The national parks of India are treasure troves for nature lovers, containing a wide range of geographical and climatic diversity. Within India’s boundaries you can find the soaring Himalayan mountain range, the lush rainforests of the Western Ghats, the arid Thar Desert, and 4,600 miles of coastline. Though the forest cover in India is only at about 22%, the subcontinent is home to about 10% of the world’s species.
The country’s first national park (now known as Jim Corbett National Park) was created in 1936. Up until 1970, there were only five national parks of India. But in 1971, much to everyone’s shock, it was discovered that there were only about 1,800 wild Tigers left in India. Within two years, both the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger were created, which has led to a substantial increase in India’s tiger population. Today, there are 103 national parks and 50 tiger reserves in India. They preserve and protect an astonishing degree of biodiversity that includes 70% of the world’s wild tigers, white lions, sloth bears, hundreds of bird species, and much more flora and fauna.
1. Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park is a paradise for wildlife lovers. With a core zone of 363 square miles, it’s the largest national park in Central India. It’s also considered one of the most well-managed. The result is a beautiful park that’s teeming with wildlife. With approximately 105 Bengal tigers, it’s a great place to spot the big cats in the wild. But there’s so much else to see there, including leopards, sloth bears, sambar and barasingha deer. Kanha’s breeding program played a very important role in saving the barasingha from extinction.
2. Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh is very picturesque, and popular with photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. It’s always on the lists of the top national parks in India. The ruins of an ancient fort makes for a great backdrop to this park, with a core area of 40 square miles and a buffer area of approximately 154 square miles. It’s one of the best places to spot a tiger in India. Located among the Vindya Hills in Madhya Pradesh, Bandhavgarh boasts one of the highest densities of Bengal tigers in the world. But the magnificent cat is not the only attraction here. There are also 36 other mammals, including leopards, chital, dhole and nilgai (“blue bulls”), more than 150 species of birds, and around 80 species of butterflies.
3. Kaziranga National Park
Located in the northeast state of Assam, Kaziranga is one of the finest wildlife refuges in the world. Home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos, the park is an undisturbed natural area of wet grasslands, swamps, and pools in the Brahmaputra Valley floodplain. On the UNESCO Natural Heritage list for India, Kaziranga is a great conservation success story, having saved the one-horned rhino from the brink of extinction. In 1903, there were only 12 left in the region; now there are about 1,800.
The park also harbors several other endangered species, such as Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, sloth bears, Gangetic dolphin, and many migratory birds. It’s the only park in India where elephant-back safaris are still deemed acceptable, as it’s the only way to view wildlife in the wet grasslands.
4. Nagarhole National Park
Nagarhole is Karnataka’s leading national park and wildlife getaway. Bounded by the pristine Kabini River and part of the Nilgiri biosphere, Nagarhole was formerly the hunting grounds of the Maharajah of Mysore and was declared a tiger reserve in 1999. This region is home to the largest concentration of herbivores in Asia, and the largest congregation of Asiatic elephants in the world. Tigers, leopards, sloth bears and dhole (wild dogs) also roam these enchanting forests. A year-round temperate climate and incredible wildlife viewing opportunities make Nagarhole a true nature lover’s paradise.
5. Ranthambhore National Park
With the picturesque remains of a crumbling fort, a living temple, and three mirror-like lakes, Ranthambhore is one of the most photographed national parks in India. The former hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Jaipur, Ranthambhore National Park is part of a much larger 502 square mile tiger reserve. It’s home to approximately 45 Bengal tigers, and is within easy travel distance of Delhi. This makes it a very popular place indeed. Still, it’s a good place to spot tigers as well as leopards, caracal, sloth bears, spotted and sambar deer, nilgai and Indian gazelle, golden jackal, striped hyena, pangolin, honey badger and more.
6. Periyar National Park
Like many of the national parks of India, Periyar is also a tiger reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Located in the mountainous Western Ghats of Kerala, Periyar is rich in biodiversity and scenic beauty. It’s one of the most popular parks in South India. The park is home to a significant wild elephant population, as well as rare lion-tailed macaques, sambar deer, leopards, and about 40 Bengal tigers. The core zone is 135 square miles and forms the watershed of two major rivers. Plus there’s a large, picturesque lake. Periyar is unique in that it offers boating safaris, as well as walking and jeep safaris. A repository of rare, endemic, and endangered flora and fauna, Periyar is known for its thick, tropical evergreen forests.
7. Gir National Park
Did you know that India is the only country on earth with endemic lions, tigers and bears? (Oh my!) Located in the western state of Gujarat, Gir National Park is the only remaining natural habitat of the Asiatic lion. In fact, Gir is the only place in the world where you can see lions roaming wild outside of Africa. Hunting reduced the Asiatic lion population in the region to 20 in 1913, and completely wiped them out in other parts of Asia. However, through the intervention of the Nawabs of Junagarh and the Forest Department, there are now 523 lions in Gir National Park. The park is also home to leopards, sambar deer and the chowsingha – the world’s only four-horned antelope.
8. Sunderbans National Park
There is no place else on earth like the Sunderbans. Formed by the Ganges River and Brahmaputra River deltas in the Bay of Bengal, the Sunderbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and one of the most biologically productive of all ecosystems. Encompassing 513 square miles, Sunderbans National Park is situated within a larger UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. Many rare and endangered wildlife species call this region home, including the estuarine crocodile, Gangetic dolphin, Olive Ridley turtle, king cobra and Bengal tiger. Approximately 100 Bengal tigers live in the watery world of the Sunderbans, having adapted to an almost amphibious life. They can swim long distances and feed on fish, crab, and water Monitor Lizards. It’s a unique landscape that attracts wildlife lovers who are mesmerized by the mangroves, waterways, birds, and rich biodiversity.
9. Nanda Devi Biosphere & Valley of Flowers National Parks
Way up among the soaring peaks of the Himalayas, the legendary mystique of Nanda Devi and the Valley of Flowers beckons nature lovers, trekkers, and Hindu pilgrims alike. An area of exceptional beauty in the high-altitude West Himalayan landscape, these parks also feature outstanding biodiversity and are jointly listed as a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site. Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak, is venerated as a goddess by Hindus, dominates the national park, and has helped preserve and protect the region. The Valley of Flowers is on many travel wish lists due to its remote location, famed beauty, and the limited time frame in which you can see the valley erupt in a carpet of blossoms. Both parks contain significant populations of threatened species, including the snow leopard and Himalayan musk deer.
10. Jim Corbett National Park
This is the oldest national park of India, and also one of the most popular. It has many claims to fame, including being the site of the Project Tiger launch in 1973. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern state of Uttarakhand, Corbett is home to more than 200 Bengal tigers – the highest number of any tiger reserve in India. Corbett is also a great place for birding, with approximately 650 species of resident and migratory birds. It’s one of the only Indian national parks that allows overnight stays in the core zone.
Exodus offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out Exodus’ incredible India Safari to start planning your adventure.