
DAROJI SLOTH BEAR SANCTUARY
There’s more to Hampi than its magnificent ruins and striking topography. Case in point: Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary’s adorable, insectivorous, honey-loving sloth bears. The sanctuary is open all day, but drive over, binoculars in hand, only after 3.30pm, and climb up to the watchtower. The views on offer are splendid, and it’s worth the wait to observe the sloth bears in their natural habitat – their goofy muzzles and shaggy black coats slowly emerging from behind the boulders, curiously checking out their surrounds.
While the sanctuary’s main draw is, of course, the sloth bears, there are plenty of other wild inhabitants too. Daroji’s scrub-covered terrain is ideal for spotting jackals, black-naped hares, mongoose, wild boars and even leopards.
The Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort, on the fringe of the forest, is the perfect jump-off point for both the sanctuary and the sights. Wake with the sun because early mornings are best spent bird-watching – keep your eyes peeled for various birds of prey, including the cleverly-camouflaged Indian eagle owl, one of the largest of the species, with a wingspan of upto two-and-a-half-feet. By evening, after following the sloth bears’ movements from the watchtower, make your way to Malyavanta Hill, to end the day with a quintessential Hampi phenomenon – a dramatic, golden sunset against the breathtaking bouldered landscape.
Spot leopards in Sri Lanka
YALA NATIONAL PARK
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most famous wildlife spot, and one of the country’s largest national parks. Colombo to Hambantota might be a longish drive (factor in about seven hours), but it’s a drive that brings you within spitting distance of elephants and a park with one of the highest leopard densities in the world. Yala cocoons a fantastic landscape dotted with salty lagoons amid open grasslands, sudden patches of sandy beach, and rocky outcrops that shelter every sort of wildlife – sunning crocodiles, bemused spotted deer, tribes of monkeys, adorable elephants and shaggy sloth bears. The star is, of course, the elusive Sri Lankan leopard, which differs from its African cousin in its darker, russet coat and close-set spots.
While the park is divided into five blocks (two of which are open to visitors), the best chances of spotting a leopard are in the first one. The big cats aren’t necessarily easy to spot though. Taking an experienced guide along, head into the park around dawn or dusk, which work best due to cooler temperatures and increased animal activity, and keep your binoculars handy. The three- to four-hour-long safari will take you through the park’s meandering tracks and rocky outcrops – keep your eyes peeled; you never know when you might be able to spot a leopard lazing around in the undergrowth.
Meet the shore creatures of Jamnagar, Gujarat
MARINE NATIONAL PARK
Some of the trademarks of the sleepy city of Jamnagar are bandhani, a 150-year-old tie-and-dye art form, and the striking Victorian, Solanki and Islamic architectural styles visible in older parts of the city. But, Jamnagar’s got plenty of surprises up its sleeve. Case in point: the Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary that lies 15km away from the city centre, and the Marine National Park near Narara Island, which is a two-hour drive away. You’ll need to get permits to enter the park; check with your hotel. Surrounded by a coral reef, the island becomes accessible by land during low tide, and that’s when its treasures are revealed. Check for low-tide timings before you set off; when the water is shallow, you can take a ‘coral walk’ around the island to see the bed of the Gulf of Kutch. It’s like snorkelling but without a swimsuit and head-gear, making it a great activity for little kids and non-swimmers as well. You’ll spot flower-like tube worms called touch-me-nots disappearing into holes when disturbed, sea slugs in neon colours, hairy crabs scuttling under rocks, bright orange and purple sea sponges and shrimp with see-through heads. If you’re lucky, you might even see a puffer fish, all round and spiky, puffing up to its fullest if you seem like a threat. As it looks at you with beady eyes, trying its hardest to threaten (and failing), you will be won over.