It’s not whether animals will survive,
it’s whether man has the will to save them.
-Anthony Douglas Williams
The scorching summer heat may force us to spend time indoors, but this is also when nature’s bounty is in full bloom. Animals are well out of hibernation, birdsongs fill the air, and rivers flow with great abandon. Summer holidays are the perfect time for us to pack our bags, head to the hills, and spend time in the lap of nature. #DSSCRecommends various Indian national parks and biosphere reserves to visit during the summer.
Dachigam National Park, Jammu and Kashmir
Situated 22 km away from Srinagar, Dachigam is home to the endangered Kashmiri stag, or hangul, and is divided into two sections — Lower Dachigam to the west, which is easily accessible, and the Upper Dachigam to the east, which is a day-long trek from the nearest road. During the summer, one can see the Himalayan Black Bear in the lower reaches, while the upper reaches are populated by Long-Tailed Marmots. Leopard, Red Fox, Jackal, Common Palm Civet, and nearly 145 species of birds including Monal Pheasant and Blue Magpie comprise other species endemic to the park area.
Best time to visit: April–October
Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
Established in 1984, at an altitude of 1,500–6,000 m in the Kullu district, the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) harbours a wide range of flora and fauna. Its high altitude subalpine ecosystem has a forest growth similar to that of the Mediterranean, Tibetan, and cis-Himalayan regions. In 2014, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for sustaining a wide range of biodiversity: 44 kinds of butterflies; 31 mammal species including snow leopard, blue sheep, Himalayan brown bear, and musk deer; and around 200 species of birds such as Crested Kingfisher, Wren Babbler, redstart, Spectacled Finch, and Western Trapogan. The White-browed Shortwing and the Rufous-vented Tit are rarely spotted to the west of Nepal, and are therefore a special attraction for the visitors. The rugged terrain of the park renders it inaccessible via road, leading to a light footfall throughout the year. If you enjoy trekking and wish to avoid the crowd of hill stations, GHNP is a great destination for you.
Best time to visit: April–June and September–November for trekking, camping, and rock-climbing; October–May for bird watching.
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this biosphere comprises Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of Flowers National Park. The former is a glacial basin drained by the Rishi Ganga, and liberally adorned with such flora as rhododendron, juniper, fir, and birch trees. The Himalayan tahr, snow leopard, Himalayan black bear, and langurs are found within the park, whereas rhesus macaques and gorals are found in the vicinity. At a distance of 20 km in the Chamoli district is the Valley of Flowers, whose rich biodiversity offers refuge to the endangered Asiatic black bear, brown bear, musk deer, and red fox. Amongst the nearly 500 species of flowers found here, orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, and daisies bloom in abundance.
Best time to visit: April–June
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
Part of the larger Corbett Tiger Reserve, Jim Corbett National Park was established in 1936, and is the oldest national park in India. Famed for its tiger population, the park, located on the foothills of the Nainital district, became the launching ground for the Project Tiger initiative in 1973. Apart from the big cats, the park is also home to crocodiles, otters, elephants, different species of deers, and more than 650 species of resident and migratory birds. Jeeps and elephant rides provide a unique nature and wildlife watching experience across five different tourist zones. The Dhikala Forest Lodge, a remnant of the British Raj, offers accommodation to the visitors, thus making Jim Corbett the only national park in the country that offers night stays in the forest.
Best time to visit: November–May
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
In addition to hosting two-thirds of the world’s population of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga National Park also has the distinction of, since 2006, doubling up as a tiger reserve. Before it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Kaziranga was a forest reserve until 1950. Situated between the districts of Golaghat and Nagoan in Assam, the park boasts of breathtaking flora and fauna spread across 430 sq km. The one-horned rhinoceros, Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, and swamp deer constitute the “Big Five” attractions of the park. The surrounding Brahmaputra river is home to the endangered Ganges dolphin and 42 species of fish. Kaziranga has also been identified as an Important Bird Area with birding, facilitated by observation towers, now becoming the main tourist activity after jeep safaris.
Best time to visit: November–April
Keibul Lamjao National Park, Manipur
Keibul Lamjao is the largest floating national park in the world. Located in the Bishnupur district of Manipur, it is an integral part of Loktak Lake, and comprises 40 sq km of wetland overgrown with floating vegetation, also known as phumdis. Initially a sanctuary for Manipur’s state animal, Eld’s deer, Keibul Lamjao was notified as a national park in 1977 after the species was spotted again after years of presumed extinction. The park offers an amalgam of aquatic flora: lotus, hyacinth, wild rice, and yams; fauna: hog deer, sambar, wild boar, civet, fox, snakes, and common shrew; and avifauna: myna, kingfisher, woodpecker, crane, and kite. The three hillocks of Pabot, Toya, and Chingjao provide the best vantage point from where the deer can be spotted, preferably at the crack of dawn.
Best time to visit: November–March
Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim
Alternately spelled as Kanchenjunga and named after the third-highest peak in the world, this national park and biosphere reserve in Sikkim was bestowed with a “mixed heritage” status by the UNESCO in 2016. It adjoins two other conservation areas: Qomolangma, Tibet to the north and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Nepal to the west. The park is home to musk deer, snow leopard, Himalayan tahr, red panda, the endangered Asiatic dog, serow, goral, and nearly 550 species of birds including Tragopan pheasant, Himalayan griffon, osprey, sunbird, and Asian emerald cuckoo. Trekking activities can be undertaken from Yuksom in West Sikkim and/or Lachen in the north after obtaining an Inner Line Permit from the State Home Department.
Best time to visit: April–May