Spot the beauty and the beasts at the national parks of India--Part I

With such diverse flora and fauna, we bring you a list of the biodiversity hotspots in India you need to go and check out
Spot the beauty and the beasts at the national parks of India--Part I

Kottayam&rsquos vast network of rivers and backwater canals all pour into the vast Vembanad Lake, which comes alive during Onam, when snake boat races take place on its waters. The rest of the year, the lake makes for a great picnic spot. On the banks of the lake is Kumarakom, which offers a variety of accommodation options, including homestays and houseboats. Also here is the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, home to many bird species, including Indian darters, little cormorants, egrets, herons, white ibis, kingfishers and several species of wild fowl. (

The country&rsquos third-largest national park covers an area of 1,985sq km between the Mishmi hills and the Patkai range. The park&rsquos altitude ranges from 200m to 4,500m, and it is known for its dramatic landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, its big cats&mdashsnow leopards, clouded leopards, common leopards and tigers&mdashand over 450 species of birds. The best way to explore the park is on a week-long trek that starts at Miao and takes you across the Noa Dihing River and through tropical forests, rainforests and grasslands to Gandhigram and Vijaynagar on the Indo-Burmese border. (

The country&rsquos largest salt lake is located about 60km from Jaipur. Legend has it that the lake was gifted to the locals by Goddess Shakambari (Durga) some 2,500 years ago a sparkling white temple in her honour stands on its banks. Much of the lake is now primarily used for salt farming. The lake&rsquos algae-rich waters attract many avian species, including flamingoes, cranes, pelicans and water fowl, making it a birdwatchers&rsquo paradise. The area around the lake is the Sambhar Wildlife Sanctuary, where birds such as coots, black-winged stilts and redshanks can be sighted. (

Completely surrounded by snow-capped peaks and fed by springs and snow melts in the mountains, Tso Moriri or Moriri Lake, spread over 120km, is the largest high altitude lake in India. It can be accessed from Pangong Lake via the Changthang plateau, which at a steady 14,000ft, is known for its nomads, lakes and wild animal and rare bird population. On the western bank of the lake is the 400-year-old Korzok Monastery, which hosts the annual Korzok Gustor festival in the sixth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar. By way of accommodation, there is a small PWD guest house, and tents on the lake shores. India Hikes ( organises a 10-day hike to the lake from Rumtse via the Changthang plateau. (

A remarkable feature of the Khasi hills in Meghalaya is its sacred forests. These small, wild and exotic patches have been preserved over generations by religious sanction. According to locals, a deity called labasa dwells in the forests and takes the form of a tiger or leopard to protect the community. Inside the forests, exotic flora and fauna flourish undisturbed, with ferns and orchids adding to the beauty. The Mawphlang Sacred Forest (fee Rs 20 open 9am&ndash4.30pm), 25km from Shillong, is the best known of these forests. If you want to stay in the area, check out the MapelPine Farms (,which offers accommodation in cabins with lofts.

A trekkers&rsquo paradise, it encompasses 754sq km of Himachal&rsquos Kullu district, which covers four valleys&mdashTirthan, Sainj, Jiva Nai and Parvati&mdashand boasts of several 6,000m-plus peaks as well as lush forests, Alpine meadows and glaciers. The park authorities have kept roads and commercial activity in check in the area, and most of the park can be accessed by easy hiking and walking trails. For more serious trekkers, the park authorities have identified several five- to eight-day treks. Accommodation is restricted to homestays in the ecozone (the park&rsquos core area) and in the forest rest house in Sairopa. (Rs 50

Located on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River, the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is a haven for several endangered flora and fauna species. The park is mainly made up of evergreen and tropical deciduous forests and grasslands where a variety of shrubs and medicinal plants and herbs thrive. Created mainly for the conservation of the white-winged wood duck, it is also home to feral horses, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, slow loris, water buffalo and gangetic river dolphins, among others. The park can be accessed from Tinsukia town, 40km from Dibrugarh, via Guijan Ghat and Saikhowa Ghat, the two main entry points form visitors to the park. Permissions are needed.

Known as the Shimla of Chhattisgarh, Mainpat is a tiny hill station located on a plateau of the same name. The isolated town was nothing more than a jungle a few years ago when a few Indians and Tibetans decided to settle here. Today, the area is still pretty wild, with terrible roads and few accommodation options. The main attractions here, besides the spectacular views, include the Tibetan monastery, waterfalls such as Tiger Falls, and adventure sports such as rock climbing, rappelling and zorbing. The Saila Tourist Resort offers decent rooms at an affordable Rs 1,500 a night. (

In Gujarat&rsquos Kutch region is arguably the world&rsquos largest salt desert the Rann of Kutch. The seasonal salt desert is completely under water during the monsoon season, and when the water disappears, large swathes of salt appear. The landscape in the hot months is stark, with barely any vegetation. The region is, however, rich in natural gases, and is home to the Asiatic wild ass and several speciesof birds. It is illegal to access the Rann from anywhere but the designated access points, since it is unsafe to walk away from the trails the parched topsoil can give way to soft mud.(

The country&rsquos only active volcano is located on an uninhabited island about 135km from Port Blair and can be accessed only by boat with special permission from the forest department. But once you reach the island, you will discover a land mass that is covered with interesting shapes and topography because of the lava flows, and is home only to goats, birds, bats, flying foxes and rodents. You can go scuba-diving in the waters around the island and you&rsquoll see a rare species of manta ray and beautiful coral formations that are home to exotic tropical fish.(

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