SUNDARBANS NATIONAL PARK The 1330 sq kms Sundarbans National Park in the delta of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges is luxuriant mangrove swamps, forested islands and a network of small rivers and rivulets. This is a rather unusual habitat for the king of wildlife, the tiger. It is estimated that there are 200 tigers in the Sundarbans and another 200 in the section of the Park that extends into Bangladesh.
Travelling on a motor boat through the marshy swamps of the Sundarbans you could find a tiger swimming alongside your boat or diving in to catch a fish. Alongside the mud banks estuarine crocodiles can be seen lying still like logs of wood.
The best time to visit the Sundarbans is September to May.
RANTHAMBHORE NATIONAL PARK Earlier the hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur, the park at Ranthambhore in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan was once the venue for royal hunting parties. Today it is one of the best places in the world to see a tiger. In a park of 450 sq kms there are between 30 to 35 tigers. Though poaching had brought down their numbers a few years ago, the population is recovering fast and, in fact, there has been a baby boom in the park. Most visitors manage to see a tiger and if you are lucky it is possible to sight a mother with a cub or two. A good time to visit the Park is between November and April when sighting becomes easier in the dry, deciduous park.
Picturesque ruins of a royal past can be seen all around the park. Old fortifications and a majestic 1000-year old fort overlook it. The forest rest house, which unfortunately is no longer open for tourists, is at the foot of the fort. Earlier the royal hunting lodge, the lovely Jogi Mahal overlooks a lake which, in season, is filled with water lilies.
Interspersed with lakes that attract a variety of ducks, storks and migratory as well as resident birds, this Park abounds in wildlife -sambar, cheetal, nilgai, chinkara, the Indian hare, mongoose, monitor lizard, leopards, hyena, jackal, jungle cats, sloth bears and marsh crocodiles.
India’s national bird, the peacock, can be seen in abundance. Even if a tiger is not sighted, there is plenty to see for visitors especially the bird watchers. Bonelli’s eagle, crested serpent eagle, quail, partridge and the beautiful paradise flycatcher, trailing its unbelievably long silvery tail feathers, can be spotted quite easily. The forest guards have a wealth of information and anecdotes galore to narrate. One of them still carries the scars of his fight with a sloth bear.
There are plenty of excellent hotels to stay in outside the park. Visits into the park are restricted to mornings and afternoons. Private cars are not allowed in. But you can share a jeep or get a seat on the canters. The best time to visit Ranthambhore is October to June.