Flora & Fauna
In the melange of tourism offerings, India’s flora and fauna enjoys a prominent place with its numerous forestlands spread across the country. The increasing interest among tourists to explore the flora and fauna treasures of India is further facilitated by the emergence of eco tourism and wildlife tourism. The wild, diverse and magnificent forests of India range from the Himalayas in the north to the Terai region in its foothills, from salt marshes of Kutch in the west to the mangroves in the east and the unexplored greens in northeast, to the landscape of the peninsular region in the south – all featuring rich and diverse floral and faunal attractions.
The northern region of India is home to numerous national parks, housing a myriad of wildlife. These include Dachigam National Park, Hemis National Park, Pin Valley National Park, Great Himalayan National Park, Corbett National Park, Rajaji National Park, Ranthambore National Park and many more. Starting from the tip of India, the Himalayan range is one of the richest hotspots for animal life. For instance, it is remarkable that almost one third of the world’s mammalian species that may be called true mountain animals are native to these mountains. Whereas, the much visitied Dal Lake is a bird watcher’s paradise. Located 22 km from Srinagar, Dachigam National Park harbours the last viable population of the endangered Hangul or Kashmir Stag. Himalayan black bears are visible in the lower reaches from spring to autumn. Long-tailed marmots are very conspicuous during summer in the upper reaches while mouse hares are active throughout the year. Other wildlife includes leopard, common palm civet, jackal, red fox, yellow-throated marten and Himalayan weasel. Over 145 different bird species including the lammergeier, colourful species like monal pheasant and blue magpie are also seen.
Pin Valley National Park in Himachal Pradesh is characterised by alpine pasture or dry alpine scrub forest. So far more than 400 plants species have been reported in this area, which is rich in medicinal herbs and spices. There are more than 20 species of animals and birds in the park. Pin Valley National Park is specially renowned for the protection of endangered snow leopard. Other species are ibex, bharal, red fox, marten, weasel, pika, snow cock, beareded vulture, chukor, golden eagle, griffon, Himalayan chough, raven and more. Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand has captured the imagination of many with its diverse wildlife and landscapes. It supports numerous plant and animal species, representing Himalayan as well as plains ecosystem. The most famous of Corbett’s wild residents are the Royal Bengal tigers and the Asiatic elephant.
The western region prides itself being home to Gir National Park – the only place with wild lions, outside Africa. To truly experience Gir and the lions, its is recommended to explore the natural habitat, with everything from tiny wild birds to crocodiles floating in the marsh waters. Around half of the forested area of the park is teak forest, with other trees such as khair, dhavdo, timru, amla, and many others. Whereas, at the Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary and National Park, one can find a land of wide-spreading golden grasslands under a deep blue sky, where spiral-horned antelope or the black bucks can be seen bounding up out of the grasses. Close to the coast there are wetlands full of birds, and in the evenings, sea-breezes blow up into the savannah and cools things off after a hot day in the sun. At night, wolves and jackals roam the fields, and the flat country offers a view of a starry sky.
Maharashtra has some of the largest wildlife sanctuaries located in ecological hotspots that attract both, researchers and tourists in huge numbers. Of these, the Melghat Tiger Reserve is one of the best known in the country. Located at the border of Maharahstra and Madhya Pradesh, it features a wide variety of animals and birds, including the elusive forest owlet. The giant flying squirrel is also a rare sighting here. Another interesting destination is the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary, where the grasslands and wetlands come together and provide shelter for a wide range of floral and faunal species. Located amidst the bustling city of Mumbai, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park provides a window to a fascinating world of animals and birds. The park is home to 274 species of birds along with 42 kinds of mammals, of which the most renowned is the elusive leopard. Nagpur’s Tadoba is probably one of India’s finest tiger reserves. Some of the other hotspots for floral and faunal diversity in Maharashta include Radhanagari, Navegaon National Park, Painganga Wildlife Sanctuary and more.
In the east, Odisha’s Similipal Tiger Reserve is endowed with high peaks like Khairiburu, Maghasini and rocky cliffs like Ganapati facing the frost-valleys in Devasthali. The biodiversity of the sanctuary harbours tiger, leopard, sloth bear, elephant, gaur and other important faunal species. Similipal is the only home for the unique melanistic tiger in the world. Chilika Lake in Odisha also imbibes one of the most supportive ecosystems, Chilka Wildlife Sanctuary, in the region. It is also popularly known as Nalabana Bird Sanctuary. The core area of about six sq km attracts around 400,000 waterfowls of different species.
Further in West Bengal, Sundarbans – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the largest single block of tidal, halophytic mangrove forests in the world. Apart from being a unique largest mangrove eco-system of the world, the Sundarbans has the world’s largest deltaic mangrove forests and is also home to one of India’s most iconic wildlife species, the Royal Bengal Tiger. It is also the world’s largest estuarine forest criss-crossed by hundreds of creeks and tributaries, intersected by a network of tidal waterways, small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests and mudflats.
Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam adorns patches of mixed deciduous forests, interspersed with vast stretches of savannah grasslands, wetlands and chars of river islands formed by the shifting course of the Brahmaputra. The Park is the abode to more than 70 per cent of one-horned rhinoceros in the world. While some of the other treasures in northeast include Manas National Park, Hollongapar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Keibul Lamjao National Park among many more.
Down south, Bandipur National Park in Karnataka is known for its wildlife and has many types of biomes, but dry deciduous forest is dominant. It is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve totaling 2,183 sq km, making it the largest protected area in southern India and largest habitat of wild elephants in south Asia. Bandipur also supports a wide range of timber trees including teak, rosewood, sandalwood, Indian-laurel, alongside notable flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs including. Further down, Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve is another example of rich bio diversity. Sprawled over an area of 925 sq km, Periyar is one of the 27 tiger reserves in India. It is a repository of rare, endemic and endangered flora and fauna and forms the major watershed of two important rivers of Kerala, the Periyar and Pamba. However, the trail extends to many more destinations in south including Nagarhole National Park, Mudumalai National Park, Point Calimere Bird Sanctuary and Silent Valley National Park.