Where to go in 2019: For Wildlife Lovers
Assam, Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary
Why Go Now: Spot six Indian primates and India’s only apes
When staying in the forest rest house right outside the Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, expect to wake up to a sunny morning—even at 4.30 a.m.—and the calls of a greater racket-tailed drongo. The 21-square-kilometre protected area near Jorhat is dominated by hollong trees and home to the endangered western hoolock gibbon, believed to be India’s only ape species. The sanctuary is also home to six other primates: the capped langur, pig-tailed macaque, stump-tailed macaque, Assamese macaque, rhesus macaque, and the nocturnal Bengal slow loris.
Cars are not allowed inside the forest, so make sure to have a sturdy pair of shoes for your long walks. Keep an eye out for giant earthworm mounds and colourful butterflies. If you visit in the monsoon, be prepared to trudge through a moist forest with dense overgrowth. Some parts might be submerged and difficult to access but the trails are usually open.
Rhesus macaques can be seen both in and around the periphery of the forest hanging out in groups of four or five. At dusk, the forest is a beautiful mosaic of light and shadows, and the coats of capped langurs glow a brilliant golden-orange. While it’s not very difficult to spot these two primates, the stump-tailed macaques—though they live in big groups of 40 to 50—are extremely shy and said to vanish in the blink of an eye. The forest lovingly protects these creatures in its fold.
Spotting a hoolock gibbon at the spot where a troop of macaques frolicked moments ago is a delight. The small black (male) and grey-brown (female) acrobats of the forest negotiate their way through the upper branches of trees, with the ease of someone familiar with every bough and leaf. It’s impossible not to fall in love with them the moment they peer down at you with their inquisitive eyes.
Tamil Nadu, Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary
Why Go Now: Scamper with giant squirrels
A protected area for a squirrel? We won’t blame you for thinking we’re kidding.
The Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary near Srivilliputhur in Tamil Nadu, formally known as Srivilliputhur Wildlife Sanctuary is a 488-square-kilometre reserve that protects the vulnerable grizzled giant squirrel, found only in the Western Ghats and highlands of Sri Lanka. Unlike its urban counterpart, Srivilliputhur’s resident squirrel is rather large. Yet, the brown-and-white, pink-nosed rodent is a shy creature, freezing at the spot to avoid detection. However, thanks to the park’s conservation efforts, it is easy to spot one scampering about trees or nibbling on fruits.
The sanctuary can only be accessed on foot. Although the path is well marked, do take along a guide. Srivilliputhur is also home to elephants, leopards, Nilgiri tahr, the Malabar pied hornbills and long-billed vultures, and about 220 butterfly species.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Dhaninallah Mangrove Walkway
Why Go Now: Spot olive ridleys and mangroves
Birdsong, living roots and hues of green—all leading to a white sand beach, where baby olive ridleys begin their lives every year. This is the Dhaninallah Mangrove Walkway, a 20-kilometre-drive from the town of Rangat, en route to Mayabunder in the Middle Andamans.
The journey from Rangat to Dhaninallah is a treasure chest of stopovers: the Yerrata Mangrove Park, Cumbert Bay, and the Amkunj beach. The star attraction however is the walkway. Just over 700 metres long, it cuts through a lush mangrove forest that supports a large avian population. Along the way are eco huts to help you feast your eyes on emerald boughs and breathing roots. At the end of the road, at the Dhaninallah beach, is the nesting ground of olive ridley turtles; there’s a turtle hatchery nearby too. (Regular ferries ply between Rangat and Havelock, Neil, and Long Islands.)
Nagaland, Pangti, Wokha District
Why Go Now: Witness the singularly spectacular Amur falcon migration
Travelling to Nagaland’s Wokha district along bone-jarring roads is not for the faint of heart, but those who make the journey are treated to a true spectacle of nature.
Every winter, towards the end of October, millions of migratory Amur falcons make the long journey from Mongolia, China, Siberia and Russia to southern Africa, stopping over at the Doyang reservoir by the tiny Naga village of Pangti. The sight of these grey-feathered birds filling the sky over Doyang is one for the bucket lists. Amur falcons fly for about five days before they roost in Doyang, and have one of the longest avian migration routes in the world—up to 22,000 kilometres.
What makes this phenomenon even more heartening is that Pangti was, until recently, globally infamous for hunting the falcons by the thousands. Thanks to conservation and sensitisation efforts, former hunters are now guides and conservationists, ensuring that the Amur falcons continue to return to Nagaland year after year.
Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Satmaliya Deer Park
Why Go Now: Mornings with birdsong and evenings with history
You are in the company of sambar, nilgai, spotted deer and black bucks, gambolling around at a close distance. The morning sun falls blithely over the grasslands of the Satmaliya Deer Park in Silvassa. If you’re lucky, your safari could end with birding success stories too—this small sanctuary in Dadra and Nagar Haveli is home to flameback woodpeckers, thrushes, paradise fly-catchers, and other winged residents.
Back in Silvassa, the Tribal Cultural Museum awaits you—think masks, musical instruments, and hunting tools. Browsing through handmade bamboo souvenirs and Warli paintings, you are reminded of an old traveller’s tip: underexplored rarely means underwhelming. Definitely not for Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
—Sohini Das Gupta
Bihar, Patna & Bhagalpur
Why Go Now: Rare reads and river dolphins
Escaping the popular narrative of Patna as the ground zero of urban Indian chaos is easy when you keep your eyes open for its scattered, secretive pockets of historical treasure. A fine example is the Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library—small in size, but extraordinary in the richness of old ensemble scripts in Arabic and Persian. The library-cum-museum that stands not far from the banks of the Ganga, was thrown open to the public in 1891 by Khan Bahadur Khuda Baksh, whose ancestors held the responsibility of bookkeeping and writing records for king Alamgir.
The incredibility of the place comes as much from its rare repositary—manuscripts written on paper, palm leaf, deer skin, cloth; printed books in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, English, Hindi, Punjabi, German and French—as from its personal history. Khuda Baksh, it is said, started the library with 4,000 manuscripts. Later, he donated his entire personal collection to the people of Patna.
The importance of such a quaint existence in the age of tap-and-read devices echoes through the mind as you sit reading or browsing in the Curzon Reading Room, one of its two rooms that welcomes casual readers (the other one is reserved for scholars and researchers). You can inhale centuries through the dusty aroma of Timur Nama and Diwan-e-Hafiz, and lounge amid manuscripts with autographs of Mughal emperors.
For those less enchanted with the world of emperors and scholars, but equally resolute to skip the touristy Buddhist trails in Bihar, there’s the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in eastern Bihar’s Bhagalpur district. Spanning 67 kilometres across the Ganga from Sultanganj to Kahalgaon, it is the only legal reserve in the country for India’s national aquatic animal. If you aren’t lucky enough to spot the scant clan of this blind, endangered river dolphin, there are always the river cruises. They promote ecotourism and a large number of migratory birds can be spotted every winter. The presence of turtles, gharials, crocodiles and different varieties of fishes and wetland birds also make this vibrant ecosystem worth a dekko for wildlifers.
—Sohini Das Gupta