From Uttarakhand’s Corbett to Kerala’s Periyar, India is dotted with national parks and wildlife preserves. Along with the majestic Bengal tiger, these forests are home to an amazing variety of animals-from the fingernail-sized frogs recently discovered in the Western Ghats to the massive Asian elephant and trundling one-horned rhinoceros.
While only some are officially listed as threatened or endangered, the truth is that the fate of all of them is uncertain, as the country tries to balance development and conservation-not to mention more than a billion hairless, two-legged mammals. Our verdict: see them while you can
The Sundarbans (West Bengal)
This was declared the Best Wildlife Destination according to India Today Tourism Awards. Home to some 10,000 square kilometres of mangrove forest-though most of it lies across the border in Bangladesh-the Sundarbans is also a UNESCO world heritage site due to its unique ecosystem and stunning biodiversity. Tigers naturally get top billing here, though the area is also notorious for attacks on locals. But a huge variety of birds, as well as the Gangetic River Dolphin, King Cobra and saltwater crocodile also number among the highlights. Visitors tour the winding network of waterways by boat-a nice, silent alternative to the jeep safaris common in India’s other wildlife reserves-and larger cruisers ply the river linking the national park with Kolkata.
Betla Forest (Jharkhand)
This destination was declared the runner-up. It doesn’t have the top-of-mind recall enjoyed by Ranthambore or Corbett, but Betla National Forest was among India’s first tiger reserves. Home to sloth bears, panthers, wolves, jackals, hyenas and large herds of gaur and chital-as well as elephants-Betla surrounds two majestic 16th century forts. Recently the first tiger in two years was spotted in the park. As in other reserves, the forest department offers rustic-but-serviceable accommodation inside the park that’s unrivalled when it comes to location.
Lok Tak Lake (Moirang, Manipur)
One of the short-listed nominees for India Today Tourism Awards, this huge freshwater lake boasts the only floating national park in the world-Keibul Lamjao. The floating island is the last remaining habitat of Manipur’s state animal, the Manipur brown-antlered deer. Its waters also support some 55 fishing villages. Just 40 kilometres from Imphal, it’s a great spot for boating, birding and wildlife spotting.