The best places for wildlife photography in India are not always in the most spectacular parks. I decided to compile a list of the most accessible places where the wildlife is abundant and sightings are close enough not to need the most expensive camera equipment.
Wildlife Photography in Central India
Let’s face it, the number one priority for most visitors to an Indian national park is to catch a glimpse of a wild tiger.
For that reason, I want to show you where to go for a virtually guaranteed sighting. You need to visit ‘Kipling’ Country.
Kanha National Park – A Wildlife Photographers Dream
Wildlife Photography in India doesn’t get better than this. If you could only visit one park in Madhya Pradesh, I would advise you to choose this one. The wildlife is prolific and the chances of seeing a tiger are very high.
The park is at its most picturesque after the rains when the gates open for the season in Oct-Nov. The grasslands are lush and the sal forests are in full leaf. This is the season of plenty when the deer have their young and life abounds.
The (very) cool morning light is a photographer’s dream but visiting post-monsoon has one major drawback The foliage is so dense, that it’s hard to spot the predators.
That’s not to say you won’t be lucky, tigers are often seen walking along the dirt roads, but it will involve perseverance. My first visit was post-monsoon and it took me 11 safaris before I spotted my tiger. We saw her stalking some deer in the far distance, and that was only because we followed a BBC film crew.
In subsequent years I visited in the spring. The landscape is dry and the grass is grazed short. The landscape opens up and there are fewer places to hide. Plan your visit between March and June and your chances of seeing wild tigers are very high indeed.
And don’t think it’s just tigers. I’ve seen leopards, dholes (wild dogs), and jungle cats too, not to mention vast herds of deer and birders can enjoy 300 species of birds.
Bandhavgarh National Park – Photograph Wild Tigers
To the northwest, some 200km away, lies the best place on the planet to see a wild tiger. Why? Because it’s more compact than Kanha NP and the tiger density is higher. If you don’t see a tiger in Bandhavgarh NP, you’re looking the wrong way. I had 5 sightings in one glorious day.
The park is predominantly a sal forest with small open meadows. The wildlife is similar to Kanha NP with the notable exception of barasingha deer.
Tigers apart, my best sighting was of two sloth bears emerging as the light began to fade.
Very similar to Kanha NP, when you dream about wildlife photography in India, this is it.
Pench National Park – Wildlife Photography Without the Crowds
The less-visited of the 3 major parks, Pench National Park is a treat for anyone making the extra effort to get there. You will find all the same wildlife, including a healthy population of tigers.
Pench NP has the 2nd highest herbivore density in India and supports large herds of deer, antelope, and bison. There’s plenty of tiger food, and as an added bonus, leopards are frequently sighted too.
The landscape differs from the sister parks further north. Here, in the Satpura range, dry mixed teak forests dominate.
There are plenty of opportunities to photograph wildlife on a jeep safari plus there’s the added option of taking a boat cruise on the reservoir.
Satpura National Park – Wildlife and Landscape Photography
Satpura National Park is the hidden gem in the heart of the Satpura Hills. If you want to escape the crowds and get lost in nature, this is your best option.
Don’t come here expecting to see a tiger, they are present but they are rarely seen. Instead expect to see plenty of deer, bison, and antelopes, including my favorite the beautiful spiral-horned blackbuck.
You will have more chance of seeing leopards, dholes and sloth bears in Satpura and if you are very lucky the tiny rusty-spotted cat.
Satpura stands out from the other parks in Madhya Pradesh in allowing so many ways to enjoy the scenery. You are not limited to jeep safaris.
Boating is available along the Denwa river, inside the park, where opportunities exist to photograph crocodiles, otters, and wildlife along the banks. The backwaters can also be explored by canoe, walking safaris are available in the core area, and equally exciting, night safaris are offered. This is your chance to find sloth bears, leopards, hyenas, and even wolves.
Panna National Park – Stunning Scenery and Tigers
Panna NP should be one of the great Indian Parks. The landscape is dominated by forested plateaus, canyons, and waterfalls. The Ken river meanders through the park and offers some of the most stunning scenery for wildlife photography in India.
Panna is the last great forest in northern Madya Pradesh and its beauty and proximity to the erotic temples of Khajuraho one of the premier tourist destinations in India should have ensured a great future.
Sadly it was not enough to prevent corrupt park officials from allowing every single tiger to be poached in the first few years of this century.
Things are now changing fast with the most successful tiger reintroduction program ever, proving that with the right will, things can be turned around very quickly. There are now over 55 wild tigers in the park and the chances of a sighting are better than they have ever been.
The park is home to large herds of sambar deer and blue bull antelopes (nilgai). Chinkara gazelles are present, so too are blackbuck antelopes.
As well as tigers, sloth bears can be found, leopards, wolves, hyenas, and if you are very lucky, caracal lynxes.
Jeep safaris are available and you can organize boat trips along the Ken river for great photo opportunities, look out for mugger crocodiles and gharials.
Madhya Pradesh has fantastic national parks, they are well managed, and increasingly well protected, and the tiger populations are rising. You will also benefit from recent changes to their park fee structure. Madhya Pradesh has abandoned its policy of overcharging foreign visitors.
You will now be charged the Indian rates for park entry. There’s a catch, of course, you have to pay with an Indian credit card, so you’ll still need to pay a broker. Even so, blatant discrimination has ended. If only the other states followed suit.
Tadoba Andhari National Park – Indias Best Kept Secret
Tadoba National Park is located in Maharashtra, the next state south. It is over-shadowed by its northern neighbors but don’t let that put you off. This park has everything, but the crowds.
The landscape is dry, hilly, and mostly forested. The woodlands are similar to Pench NP, they are mixed deciduous and dominated by teak trees. There is one lake, one reservoir, and one river within the park, providing a perennial water supply and great opportunities to see grazing wildlife in the surrounding meadows.
There is a very healthy population of tigers both within the core area itself and surrounding buffer zones. Dhole and sloth bears are also seen regularly.
All the usual ungulates can be seen easily including sambar, spotted, and barking deer. Nilgai antelopes, chinkara gazelles, and Indian bison.
Wildlife Photography in Northern India
Rajasthan is the land of forts and palaces, and the first port of call for many visitors to India. But it has plenty to offer a wildlife photographer.
- It’s home to 3 tiger reserves, including the world-famous Ranthambore National Park with its’ magnificent ruined fort overlooking the lake.
- There’s the wonderful world heritage site of Keoladeo National Park, an amazing man-made bird reserve only 90km south of Agra, and the Taj Mahal,
- The Chambal Sanctuary for boat trips along the river to see endangered gharials and river dolphins,
- And the magical desert village of Khichan, where 30,000 demoiselle cranes arrive every year to be fed by the tribal villagers.
Ranthambore National Park – Photograph Tigers in Classic India
When you think of wildlife photography in India you imagine wild tigers framed by ancient pavilions in ruined palaces. If so the chances are they were photographed in Ranthambore National Park.
The setting could not be more romantic. Imagine a crumbling hill fort slowly succumbing to the jungle and overlooking a crocodile-infested lake, with grazing deer, antelopes, and wandering peacocks.
And now imagine the alarm calls of monkeys and the foot-stamping of agitated deer as a tiger comes down to the water’s edge. This is Ranthambore NP.
Ranthambore is so famous and so accessible, that it’s wise to book far ahead to ensure a jeep safari. That said, you can book a public cantor (minibus) easily and you are allowed to walk to the fort gate which is within the park. I’ve seen tigers in the buffer zone and from a minibus.
The scenery is sublime and the wildlife is abundant. Sambar and spotted deer are easy to see around the lake, and mugger crocodiles can be seen sunning themselves.
Tigers are the top draw but leopards can sometimes be seen too.
Keoladeo National Park – A Bird Photographers Paradise
Like so many of the best parks in India, the Keoladeo National Park was a hunting reserve for the local Maharajas, but this one has a twist, it’s totally man-made.
At only 11.1 sq mi (28.7 km2), this tiny park was formed by damming the confluence of two rivers, creating a seasonal wetland that attracts migrating birds in staggering numbers.
If the monsoon rains are heavy, the resulting flocks of wildfowl have to be seen to be believed. It is truly a wonder.
The reserve is only a short ride from Agra and is accessible by bus or train from the city. Hotels and guest houses line the gate and cater to all budgets. If your budget can stretch it is also possible to stay within the park itself, a much nicer option.
Sadly the main access road has now been upgraded to a highway so the relatively quiet backwater feel is a thing of the past, that said you soon forget the traffic as you cycle around the pathways.
You don’t need a guide to explore the park but if you want to get the most out of your visit I would recommend hiring one for at least half a day. Freelancers hang around the gate and the cycle rickshaw-wallahs are very informed too.
I also hired an ornithologist with a spotting scope and we explored on foot well away from the main paths. He showed me roosting nightjars and I got to within a few feet of them. That’s something I will always remember.
Most people are day visiting coach parties who stick to the main paved path. Everyone else rents a bike.
Further Reading: How to Plan a Wildlife Photography Trip
When the grasslands are in full flood you can take a boat out onto the water. Do not miss the chance. It is stunning in the early morning light and you can get very close to the nesting storks.
The reserve has plenty of spotted deer, sambar deer are rarer, and hog deer are known to be present. Wild boar and nilgai antelopes are very common.
Large non-avian predators are few. The most impressive are the giant rock pythons that can be found sunning themselves in the winter sun.
Golden jackals are common, but one rarity has been rediscovered recently after it was thought to have died out. There are fishing cats still living in the park.
It might be worth spotlighting around the park boundaries at night. Striped hyenas, porcupines, and pangolins are all residents.
Take a pair of binoculars and a long lens. You will probably never get so close to kingfishers and owls but much of the wildfowl are skittish and like to keep a distance.
I hired a rickshaw driver one morning and he showed me birds I would never have spotted without him, including roosting owls in their favorite trees.
Wildlife photography in India doesn’t get much easier than this.
Khichan Village – A Desert Village With 30,000 Cranes
Far away in the deserts of Rajasthan lies a nondescript village with a singular claim to fame. Every winter 30,000 demoiselle cranes arrive for a free lunch.
This is not a national park. What makes Khichan village so special is the people that live there, they’re Jains and they feed the cranes twice a day.
Jains are strictly non-violent to all living things and they act as guardians to the wildlife that live around them. Subsequently, what started out as feeding the local pigeons has grown as each year more and more cranes arrived for the handout.
Further Reading: My Budget Binoculars
At first, there were just a few bold pioneer birds, but each year more arrived until now they number 30,000 cranes in one of the great birding spectacles on the planet.
They are fed in enclosed squares on the village edge, twice a day at 7am and 3pm. The spectacle lasts about 90 mins and in between large flocks can be found around the nearby village ponds.
I visited many years ago as a day trip, but now it’s possible to stay in the village itself, in one of the old Havelis (townhouses) overlooking the feeding grounds.
Khichan village may be stuck out in the Thar desert but it’s easy to reach by public transport. The nearest railway station at Phalodi on the Delhi – Jaisalmer mainline.
National Chambal Sanctuary – Photograph Crocs and Dolphins
The Chambal Sanctuary is a vast linear reserve following the banks of the Chambal river. Its primary purpose is to secure the future of the endangered gharial crocodile, this being its major stronghold.
The reserve is 400km long, occupying 10km on either side of the bank and straddling three states, Madya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The best way to see the wildlife it contains is to rent a boat with a guide.
Not only will you see the enormous (but harmless) gharials along the banks but you also stand a very high chance of glimpsing Gangetic river dolphins, another highly endangered resident.
Other glamour species residing along its shores include smooth-coated otters, mugger crocodiles, and if you are exceptionally lucky, Indian wolves.
Also keep an eye out for blackbuck, Indian gazelles, sambar deer, and nilgai antelopes.
Birdwatchers will delight in 320 recorded bird species, both resident and migratory, that visit the park.
Most people visit Chambal on a day excursion from Agra.
Sasan Gir National Park – The Last Asiatic Lions on Earth
Sasan Gir National Park is in neighboring Gujarat. The park is the last refuge of the Asiatic lion and if you want to photograph one, there’s nowhere else to go.
Lack of choice makes life simple in one way but, on the other hand, a monopoly is open to abuse and the government takes full advantage of it. Foreigners pay through the nose.
That’s irritating enough but this cynical exploitation is appalling for conservation. The park has now reached it’s capacity and, for the health of the species, separate populations must be established elsewhere.
The state has singularly failed to relocate its lions, that’s in spite of a 2013 Indian supreme court ruling directing it to do so. A cynic might conclude that they wish to retain their cash cow.
My bitterness aside, I have visited Sasan Gir and seen the lions up close. As with their African cousins, Asiatic lions sleep most of the time. In that sense, considering the foreigners’ levy, it may turn out to be a letdown for some.
I was lucky enough to team up with an Indian group who were allowed to alight their jeep and guided into the bush for a close encounter. My memory is the sudden panic as a male arose at the approach of our group and snarled. Not to be forgotten.
Only visit Sasan Gir if you have a passion for seeing the lions. In all other respects, the landscape is made up of dry scrub, very reticent of the African bush. There is a large population of leopards but as they will be nocturnal, you have a low chance of sighting one.
Spotted, sambar deer, and nilgai, are easily seen. Chinkara gazelles and chousingha antelopes are present too if you’re lucky.
Corbett National Park – Stunning Scenery, Wildlife Everywhere
Leaving the arid lands of Rajasthan and Gujurat, we head for the foothills of the Himalayas and Corbett National Park, the oldest, most famous, and one of the most beautiful national parks in India. The forests are dense, lush, and sub-tropical, occupying almost three-quarters of the land area.
Meadows constitute only 10% of the park, most notably around Dhikala camp, in the heart of the reserve.
From Dhikala it was possible to take a short elephant ride through the adjacent grasslands although this may now have ceased, you’ll have to check it out. There is also an observation tower overlooking the river which may well be worth staking out for a day. My colleague saw tigers coming down to drink that way.
Although Corbett was created to protect its tigers and a healthy population exists, tiger spotting is difficult within the park. They are seen sporadically but an encounter is unlikely for the casual visitor.
Instead, photographers should content themselves with the other inhabitants and fabulous settings.
Expect to see vast numbers of spotted deer, as well as sambar, barking, and hog deer. Elephant sightings are probable and mugger and gharial crocodiles can be seen on the river.
Owing to the popularity of Corbett with Indian tourists and the foreigner’s tariff being unreasonably high, there’s more bang for your buck in other parks.
If birds are your priority, there are numerous lodges dotted around the buffer zone where walking is permitted.
The birdlife is prolific and birders will enjoy over 600 recorded species in and around the park. and numerous lodges are dotted around the buffer zone where walking is permitted.
It may be wiser to spend the extra money on a comfortable place to stay outside the park and take day walks. Don’t forget that the buffer zone is full of the same wildlife anyway.
Wildlife Photography in Southern India
The landscape and culture of southern India is very different from that of the north. It’s like visiting another country.
When I meet people making their first visit to India I often suggest starting in the south. The people are friendly and well educated, women are more equal and the landscape is stunning. It’s a much more mellow land than the north.
Periyar National Park – Walking Safaris and Elephant Photography
Now we head way down south to the Western Ghats in Kerala in search of elephants in Periyar National Park.
I first visited Periyar NP in the 90s and it was a farce. The dangerously overcrowded clapped-out old cruise boat had engines that roared across the lake, and the guided walks were little more than a stroll for dozens of people at a time.
The best part then was staying in the friendly guest houses that lined the country road, leading to the park.
How things have changed. Now the tiny guest houses have mostly given way to hotels and gift shops, but the park is now fantastic.
The management has been transformed. The poachers are now the park guides and they take small groups on 3-hour morning and afternoon walks to find wildlife. The boats are new and a guide points out the wildlife coming down to the river. It’s all very professional. Look out for otters, I saw them twice.
You can organize an overnight camping trip, night patrol (walk), and a raft trip if you wish. I stayed two weeks in the end.
Further Reading: What’s it like to Travel Solo?
Expect to see elephants, I saw them both walking and on the boat ride. There’s plenty of deer and wild boar, as you’d expect, and good herds of gaur (bison). They are easily found in the surrounding hills.
Predators are hard to find but they are present and some people do get lucky. I saw a wild dog dart across my path one morning and we encountered an excited walking group who’d just seen a black panther.
Black Nilgiri langurs are easy to spot in the forest surrounding the park HQ as are giant squirrels. Lion-tailed macaques occur in the park but far away and you are unlikely to see them there.
Kabini Forest Reserve – Leopards, Tigers, Even Black Panthers
The Kabini forest reserve is located on the banks of the Kabini river which is situated inside Nagarahole National Park.
Kabini offers you the best chance of seeing tigers and leopards in the whole of southern India and is probably your best chance of ever sighting a black panther. The wildlife is prolific in this area of the park and you will see elephants, sambar, spotted and barking deer, and bison.
Budget options are few, so this is a park where you may have to bite the bullet and pay for a lodge.
Further Reading: My Budget Camera for Wildlife Photography
Big cats are most likely to be seen on a jeep safari, but there are opportunities to go hiking, kayaking, or go on a river cruise.
Kabini is one small part of a huge area called the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. It comprises 4 major conjoining national parks Nagarahole, Bandipur, Madumalai, and Silent Vally plus the Wayanad Reserve.
Despite this region having the largest tiger population in the world, the highest herbivore concentrations in India, and the largest herds of elephants, this region is frustratingly awkward to visit.
Entry is denied to most of this vast area. There are areas with some limited access and resorts are sprinkled around the borderlands with either their own adjoining land or entry permits.
I have met local guides and trekked through private land getting very close to both elephants and bison.
I also took a 1-hour elephant ride (before it was frowned upon) into the forest from Bandipur national park and saw the most enormous bison that way.
Wayanad Reserve has access along one jeep circuit. You’re allocated a driver so it’s potluck if you have a good guide or not. I saw plenty of elephants amidst the most magnificent giant bamboo forests you can imagine, but people on another jeep safari saw a tiger which was very lucky.
Sometimes the only way to view wildlife at a more leisurely pace is from one of the public roads around the park. I saw a leopard dart across the road this way and elephants a number of times.
Wildlife Photography in N.E. India
The northeast has a wealth of parks, beautiful scenery, and amazing biodiversity, but many parks are either difficult to reach or the wildlife is hard to find. The big exception is Kaziranga National Park
Kaziranga National Park – Photograph Rhinos and Elephants
This fantastic world heritage site is home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos. They are hard to miss and can be seen grazing alongside the main road bordering the park.
This is a vast area of elephant grass, forests, and swamps, crisscrossed by rivers and dotted by lakes and ponds. It’s an alluvial flood plain that floods during the monsoon and has very thick undergrowth until the grass is harvested in March.
The landscape opens up and the wealth of wildlife is exposed. Alongside the rhinos, sambar, swamp, hog, and barking deer are easily spotted.
The park is home to the largest population of wild water buffalo on earth and they can be found everywhere. Elephants are very common and bison are often seen.
The big cats are hard to see. They are seen on the park tracks but owing to the landscape they keep themselves well hidden.
Kaziranga is a photographer’s paradise. The light, landscape, and profusion of wildlife make every safari worthwhile.
You never know what will emerge from the undergrowth at any given point in time.
The park is divided into zones and jeep safaris can be arranged for each zone separately. There are hides and lookout points dotted around the park from where you are guaranteed to spot rhinos, albeit far away.
Kaziranga NP still permits morning elephant rides. This practice is increasingly frowned upon and banned in some states. It’s a welfare issue and only you can decide if it’s ethical or not. For my part, I saw no signs of abuse, and the elephants are turned out to graze for the rest of the day. They lead a semi-natural life.
The elephants carry groups of 4 people on a short 1-hour walk into the core zone. You are able to get very close to rhinos, water buffalo, and deer. The first walk is at sunrise and is a charming experience, more so for me, as we were lucky enough to see a tiger!
My only caveat? You guessed it, unfair foreigner tariffs!
There are many more parks worth visiting in NE India. You could combine some side trips and visit Manas National Park, now bouncing back into good health after years of poaching, and visit the Gibbon Sanctuary for a close encounter with India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon.
Oh and so many more.
Wildlife Photography For Artists: Final Thoughts
Writing about amazing wildlife photography in India excludes many of the most beautiful places India has to offer. I didn’t even mention the high Himalayas of Spiti and Ladakh, the coral reefs of the Andaman Islands, or the jaw-dropping scenery of Sikkim.
The natural wealth of this land is incredible, especially when you consider the overwhelming, population, and commercial pressures that exist. Indians have high regard for their natural heritage and it’s to their credit that so much of it still remains.
India is a wildlife photographer’s dream come true. Make it a priority on your tick-list of places to visit.
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- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
- French Box Easel
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