McLeod Ganj sits on a ridge between the spectacular Kangra Valley and the soaring peaks of the Dhauladhar Range in the West Himalayas. A more awesome display of natural beauty would be hard to imagine. Today, McLeod Ganj is also the headquarters of Tibetan Buddhism and is affectionately referred to as “Little Lhasa” because of the large Tibetan refugee population. Not surprisingly, multicolored prayer flags flutter from every rooftop, and the vibe is warm, generous and open. McLeod Ganj is a perfect place for kids to fall deeply in love with trekking. The Triund hike, or a breathtaking portion of it, can be completed in two to three hours on a path that is gradual, well marked and dotted with chai huts where you can stop and refuel. Bhagsu Falls is another great spot for younger travelers, where cool mountain waters tumble down a 30-foot drop on a slate cliff surrounded by lush greenery. On the way back to town, stop by the ancient Bhagsu Hindu Temple. When night falls, look up. The star gazing in this region will likely reveal the most vivid, immense sight of the galaxies most people will ever see.
WHEN TO GO: Take your kids on a hike when the weather is not overly hot or rainy. The ideal months to trek in the West Himalayas are from March to June or September to November. The hot months of July and August are too humid and rainy.
FOR KIDS: Depending on your children’s experience level, you will want to adjust this activity accordingly, reserving hikes that are longer, or at higher altitude, for children over 12 or who are more experienced hikers. Children under 12 may want to be contained to shorter, lower altitude hikes.
Madhya Pradesh, or “central region”, is a rolling grassland indeed in central India, where bamboo groves and dense sal and teak forests thrive, and streams meander between sun and earth. It was here that Kipling penned his tales of Mowgli’s adventures in The Jungle Book, and the beauty continues to inspire throughout this Indian state’s National Parks of Kanha, Pench, and Bandhavgarh. These parks offer visitors the ultimate wildlife safari experience: Dawn and dusk SUV safaris, elephant rides, and wild Royal Bengal Tiger sightings are not uncommon. These parks are also home to a host of other exotic fauna; spotted chital deer, large Sambar deer, blue bull nilgai antelopes, langur and macaque monkeys, wild boar, and packs of jackals frolic across these plains. Leopard sightings are also always a possibility. For the best chance of an encounter with the more elusive bhālū (sloth bear), Bandhavgarh is the best bet. To see endangered packs of dhole (Indian wild dogs), visit Pench. Kanha has a healthy population of barasingha (swamp deer), which are almost extinct elsewhere, and offers the best chance of spotting a gaur bison.
WHEN TO GO: The central region is the best place to watch wildlife in their natural habitat. To maximize species-sightings, go in the colder months of October-March, as the heat is oppressive for you and the animals in the summer.
Boat safaris are the main draw of this wildlife sanctuary in Thekkady, a vast wilderness area found in the Western Ghats of Kerala. Situated around a 10-square mile artificial lake, the reserve is famed for being home to approximately 150 orchid species and numerous animals such as bison, wild boar, sambar deer, a small population of tigers and rare lion-tailed macaques. About 1,000 elephants also live in the sanctuary and can be spotted in large herds at the water’s edge during the hotter months of March and April. Although there are no drive-through safaris available here, guided walks can be arranged that traverse the bordering forest landscape filled with exotic birds and tree-dwelling animals like giant squirrels and langur monkeys. Visitors can also join night walks with forest guards, take treks to spice plantations and tour the indigenous Mannan peoples’ tribal settlement and heritage museum. On Periyar Lake, bamboo-raft trips offer a more intimate wildlife spotting experience than typical tourist boats.
WHEN TO GO: Take a popular boat safari around this wildlife sanctuary, where you can see over 100 elephants at the water’s edge in the hotter months of March and April.
Nagarhole is part of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, where the Kabin...
Nagarhole is part of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, where the Kabini River flows from the Western Ghats into a tranquil lake surrounded by lush subtropical forests. Here, the indigenous Kadu Kuruba people coexist with the world’s largest Asian elephant population and a host of other species. From leopards to langur monkeys to the occasional tiger, each can be seen on drive-through safaris. Around the lake, boat safaris reveal marsh crocodiles, Indian otters and large herds of elephants grazing on the shore and bathing undisturbed.
WHEN TO GO: From Asian elephants to crocodiles this national park has vast amounts of wildlife. You may have to endure the hotter temps of April-June to see the elephants, otherwise visit during the cooler months of September-November.
Set on the Brahmaputra River banks in the northeast state of Assam, Kazi...
Set on the Brahmaputra River banks in the northeast state of Assam, Kaziranga National Park is a lush tapestry of tall elephant grass, dense tropical forest and marshland. It is an ideal setting for the greater one-horned rhinoceros (approximately two thirds of the species’ world population lives in the park). On safaris by elephant or car, catch sight of these pre-historic rhinos, along with wild water buffalo, monkeys and thousands of migratory birds.
WHEN TO GO: This national park is full of lush, tall grass and marshland that make it perfect for a visit from March to June. Not to mention, safari tours can be taken by elephant, so make sure to book your visit early.
Nearly 2,000 square miles of this salt marsh in northern Gujarat are pre...
Nearly 2,000 square miles of this salt marsh in northern Gujarat are preserved as a wildlife sanctuary for the world’s last remaining herds of chestnut-colored khur, also known as the Indian wild ass. During wetter months, the marsh springs to life with islands of coarse grass and acacia bushes, while after the monsoon in October and November, newborn foals graze on fresh grasslands and seasonal lakes attract huge flocks of migrating flamingos.
WHEN TO GO: Most of the wildlife — newborn Indian wild ass and flamingos — enjoys grazing in the fields after monsoon season when the grass is lush. Visit during the months of October to December to see wildlife at its most active.
This magnificent tangle of mangrove forest stretches across nearly 6,200...
This magnificent tangle of mangrove forest stretches across nearly 6,200 square miles of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest delta. Formed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers, the delta extends into Bangladesh and borders the Bay of Bengal. Sunderban translates to “beautiful forest” and its depths make the perfect home for royal Bengal tigers. The world’s largest concentration of tigers live in the national park, and visitors can catch a glimpse of them swimming in the delta’s countless channels.
WHEN TO GO: Visit this park directly after monsoon season from October to December so you can see Bengal tigers swimming and floating in the park’s many channels.
A winter trek to the high valleys and wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau ...
A winter trek to the high valleys and wilderness of the Tibetan Plateau in Ladakh, above the Buddhist monastery of Hemis, offers the best chance of seeing the most elusive of India’s predators, the snow leopard, in its natural habitat. The starkly beautiful region also affords sightings of the majestic cat’s prey, such as Himalayan blue sheep and hare, ibex (wild goat) and Tibetan antelope. Occasional glimpses of great birds of prey including golden eagles, the snow partridge and golden orioles are another reason to visit.
WHEN TO GO: Come visit this park from November to March for the best chance to see the snow leopard, and many fluffy animals on which it preys.
The remote rainforest of Kodagu, a natural habitat for elephants and slo...
The remote rainforest of Kodagu, a natural habitat for elephants and sloth bears, is a paradise for trekkers. Ancient trails wind between towering trees and colorful undergrowth alive with honeybees and butterflies. Some routes lead to hidden forest temples, while others climb through coffee and cardamom plantations into misty forests of teak and rosewood. Above the tree line, velvety green slopes and craggy summits reveal stunning views over the Western Ghats to the Arabian Sea coast and jungles of Nagarhole National Park.
WHEN TO GO: Visit from March to May when the forests are alive with green, colorful undergrowth, and you can see a number of the rainforests animals like sloth bears and, sometimes, elephants.
India’s oldest hills, the Aravalli Range, are most striking between Ud...
India’s oldest hills, the Aravalli Range, are most striking between Udaipur and Jodhpur. In this rolling wilderness, leopards perch on rocky outcrops each evening, planning their nocturnal hunt for blackbuck (Indian antelope), chinkara (Indian gazelle) and nilgai (Asian antelope). At “dust hour,” shafts of golden light from the setting sun catch the dust kicked up by village cows as they amble home. It is a magical moment, yet part of everyday life in the desert villages of rural Rajasthan.
WHEN TO GO: The Aravalli Hills are best visited at dusk, so go during the warmer months of May to June so you can see the wildlife, such as cows, make their way home, or antelope prepare for their evening hunt.
The dry teak forests and hills of Gir, once a royal hunting ground, are ...
The dry teak forests and hills of Gir, once a royal hunting ground, are now a protected area for some of the last prides of Asiatic lion, whose descendants once roamed the Middle East and India. Although smaller than their African equivalent, the lions here are an incredible sight, whether a lone male with full mane or family of lionesses and cubs. The best time to visit the park is from December to April for possible lion sightings in the sanctuary.
WHEN TO GO: To best see the lions in the sanctuary, visit from December to April.
Protected by the rocky ridges and elevated plateaus of the rugged Araval...
Protected by the rocky ridges and elevated plateaus of the rugged Aravalli and Vindhya mountain ranges, Ranthambore National Park blends nature and history. Remnants of the park’s past as a royal hunting ground include the impressive remains of a 10th-century hilltop fort and hunting pavilions, an abandoned mosque and the very active Trinetra Ganesh Temple. One of the original “Project Tiger” reserves of India, the boulder-strewn jungle scrub of the park is the best place in Rajasthan to see tigers — along with leopards, striped hyenas, sloth bears and mugger crocodiles that stalk the lotus flower-filled Padam Talo lake.
WHEN TO GO: For the best chance of seeing the Tigers that inhabit the park, visit in the cooler months of the year— anytime from October to March.
Traversed by the Ramganga River and offering views of the Himalayan foot...
Traversed by the Ramganga River and offering views of the Himalayan foothills, Corbett National Park enjoys one of the most beautiful settings of any wildlife reserve in India. Established in 1936, it is one of the few parks in the country offering full morning and afternoon safaris by elephant. Striding silently through the jungle atop these majestic giants is an unforgettable experience, especially if it includes a tiger sighting. Drive-through safaris are also available.
WHEN TO GO: Visit the park from March to May, when nature is abrim with colorful flowers, trees, and grass. Morning and afternoon safaris can be taken by elephant.
The northernmost stretch of the Malabar Coast in Kerala, known as the Ka...
The northernmost stretch of the Malabar Coast in Kerala, known as the Kasaragod District, beckons adventurous travelers in search of rugged palm-fringed beaches. Stretching for miles along the Arabian Seashore, the beaches are ideal for spotting dolphins swimming near shore and sea turtles laying eggs in the sand. What’s more, the 17th-century laterite-brick fort on Bekal’s rocky headland is the largest and best-preserved fort in Kerala.
WHEN TO GO: The rocky swimming shores of Kerala are a great place to see dolphins and turtles swimming close to shore. Visit from May to June so you can enjoy the water, too.