I know India very well and it is still a land teeming with incredible biodiversity. Don’t make the mistake of thinking big game safaris are confined to East Africa, that’s not the case at all.
Some of the best Indian national parks and wildlife sanctuaries rival many of their African counterparts and for a fraction of the price.
This blog post is intended for both amateur and professional photographers seeking factual information about Indian wildlife and researching wildlife photography tours.
It provides an overview of some of India’s most famous and accessible wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and the diverse wildlife they host.
The wildlife of India includes some of the most iconic and glamorous animals in the natural world, such as these:
- Bengal Tiger
- Asian Elephant
- Indian Rhinoceros
- Sloth Bear
- Snow Leopard
- Wild Dog (Dhole)
- Indian Wolf
- Asiatic Lion
And the list goes on, and now you can add cheetahs to the list! Yes, India is attempting to reintroduce cheetahs into Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
These sanctuaries are spread across different regions from the lush Western Ghats, to the arid landscapes of Rajasthan, and the high Himalayas to the jungles of the North East. India has something for everyone.
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Wildlife Photography in Central India
Where to Find a Wild Tiger
This post digs deeper: Where to See Tigers in the Wild: 9 Best Places in 2023
Kanha National Park – A Wildlife Photographers’ Dream Come True
The best time to visit is in the spring, just before the scorching summer temperatures. 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. Remembering that June is oppressively hot.
Bandhavgarh National Park – Wild Tiger Photography at its Best
Pench National Park – Wildlife Photography in India Without the Crowds
I found this course on Udemy that’s worth checking out
Satpura National Park – Landscape and Wildlife Photography in India
Panna National Park – Stunning Scenery and Tigers
Tadoba Andhari National Park – The Best Kept Secret in India
Wildlife Photography in Northern India
Rajasthan is the land of forts and palaces, and the first port of call for many visitors to India.
Rajasthan has plenty to offer a wildlife photographer:
- It’s home to 4 tiger reserves, including the world-famous Ranthambore National Park with its’ magnificent ruined fort overlooking the lake. The others are Sariska, Mukundara Hills, and the latest, Ramgarh Visdhari Tiger Reserve which opened in 2022!
- 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 Wild 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 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.
You’ve got to check out Andy’s work. His photography is fantastic
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 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.
This post will interest you: 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.
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 7 am and 3 pm. The spectacle lasts about 90 mins and in between large flocks can be found around the nearby village ponds.
I visited many years ago on 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
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 exceeded it’s capacity and, for the health of the species, separate populations must be established elsewhere.
I love David Yarrow’s photography.
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 be 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 Gujarat, we head for the foothills of the Himalayas and Jim 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 and bird photography 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.
Wildlife Photography in Southern India
The landscape and culture of south 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
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.
This post will help beginners: Fear of Traveling Alone: 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.
Here’s your chance to find out how David Yarrow takes his photographs
Kabini Forest Reserve – Leopards, Tigers, Even Black Panthers
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.
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 Valley 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. Some areas have 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 and got 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 Indian Rhinos and Elephants
This fantastic Unesco 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, barking, hog, and swamp 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 Indian gaur (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 1-hour 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 most 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 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.
Inspired? It’s cheaper to visit India than you think.
I always take an LP guidebook with me.
Wildlife Photography in India: 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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