The Indian subcontinent is one of the great hotspots in the world for wildlife. Autumn sees the re-opening of many of India’s National Parks, with the opportunity to view some amazing wildlife up close. In Bhutan it is a perfect time to visit the Phobijkha (Gangtey) Valley, famous for the black-necked cranes that visit every year. Sri Lanka too, is renowned for some beautiful birdlife, as well larger animals, including leopards.
Kaziranga National Park, Eastern India
Thanks to conservation efforts to save the dwindling population of the greater one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park in Assam offers the best opportunity to view these spectacular animals in the wild. With the species numbering less than 200 in 1905, it was the concerns of the then Viceroy of India’s wife – Mary Curzon – which led to the creation of the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest, later extended and now known as the Kaziranga National Park. Today, with approximately 3000 of this rhino species living in the wild, more than two-thirds of their population can be found within the park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
These rhinos are the fourth largest land animal and can weigh up to 3000kgs. Given their considerable size, the rhinos are surprisingly fast movers and can run at speeds of up to 34 mph (for short periods!) and are excellent swimmers. They are at their most active in the night and early morning and the park runs twice daily jeep safaris – mornings and afternoons – to maximise sightings of these almost prehistoric looking creatures.
The 430 square km of swamps, sandy riverine islands and waves of tall elephant grass which exist over a flat and broad plain, interspersed with forests of moist tropical trees, floods dramatically every year and is key to its semi aquatic existence.
As well as sustained efforts to encourage the greater one-horned rhinoceros population, the park was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006 and has also been recognised as an Important Bird Area, by Bird Life International, with bird species including the white-fronted goose regularly glimpsed in the park.
Combine your visit to the park with a stay at the neighbouring Diphlu River Lodge.
Set amongst verdant farmland, patches of bird-rich forest and slow meandering streams, the ambience of the River Lodge makes it a retreat in the true sense of the world.
The Lodge, opened in 2008, boasts some royal credentials, counting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as visitors. The royal couple ‘enjoyed’ a tropical thunderstorm and an earthquake during their stay although we’re assured that most visits are less dramatic! The lodge is separated from the park by the Diphlu River and it’s not unusual to see elephants and buffalo bathing in the river from the thatched-roof terrace. Welcoming a maximum of twenty-four guests, the design of the cottages – each sleeping two people – reflects the forest surroundings with thatched roofs and natural materials.
Diphlu River Lodge has strong eco credentials with a team of local weavers creating all the woven decorations throughout the lodge. As well as growing its own organic rice and vegetables the lodge is also a member of the Ecotourism Society of India and Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT).
Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley, Bhutan
Although only 135 miles from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, the spectacular setting of Phobjikha Valley feels separated from civilisation by time, as well as distance. With the Black Mountains rising to the left and the northern side of the valley dominated by the seventeenth century Gangtey Gompa, the occasional hot air balloon can be seen floating above the Nakey Chhu River as it snakes through the valley. As well as the breath-taking scenery, the valley is famous for the black-necked cranes which fly over the Himalayas to enjoy the milder winter climate of the Phobjikha Valley. The birds – a symbol of peace and prosperity – are often depicted in artwork gracing temples and are known locally as ‘thrung thrung karmo’. An information centre welcomes visitors to the valley with telescopes available to maximise sightings.
For a touch of luxury, the Gangtey Lodge – close to the monastery – boasts floor to ceiling windows giving unparalleled views of the valley. Rooms in the twelve-suite luxury boutique hotel feature underfloor heating, large baths and a range of activities, from taking part in an early morning prayer ceremony at the 400 year old Gangtey Monastery to a Buddhist meditation practice. For those looking for more active pursuits, mountain biking and hiking trails through the valley are also available. There are also some fabulous spa treatments and hot stone baths to enjoy.
Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India
Satpura – meaning ‘seven hills’ in Sanskrit – is a lesser known national park in central India. It allows a more immersive nature experience within its bounds including nature walks, trekking (and even overnight camping) canoeing and elephant back safaris. Satpura is excellent for the keen nature lover who appreciates quality guiding and off the beaten track access to all of nature – big and small.
It is the only national park offering walking safaris as well as a choice of jeep, elephant and boat safaris and is home to tigers and leopards as well as being a fantastic place to view sloth bears. Established in 1981, the park has won the ‘Most Visitor Friendly Wildlife Destination’ in the TOFT Wildlife Tourism Awards.
Near to Satpura National Park, Reni Pani Jungle Lodge is a luxurious and beautiful wildlife lodge incorporating twelve cottages and a seasonal jungle pool. Set in pristine forest the 30-acre grounds feature magnificent trees, a sprawling meadow, a seasonal nullah and water holes attracting birds and a host of animals.
As well as offering occasional pop-up wildlife experiences – such as an upcoming expedition to view snow leopards in February 2019 – regular activities include bird watching and 4X4 Game Drives.
TOFTigers (Travel Operators for Tigers) awarded Siddarth Biniwale, the Lodge Naturalist of the Year 2018 award. Siddarth has worked at Reni Pani over the last few years and is passionate about bird watching and camera-trapping photography.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka
Located in the south-west of the island, this tropical rainforest is home to 95% of the country’s endemic birds and also to several rare, endangered and threatened species, including leopards and Indian elephants.
The importance of the rainforest in preserving the island’s ecosystem was recognised in 1989, when it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Often masked in cloud, the park can be explored on foot in the company of knowledgeable park rangers.
Stay at Rainforest Edge, a beautiful eco-lodge with just seven rooms, close to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. You will find organic Sri Lankan food; an infinity pool and Ayurveda Centre here.