From spotting snow leopards in the Himalayan foothills to blue whales in Mirissa, clients visiting India and Sri Lanka can enjoy enriching wildlife experiences, says Abra Dunsby
Where? While only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild today, 70% of them live in India, so a trip there offers clients the best chance of seeing one. Ranthambore national park is home to more than 60 tigers, and the park’s northerly location fits well with clients on Golden Triangle itineraries. The central state of Madhya Pradesh is another strong option. It’s dubbed the ‘Tiger State’ due to its 25 wildlife sanctuaries, 10 national parks – including tiger-rich Bandhavgarh and Kanha – and six tiger reserves.
Best time to visit: October to April for Ranthambore. The park is closed between July 1 and September 30 each year.
Top tip: Nikhil Chhibber, India product manager at Inspiring Travel Company (ITC) recommends clients opt for half-day game drives by Jeep. “For these, there’s no zone restriction, so travellers can move freely around zones one to five of Ranthambore, and once regular safari vehicles have left, only five Jeeps are permitted to remain, making it less crowded.”
Book it: ITC offers an 11-night Tigers and Leopards with Relais & Chateauxv Hotels trip, which includes visits to two of India’s most famous tiger reserves – Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore – and two nights in Delhi. Prices start from £3,595pp including flights, private transportation by car and train, and safari activities. inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk
Where? Home to more than 500 elephants, Udawalawe national park in southern Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see these gentle giants in the wild. The park has extensive regions of tall grasses, scrub and trees, offering the ideal environment for elephants. A 20-minute drive from the park is the Elephant Transit Home, which cares for orphaned or sick elephants until they’re ready to be released, mainly back to Udawalawe. In the sanctuary, clients can watch young and fully-grown elephants playing as their keepers feed them.
Best time to visit: Elephants can be seen year-round at the park. Mark Henderson, senior product and commercial manager for touring at Travel 2 says: “May to October is dry season. The park gets quite dusty and many waterholes dry up, concentrating wildlife around the remaining ones. This is also the best time to see water buffalo, spotted deer, wild boar, eagles,
owls and kingfishers.”
Top tip: Henderson says: “Tell clients to bring a pair of binoculars with them – even a budget pair will really improve their experience.”
Book it: Travel 2 offers a six-day Sri Lanka & Wildlife tour from £1,369pp, including leopard-spotting in Yala national park, a Jeep safari in Udawalawe, a visit to the Elephant Transit Home, flights and some meals. Price is valid for travel on September 1, 2018. travel2.com
Where? In the region of Ladakh, situated on the northern border of India, clients can spot Himalayan snow-capped peaks, lakes, sand dunes and – if they’re lucky – the elusive snow leopard. Those visiting the region can also discover an eclectic array of birdlife and fauna including ibex, Tibetan antelopes, blue sheep, urials, marmots and the Tibetan hare.
Best time to visit: December to March is popular for sightings: these are the coldest months in the region, when snow leopards move down from higher altitudes to follow their prey in their search for green pastures.
Top tip: Mark Wheeler, andBeyond regional managing director for Asia, says: “Our Snow Leopard Expedition operates in Ulley, which offers a much larger area to search in compared with other regions of Ladakh. Ulley accommodation is also considerably more comfortable, with clients staying in a lodge as opposed to camping in freezing temperatures.”
Book it: andBeyond offers a Snow Leopard Expedition from $6,495pp based on two sharing including all meals, internal flights, one day in Delhi on a B&B basis, transportation for snow leopard sightings and the services of a tour leader. andbeyond.com
Where? Yala national park in southern Sri Lanka is famed for its large number of leopards, and is also home to elephants, saltwater crocodiles, wild boar, sloth bears, monitor lizards and many birds. “Leopards are the island’s top predator, so are far less shy than elsewhere in the world,” says Hercules Zeris, head of worldwide at Riviera Travel.
Best time to visit: June to September – Sri Lanka’s dry season. Top tip: Tell clients to take more than one game-viewing drive to increase their chances of seeing a leopard. Riviera Travel sells a trip that includes an optional second 4x4 game drive in the evening.
Book it: Riviera Travel offers a two-week Sri Lanka Tour including a 4x4 drive in Yala national park, 12 nights’ half-board accommodation, transfers and flights from £1,749pp. rivieratravel.co.uk
Where? The endangered Asiatic lion is shaggier and smaller than its African cousin, and can only be seen in one location in the world: India’s Sasan Gir national park. The park is located in the Junagadh district of Gujarat, its vegetation providing the perfect environment for the Asiatic lions. Best time to visit: Most lion sightings take place from October to June.
Top tip: Natural World Safaris offers a trip to Gujarat, a good option for clients seeking the path less travelled. “The state is less well- known than neighbouring Rajasthan but boasts some unique wildlife experiences and a fascinating cultural history,” says destination specialist Shalmali Rao Paterson.
Book it: Natural World Safaris offers a 16-day Lions and Temples of Gujarat safari from £4,395pp based on two sharing, excluding international flights. naturalworldsafaris.com
Where? In Sri Lanka, the southern coast around Galle and Mirissa is best for spotting the blue whale – the biggest animal on earth. The country is home to 10 different species of whale including fin, Bryde’s, minke, humpback and sperm, which can all be seen between late November and mid-April.
Best time to visit: February to mid-March, when blue whales come to feast on krill as they migrate around the world’s oceans. This is also outside Sri Lanka’s peak tourism months of December and January, so clients can also benefit from smaller crowds in the national parks.
Top tip: For responsible whale- watching, ensure trips or excursions are accredited by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).
Book it: Exodus Travels offers a Wild Sri Lanka trip that includes private whale-watching and four game drives within Yala and Udawalawe national parks. Prices start from £2,229pp for 11 days including flights, transfers and accommodation. exodus.co.uk
Where? Green turtles are the most common turtle species to be found on the shores of Sri Lanka. The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project monitors local sea turtle activity and protects nesting sites. Its hatchery programme is designed to maximise the number of hatchlings reaching the sea and surviving through early life. Guests staying at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle can join the resort’s nature guru to watch turtles laying their eggs and see babies hatching in a safe, natural environment.
Best time to visit: November to May is hatching season.
Top tip: For clients wanting to tick off Sri Lanka’s Big Four – leopards, elephants, water buffalo and the sloth bear – Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle is located one hour’s drive away from Udawalawe national park and less than two hours away from Yala national park.
Book it: Sovereign Luxury Travel offers a seven–night B&B stay at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle from £1,589pp based on two sharing including flights and private transfers, for a November 13, 2018 departure. sovereign.com