Close encounters of the wild kind

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The Asiatic lion at Gir National Park

There is something to be said for seeing nature up close. Not many of us do and those who have the courage come away with memories that are as vivid as they are unforgettable. Living in a country like India has its perks, especially as far as adventure is concerned. The varied climate means there are numerous places that are home to some of the most exotic animal and plant life you will ever see. If the thought of having a close encounter with the wild gets your blood pumping, then a jungle safari is one adventure you absolutely need to experience.

Safari parks are spread across the country and it really depends on where you want to go to explore them. If you live in the east or plan to visit, Gir Forest National Park is the best place to see wildlife. There are no tigers here; Asiatic lions are king and seeing them for yourself will remind you of just how magnificent and powerful they are. Sadly, they are endangered and Gir is one of the few places where you can find them. Lions aside, the park gives you a chance to see many more of nature’s bounty like black bucks and Gir foxes. It is open from October to mid-June and you can book a jeep safari to take you around the park. There are no elephant safaris here – something we love – so you can be sure their welfare is not at stake.

The thrill of a Jeep Safari at Gir National Park

To the west lies Sunderbans National Park, home of the fierce and elusive Bengal tiger. Unlike with many parks in India, the only way you can explore this side of the country is to go on a boat safari. The service is available from 8:30 am to 4 pm. You will sail through the forest for a glimpse of the many animals that make their home here. The tiger will obviously top your list but keep your eyes open for other rare creatures like estuarine crocodiles and hawksbill turtles. You should be on the lookout for birds too, especially migratory species like spoonbills and herons that come here in winter.

Sunderbans – the largest tiger reserve and national park in India

As you head towards the north, Jim Corbett National Park plays home to Bengal tigers, elephants and hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. There are several zones inside that you can explore including Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhela, Dhikala and Durga Devi. You can book morning and evening safaris from 5:45 pm to 9:15 am and 3 pm to 6:15 pm. What we love about the park is that there is a government rest house, Dhikala Forest Lodge, right in the core area so you will be close to the action. Getting here is an adventure in itself. The entry is Dhangadi gate, which is 30 kilometers away, and the route crosses a dense sal forest and rivers where animals like hyenas, foxes and deer can be seen.

A herd of elephants at the Jim Corbett National Park

If you are traveling down south, there is no better place for a safari than Periyar National Park. Elephants and tigers are the stars of the show here although you should also be on the lookout for other residents too such as the gaur, jungle cat, and Nilgiri Tahr. The park offers several terrific eco-tourism adventures like nature walks and border trekking, the latter of which is a great choice if you love a good walk. However, we recommend the bamboo rafting program because it gives you a panoramic look of the jungle and there is a good chance of seeing animals come out to the edge of Periyar Lake. You can also book a boat safari through a travel agency.

In the midst of urban living and its many temptations, it is easy to forget that India BECKONS thrill-seekers to experience adventures of the wild kind. They help us step out of our comfort zone and into an exciting world where nature is the boss. The next time you crave exhilaration, make your way to one of these amazing nature parks for a jungle safari.

Image courtesy: Gir National Park, Sunderbans and Jim Corbett National Park

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