The Ultimate Guide To India's Best Wildlife Experiences: Part I

Here's a list of the best wildlife experiences in the country, from the offbeat to the sublime and one that is not about big cats
India's natural bounty offers many serene experiences
India's natural bounty offers many serene experiencesShutterstock

India boasts rich wildlife and is even home to some of the most exotic species. If you are a nature lover at heart or simply chasing a one-of-a-kind experience, we've compiled an ultimate collection of wildlife experiences you can have only in India. Here's part 1:

1. Watch the Dancing Deer in Manipur

Brow-antlered deer (sangai) are spotted at Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur
Brow-antlered deer (sangai) are spotted at Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur

The only place in Manipur, in fact the world, where you can see the brow-antlered deer (sangai) is the Keibul Lamjao National Park in the Bishnupur district of Manipur. Located around 48km from Imphal, it is India's only floating national park. The southeastern part of Loktak Lake falls within the park, which comprises 40 sq km of wetland featuring floating biomass. These floating meadows are called phumdi in Manipuri.

The phumdi are the only natural habitat in the world for the sangai, Manipur's state animal. They are also the reason these creatures are fondly called dancing deer. The wobble in the deer's gait as it treads the soft, floating mass of vegetation (sometimes up to 1.5m deep) makes it seem like it is putting on a strut show.

A small herd of just 14 dancing deer were reported to exist in 1975. But as conservation action was undertaken and the region was declared a national park in 1977, the population blossomed over the years. In 1995, 152 sangai were reported and a 2016 census put the number at 260. The park is also home to the hog deer, sambar, muntjac, wild boar, large Indian civet cat and common otter, besides a variety of fishes, amphibians and birds, including the black eagle, waterfowl and many types of hornbills.

Getting There: There are two ways to go about visiting the park. One is to climb atop a watchtower on its periphery and use binoculars to spot the animals. The other is to take a boat to tread the wetland inside the park. There are a limited number of boats run by the forest department, but a tour operator can arrange for a local boat that may charge 1,500 for a two-hour ride. The best time to visit is October to April, and your best chance of seeing a dancing deer is early in the morning. A convenient stay option would be the Classic Groups Sendra Resort, located 6km away from the park and overlooking another part of Loktak Lake ( from 4,000 plus taxes 0385-2443967/69.

2. Watch Dolphins Off The Goa Coast

Watch dolphins off the coast in Goa
Watch dolphins off the coast in Goa

Social, nurturing, therapeutic - these are words often used to describe interaction with dolphins. It's no wonder, therefore, that everyone wants to see one. However, disrupting its routine or excessively impinging on its habitats can be harmful. Thats where Terra Conscious comes in. A conservation-oriented social enterprise in Goa which provides marine and coastal-based experiences, but in a responsible manner. All its activities are based on scientific research, conform to global safety standards and regulations, and are conducted under the guidance of conservation professionals.

The Ethical Dolphin Watching Safari is a four-hour programme to spot the humpback dolphin. This sea animal is found just within 3 km of the Goan shoreline. Because of its accessibility, many operators providing unregulated tours flock to the sea and unabashedly chase the dolphin with their boats, thereby threatening their habitat. On a Terra Conscious tour, dolphin chasing and corralling are strict no-nos. They also ensure no waste of food and beverages, maintain an appropriate distance from dolphin pods, and shut boat engines when in the vicinity of the dolphins.

The tour begins with a 35-minute presentation by a professional, which is followed by the safari. Boats take off at 8 am from Chapora Bay in North Goa and also stop by mangroves on the way back for a birding experience. Costs INR 2,500 per adult plus taxes, and a minimum of six people are needed per safari. See for more.

3. Greet The Migratory Demoiselle Crane In Khichan, Rajasthan

The Eurasian Demoiselle Crane traverses continents to arrive in Khichan for a pitstop
The Eurasian Demoiselle Crane traverses continents to arrive in Khichan for a pitstopShutterstock

Every winter, a small, otherwise quaint village in Rajasthan transforms into the setting for one of India's most wondrous migratory events as thousands of demoiselle cranes flying from Eurasian countries stop by Khichan, to feed on grain. The phenomenon is attributed to the efforts of one Ratanlal Maloo. As a dweller of the village in the 1970s, he was entrusted with the daily responsibility of feeding the local avifauna. One day, he spotted a dozen of these foreign cranes relishing his feed. Ratanlal continued to supply them with grain, and since cranes migrate in search for nutrition, this ample provision meant the seasonal visitors increased from hundreds to thousands, reaching almost 10,000, across the decades. This was a blessing for the grey-plumed bird, saving it from starvation and fatigue. Recognising the rising need to protect this phenomenon and the habitat that allows for the safe passage of these birds, on Earth Day 2023, the Rajasthan Forest department announced Khichan as a new conservation reserve.

Getting There: The nearest airport to Khichan Village is Jodhpur Airport, which is located 150 km away. The nearest railway station is Phalodi, which is around 10 km from the village.

4. Spot Vultures And Eagles At A Carcass Dump Near Bikaner

A major step in protecting vultures from diclofenac in Bikaner
A major step in protecting vultures from diclofenac in Bikaner

Visiting a carcass dump is certainly not the most inviting of wildlife excursions, but it is definitely one of the best ways to spot different birds of prey, some of which are endangered. There is more to these dumps than them attracting vultures, though. Till the early 2000s, the vulture population in India was in major decline, the causes unknown. In 2003, it was traced to diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug commonly given to domesticated animals. Vultures, being scavenging birds that rely on carcasses for nutrition, were exposed to the diclofenac still present in the dead animals remains, which proved lethal for them. From 2003 onwards, many organisations, such as SAVE, Vulture Rescue Mission and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), have worked towards tending to the birds and creating safe zones for them. The carcass dump at Jorbeed near Bikaner is one such place, and a vulture sanctuary to boot. The carcasses here are tested to ensure they are diclofenac-free. One can spot a variety of vultures and eagles here, such as the griffon vulture, cinereous vulture, steppe eagle, tawny eagle and imperial eagle, as well as other birds such as the rare yellow-eyed pigeon and the Punjab raven.

5. Cycle Through Mowglis Haunts

Pench offers scenic cycling trails through buffer forests
Pench offers scenic cycling trails through buffer forestsPugdundee Safaris

It's been over a century since Kipling wrote The Jungle Book, which became a part of our collective childhood across generations. We followed Mowgli in his epic adventures and rooted for him in his battle with Sher Khan. If the child in you still misses Bagheera, Baloo, Kaa and the rest, head to the forests that inspired the 19th-century classic. According to Range Officer Vhsal Chavan, the journey on a cylce commences at the Kolitmara gate, embarking on a scenic 48-kilometer path traversing Narhar, Banera, Sila Devi, Chargaon, and Kuwara Bhimsen before concluding back at the Kolitmara gate. There is also an alternative cycling trip on offer, one that takes riders for a day-long excursion to the Rukhad Wildlife Sanctuary, adjacent to the reserve.

Getting There: Pench National Park is located approximately 95 Kms from Nagpur, it being the nearest railhead and airport. There are different gates and the park is spread and shared between two states Madhya Prasdesh and Maharashtra. While Kolitmara falls within the Maharashtra division, Rukhad is in Madhya Pradesh. Clearly note the gate of your departure ahead of booking.

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