India is called a megadiverse country for a good reason. It’s blessed with many climates, terrains, altitudes, and flora. The diverse environmental conditions support various ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, rivers, oceans, coasts and many more. Thanks to this, India is home to about 45,000 plants and close to 91,000 species of animals. This is about 7-8% of the total species found worldwide (source IUCN). Now, while the population of animals is relatively high in India, so is the human population. We rank as the second-most populous country globally in terms of human population after China. While the human population is growing, the landmass isn’t, and to accommodate humans and their insatiable wants, and forests are shrinking in size. When human encroachment of forests reached unsustainable levels, the authorities decided to create protected areas, providing sanctuary to animals and vegetation alike. Such large scale, the government authorised sanctuaries, offering security to an entire ecosystem, including the animals, vegetation, and landscape, are called national parks. These national parks are a great destination to travel to for nature lovers. National parks offer wildlife sighting opportunities for animal lovers and present a tranquil atmosphere in the lap of nature to rejuvenate your senses. While there are several national parks in India, here in this article, we list down the seven that need to be noted.
1. Jim Corbett National Park
This is one of India's most popular and oldest national parks and is a part of the more extensive Corbett Tiger Reserve. Jim Corbett National Park rose to glory when it was chosen for the launch of Project Tiger, a pioneering attempt to preserve and protect the national animal of India in 1973. It is home to the most significant number of tigers in India. Out of the 3,000 odd tigers in India, over 230 take shelter in the JCNP. This national park is spread over 520 square kilometres and comprises a variety of terrains and water bodies, including hills, marshes, rivers, grasslands and a large lake. The park is divided into five zones to cover this vast area – Bijrani, Jhirna, Dhela, Dhikala and Durgadevi Safari zones. Tourists can choose to visit these zones one-by-one or might decide to visit only the ones they wish to see. Tigers are not the only attraction of the Jim Corbett National Park, though, as it is also home to more than 650 species of birds and is a delight for bird watchers and nature photographers. The park is located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand and is approximately 260 km away from the national capital. This is also one of the rare national parks in India that allows night stay in the safari zones.
2. Ranthambore National Park
It’s only poetic how Ranthambore, once known as the hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur, has been transformed into one of the largest shelters for wildlife. Like Jim Corbett National Park, Ranthambore National Park was also one of the tiger reserves chosen for Project Tiger in 1973. However, it was declared a national park much later in November 1980. The national park is named after the vast Ranthambore fort, which stands tall on a hill overlooking the park. Some estimates suggest that RNP is home to over 40 species of mammals, 35 reptiles, and 320 species of birds. Its rich wildlife makes it a major tourist attraction. The park is home to 74 tigers, which has increased even more in recent times. While tigers, leopards, the sambar deer, Chinkara, etc., are major attractions here, one can also spot reptiles like desert monitor lizards, banded kraits, snub-nosed crocs and birds like the hornbill, kingfisher, egrets, ibis, parakeets etc. The park is spread across approximately 400 square kilometres and has many water bodies scattered within.
3. Kanha National Park
Another tiger reserve, the Kanha National Park, was declared a sanctuary in 1933. The locals like to call it home to the famous “Barasingha”, or “the jewel of Kanha”. The Kanha Reserve, which comprises the Hallon and Banjar sanctuaries, covers a whopping 1,929 square kilometre area. The park is divided into six ranges, namely Kisli, Kanha, Sarhi and Mukki in the western block; and Bhaisanghat and Supkhar in the eastern sector, which are closed for the public. Located around 160 kilometres from Jabalpur and 270 kilometres from Nagpur, the Kanha Reserve is situated in the Maikal range of Madhya Pradesh. While it primarily is a tiger reserve, the Kanha National Park focuses on preserving the Barasingha or swamp deers that were almost extinct in the region some time back, as they were a victim of hunters who used to poach them for their skin and horns.
4. Bandhavgarh National Park
Declared a national park in 1968, Bandhavgarh National Park is located in the Vindhya Hills of Umaria, Madhya Pradesh. The park is spread across 105 square kilometres and boasts enormous biodiversity. The park is home to 60-70 Bengal tigers and other wildlife like leopards, chital, nilgai and various species of deer. It also houses over 150 birds and over 80 species of butterflies. The park has been divided into three major zones named Tala, Magdi and Bamera, out of which the Tala zone attracts the majority of tourists by offering tiger sighting opportunities. Another unique attraction is a tiger safari while riding an elephant.
5. Kaziranga National Park
Famous for the one-horned rhino, Kaziranga is a rich natural habitat for the rare, stout, exotic beasts. The national park was tasked with the challenge to preserve and repopulate the area with the one-horned rhino, which went almost extinct in 1903. The number of rhinos in the region has grown gradually from 12 to over 1,800 last year. The park is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list for India. A large area of the national park comprises wet grasslands, swamps and pools. With this topography, it is only possible to take a safari on an elephant’s back. Apart from rhinos, Kaziranga is also home to a large population of Indian elephants. Another major attraction at the park is the hoolock gibbon which is a primate species. Besides these, tourists can also spot the Bengal tiger, wild boar, hog deer, sambar, etc., along with various snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, and crocodiles. Located near Tezpur in Assam, Kaziranga is about 270 kilometre away from Guwahati.
6. Gir National Park
Commonly known as Gir Forest and famous for being the natural habitat of the Asiatic lion, the Gir National Park is located in Gujarat. This is the only remaining natural habitat of the Asiatic lions in the world. The Asiatic lions almost went extinct in 1913, with just 20 of them left. With the help of the forest authorities and nawabs of Junagarh, the population of these lions has been brought up to a very healthy 523 today. The forest is spread over a vast core area of 258 square kilometres. It is also home to the world’s only four-horned antelope, or the chousingha, apart from the sambar deer and about 300 leopards. Gir is also home to over 200 birds and 40 species of reptiles and amphibians. The park is located approximately 65 kilometres from Junagarh, and one can take a Gypsy safari through the enclosed Devaliya zone where the majestic Asiatic lion can be spotted.
7. Sundarbans National Park
Another UNESCO Heritage Site, Sundarbans – literally meaning “beautiful forests” is a large delta formed by the rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra in the Bay of Bengal. It is so large that it is spread across 40,000 square kilometres between India and Bangladesh, that’s all the way from the Hooghly River in West Bengal to the Baleshwar River in Bangladesh. It is not only a national park but also a tiger reserve and a biosphere reserve too. The forests of the Sundarbans are made of a vast stretch of mangrove trees. The Sundari trees comprise a majority of the mangroves and are one of the reasons for the name Sundarbans. Home to the Royal Bengal tiger, Sundarbans also provides sanctuary to other mammals, including macaques, Indian grey mongoose, leopards, fishing cats, flying fox, pangolin, chital and rhesus monkey.