Game for the wild

Written by Sulekha Nair | Updated: Mar 31 2008, 04:54am hrs
The great Indian summer has made its fiery appearance. Fortunately, it is also vacation time. Educational institutes will soon close for the annual summer holidays and families can chalk out their travel plans. You could go into raptures thinking about snowy slopes, and cool climes, but how about a trip into the wild

The experts were quizzed. Naturalists, environmentalists, wildlife experts, who are at home amongst the feathered and four-legged residents of the forests, spoke about the places they felt were worth a dekko.

Three of Indias eminent forest men recommended places they felt were worth seeing and that could rejuvenate you too Bittu Sahgal, environmentalist and editor, Sanctuary magazine; Sunjoy Monga, naturalist, photographer-cinematographer, writer; and Isaac D Kehimkar, naturalist, photographer, General Manager (Programmes), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) the largest NGO in the Indian sub-continent engaged in nature conservation research since 1883.

Sahgal recommends forests. He says Corbett National Park up north is a place to go to for the Project Tiger was first launched here. But before heading there, take a detour, he suggests and go to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary which is 2,000 metres (6,600ft) above sea level, in the Kumaon range of the Himalayas. It has great scenic beauty. One can see the peaks of Nanda Devi and Kedarnath here. City dwellers will be captivated by the oak forest, where guided walks with trained naturalists will reveal more about the treasures inside, describes Sahgal. There are ghorals or goat antelopes, black bears and leopards here that are a must-see. But dont take it for granted that you will see leopards! he cautions. It is also a good place to watch birds magpies, thrushes, redstarts and a variety of butterflies. You could try a home stay at the Datta Estate inside the park, Sahgal advises.

The next destination Corbett National Park. This is the first tiger reserve of India, informs Sahgal. No other sanctuary or park can beat Corbett for its tiger density. And apart from tigers, there are elephants, hogs, deer, fish-eating Gharial crocodile, et al. There are about 550 species of birds, including a number of birds of prey. It is home to an endangered fish the golden Mahseer. There are overnight trains from Delhi, says Sahgal, that will take people to Ramnagar early in the morning and tourists can go to the Park without wasting a day.

Head south to the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve in Kerala if you want to get your fill of elephants. It also has the endangered Nilgiri Tahr, a kind of wild goat, besides around 260 species of birds. Another place Sahgal suggests is the Eravikulam National Park, again in Kerala, set up for the preservation of the Nilgiri Tahr. Neelakurinji, a flower that blooms once in 12 years and covers the mountain slope here is also a big draw.

The hills take top slot as a destination for Isaac Kehimkar too. He says summer is the time when the hills are filled with flowering trees and recommends a journey to the northern part of Sikkim, especially Lachung and Lachen. The rhododendrons bloom here. Spring is the season to visit Sikkim for there are orchids, butterflies, snow capped mountains, valleys, yaks it is a visual delight.

The Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh is a must for a feel of gurgling streams, the awe inspiring Himalayas and for abundant flora and fauna, says Kekhimkar. Lying in the Seraj Forest Division of Kullu District, the park has the majestic Himalayan peaks on three sides and is a place to see birds, animals and butterflies. Also, Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh is hot for the summer but this is the best time to go there, says Kehimkar, to see breeding birds, rare species of deer, and flowering trees.

Sunjoy Monga picks out Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka. It is among Indias best wildlife parks with a large bison and elephant population and other mammals such as tiger, leopard and dhole or the Indian wild dog. It also has over 250 species of birds. The weather can get hot in the summer, but this is also the best time to watch animals come to watering holes to slake their thirst. Another place he recommends is Sasan Gir National Park in Gujarat. Where else can you see the majestic lions in such large numbers, he asks. There are leopards, antelopes, hyenas and other animals that add to the attraction. Several bird species thrive in Gir too. Accommodation is available within the park. Dont miss out on the animal and bird activity, even if it is summer suggests Monga.

So are you game for the forests Just make sure you take your binoculars and camera along. And be quiet and patient there.