Question: in which sole country can you see both lions and tigers in the wild? Answer: yes, you guessed it. We explore why India is a wildlife lover's dream destination.

Think of safari, and Africa inevitably jumps to mind. But with one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and as many as 590 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere reserves to choose from, India is a worthy contender for the world's top wildlife-viewing destination.

This vast country has a diversity of landscapes, vegetation, climate and altitude on a truly continental scale, and its variety of wildlife boggles the mind. You could see shaggy yaks shivering in the high Himalayas one day, tigers prowling a mango grove swamp the next and finish off with a bumpy ride through desert dunes on two-humped camels. And India is not to be outdone by Africa on the big game either: as well as half a dozen types of big cat, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceros roam its interior.

India's ‘Big Five'

There are an astonishing 65,000 species of fauna in India, and crowd-pleasing animals abound. But for many - big is beautiful. Wildlife lovers come from all over the world to glimpse India's ‘Big Five': tiger, elephant, rhinoceros, lion and leopard.

Top of the list is India's national animal itself, the majestic Royal Bengal tiger. Around 60% of all the world's wild tigers can be found in India, and there are two-dozen tiger reserves to pick from. Amongst the best-known are: the Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, also home to cheetal deer, leopard, gaur and sambhar; Uttarnachal's Corbett National Park, one of India's most popular reserves; and the murky Sunderbans mangrove forests of West Bengal.

Another big cat topping enthusiasts' wishlists is the Asiatic lion; this endangered species calls the forests of the Gir National Park in Gujarat home. Meanwhile the leopard can be found slinking its way around Ranthambore National Park and the Sariska Tiger Reserve, amongst other locations.

The Asian elephant, smaller than its African cousin, is another common sight in national parks. The Periyar Wildlife Santuary in Kerala is best known for wild elephant viewing, and they're also found in Uttarnachal's Corbett National Park. Another thick-skinned favourite is the rhino. India is home to 80% of the one-horned rhinoceros left worldwide; the best and more or less only place to see them is the Kaziranga Game Sanctuary in Assam.

Impressive as they are, however, the ‘Big Five' hardly scratch the surface of India's wealth of wildlife. With luck and patience, you might also see half a dozen different types of deer and antelope, monkeys, panther, wild buffalo, bison, yak, porcupine and more. Birdwatchers will also be in their element: there are an estimated 1,200 species to glimpse in India. The Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Rajasthan is guaranteed to ruffle a few feathers.

Types of safari

So once you know what you'd like to see, how do you go about finding it? Larger national parks organise walking safaris, or jeep, minibus and boat excursions to track down their prey, and also provide watchtowers and hides to hunker down in.

If you can though, take an elephant safari. As well as offering a superb vantage point from atop its back, an elephant can get closer to wild animals and travel over rougher terrain than a jeep. Moreover, as you pitch and sway from your lofty howdah-style perch you can imagine yourself as Indian royalty from times past.

Or for an equally unusual and even bumpier ride, enjoy a camel safari in the golden deserts of Rajasthan. These are popular around the cities of Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner. However, camel trips generally see less wildlife and more remote ruins.

Know what you want

Remember, scale matters. When planning any trip to India, take into consideration the vast distances and often slow transport involved. Decide beforehand exactly what you want to see, plan accordingly and try not to get overambitious or you risk spending valuable tiger-spotting time in the back of a bus hopping from one national park to the next.

If you'd rather focus on one area, pick a park with abundant wildlife. Two national parks famous for the sheer variety of their fauna are the Kanha National Park and the Corbett National Park. If you'd like more help planning your trip, contact the country's official tourist body Incredible India (website:

When to go

By mid October, the monsoon is over and many national parks are opening their gates to visitors. The cooler months from October to March are also the most comfortable time to go. Serious wildlife enthusiasts may choose to brave the high temperatures in summer from April to June, when the sun dries foliage and limits cover for the animals: but if you choose summer, double check which parks are open.

Tips to improve experience

To optimise your chances of seeing bashful wildlife, wear clothes that blend in with the surroundings. Bright colours will not only alert wildlife to your presence but also attract insects. Also, avoid all scented soaps, deodorant, perfume and cigarettes because many animals have an acute sense of smell; again, this will also help keep insects away. And most importantly, of course, maintain pin-drop silence once you're inside the park.

Contribute to conservation

On one hand, India has a deeply rooted culture of conservation. Animals are associated with Gods and treated with profound respect. But increasing population, industrialization, urbanization, agriculture and commercial exploitation are nonetheless destroying habitats and wiping out species. To find out how to help, contact the Wildlife Protection Society of India (website: or the long-running conservation venture Project Tiger (website:

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