Facetime with Sher Khan: book your date with the best wildlife in India
Channelling your inner Mowgli was never this easy
You first spot a flash of orange and black, gliding soundlessly through the bushes. When it moves out into the open — strikingly patterned yet perfectly camouflaged — the forest around it waits. Frozen mid-movement like characters in a Warli painting. Nothing prepares you for locking eyes with a Bengal tiger, an experience guaranteed to send you on a relentless pursuit of the wild. Chasing the best wildlife in India might require journeys into national parks where the only cell reception is from a neighbouring country, while some experiences are just outside city limits. But how do we see these animals without running them over on highways or find fascinating birds that aren’t perched on cables or satellite dishes?
That’s how our company Jokotta was founded, in an attempt to create a marketplace for naturalist-led, curated nature and wildlife experiences that aren’t all that easy to find. A portion of profits from every trip is given to conservation efforts.
Best wildlife in India
1. Himalayan Brown Bear, Western Ladakh
This is no bumbling Baloo from The Jungle Book. Though it looks just as cuddly, the Himalayan Brown Bear is India’s largest land carnivore and belongs to the same family as the North American grizzly bear. Found hunting and foraging in the grassy slopes of Drass, this bear calls the mountains of the western Himalayas to the peaks of Kanchendzonga home. Any Yeti rumours you may hear probably began when some poor local ran into one these furry fellows standing upright.
The early days of the Himalayan summer are best for making their acquaintance, while the bears and their cubs are busy searching for sustenance after their long winter hibernation. If you’re lucky, you could even spot a snow leopard on this trip.
Best time to travel: June – July.
Fly to Leh or Srinagar.
2. Red Pandas, Singalila National Park
Shy, furry and addicted to long naps in trees, this cat-sized creature seems to be in permanent post-retire. Except for the fact that there only about three dozen left in Singalila, according to a 2015 survey on wildlife in India. The red panda was called a panda before its black-and-white chubby cousin benefitted from better PR. There’s also a chance to spot the rare clouded leopards, barking deer, yellow throated martens and hundreds of varieties of colourful birds that call these mountains home.
Best time to visit: All year long, except for June. Every season makes the forest look completely different.
Fly to Bagdogra.
3. Fishing cat, Bengal floodplains
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Behold the elusive fishing cat! Unlike many other cat species, this cat is ready to take a dip in the water and swim. . . . . . . . #animalplanetupclose #animalsofinstagram #animalplanet #animaloftheday #wild #wildlife #outdoors #animals #wildanimals #conservation #nature #animallovers #instanature #wildgeography #fishingcat
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Just when you thought the ‘all Bengalis love fish’ stereotype couldn’t be peddled any further, you discover an indigenous wild cat that’s developed webbed paws to get closer to its favourite prey. Drive a couple of hours outside of Kolkata to discover a hidden wetland world, home to this rare and elusive fishing cat. Though it’s twice the size of a typical house cat, this one also spends its days asleep and its nights hunting. Maybe you’ll get lucky and capture a photo of it diving to catch fish.
Other creatures that are seen here include the rare black jackal, monitor lizards, and over 300 types of birds.
Best time to visit: All year long, except September.
Fly to Kolkata.
4. Estuarine Crocodiles, Bhitarkanika National Park
Want to know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the food chain? Take a walk through Bhitarkanika in Odisha. Home to many venomous and non-venomous snakes, including king cobras and pythons, along with jackals, monitor lizards and a glorious variety of birds. Offering visitors the full (Jurassic) park experience are some of the largest crocodiles on earth, milling around like they own the place. Not that you’re likely to argue…
Best time to visit: October to June.
Fly to Bhubaneshwar.
5. Blue Whales, Sri Lanka
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The wonder of it all… swimming with Blue whales. A change in itinerary for the chance to jump in with the largest mammal in the world. Such an adventurous, mind-blowing memory. Thank you, Yerno:), for making the dream a reality #bluewhales #galapagos#
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An experience that could move you to tears. You hold your breath when you first see a spray emanating from the ocean, the work of the whale’s blowhole – keep watching and the upper part of the large, sleek body of the whale slides effortlessly into view. As the beast dives back into the deep, its tail breaks surface. As it disappears, you’re left staring at the now blank surface of the ocean, wondering if it was just an illusion.
These graceful giants of the deep can be seen from the southern or eastern coast of this beautiful country. You’ll probably see pods of dolphins dancing in perfect sync as well.
Best time to visit: All year long, depending on which coast you go to.
Fly to Colombo.
6. Leopards, Bera
Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild, except here the forests around this village in Rajasthan seem to be overflowing with big cats. And they’re not opposed to lounging on the rocks like local celebrities in full view of camera-happy tourists.
Just remember: here, you’re on your own and keeping away from the leopards is down to your powers of common sense. Whether you see them or not, you can be sure that they have seen you. Keep your eyes peeled for bears, nilgai, crocodiles, pelicans, geese, and more.
Best time to visit: January – June.
Fly to Udaipur.
7. Bengal Tiger, Sundarbans
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Cruising down the enchanting #sunderbans in search of the elusive #royalbengaltiger #junglesofindia #mangroveforest #incredibleindia #wildlife #nature #forests #jungles #planetearth #ig_landscape #discoverearth #earthpix #instanature #naturelover #wildlifephotography #bbctravel #earthonlocation #natgeoyourshot #natgeo #natgeoindia #naturephotography #westbengal #maneating #maneater #swamp #conservation #travel #endangeredspecies ? @swatisiyer
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Yes, we know. We said there’s more to wildlife in India than the tiger, but no list is complete without this majestic beast. But a sighting of this legendary hunter is harder than getting the Starbucks guy to spell your name right. The largest mangrove forest in the world offers them plenty of cover and the tigers have adapted to salt water, mangroves and human activity.As you motor along in a boat on the river system, the vastness of this forest dawns upon you. All around you is the river, and its banks, punctuated by mangroves and their watery reflections. The forest transforms every moment – as the tides change, you’Il see the water level rise or fall significantly. This means that the same spot will seem completely different every few hours.
You’ll mostly spot a ton of avifauna like several types of kingfisher, peregrine falcons, buffy fish owl, lesser adjutant, Pallas’s Fish Eagle and more of the 284 species of birds that live here.
Best time to visit: All year long, except August – September.
Fly to Kolkata.
8. Black Panther, Kabini
The real deal, not the king of Wakanda in a catsuit. The Black Panther is actually a melanistic leopard, one capable of making your life flash before your eyes when you notice the yellow eyes glowing in the velvet darkness of the forest. You’ll have to remind yourself to breathe. And if you can, take a few pictures of it staring at you and share them with us. So we can stare too.
Best time to visit: October – April.
Fly to Bengaluru or Kozhikode.
9. Wild Ass, Little Rann of Kutch
Spread over 5,000 sq. km, it’s only called ‘little’ because the Greater Rann of Kutch is sprawled over 7,500 sqkm. Home to the hardy wild ass, a creature from the horse family that’s found nowhere else in the world, this salt marsh will introduce you to an incredible variety of birds like the short-eared owl, hoopoe lark, steppe eagle, common and demoiselle cranes, flamingos, harriers, peregrine falcons and more. Other animals found here are the white-footed desert fox, jackals, nilgai and hyena. But equally beautiful to watch is the night sky from the edge of the Rann.
Best time to visit: Nov – Feb.
Fly to Ahmedabad.