A Tigeress roams the forest at Ranthambhore. Photo: Paul Holt
From the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, to the sublime beauty of the Taj Mahal and the woodlands where the Tigers roam, Incredible India really does live up to high expectations. The natural and human history of this remarkable country are inexorably intertwined in the north, where a plethora of wildlife exist side-by-side with ancient cultures and customs. And this is a birding paradise - a diversity of habitats ensures an extraordinarily rich avifauna. In the lowland woodlands, woodpeckers, raptors, warblers and babblers abound, while the wetlands and rivers are home to cranes, thick-knees, plovers, lapwings and waders, amongst many others. The mountains host a similarly exciting array of unique birds including laughingthrushes, robins, redstarts and thrushes. That first sighting of a Himalayan Rubythroat or a Blue-capped Redstart is sure to thrill, as too Sarus Cranes strutting through grasslands or plunging River Terns. Northern India is also exceptionally rich in other wildlife, most famous amongst them is, of course, the incomparable Bengal Tiger, but there are many other large mammals and even reptiles that never fail to fascinate. Take for example the amazing Gharial, a very unusual and rare crocodilian. This trip is always an unforgettable experience!
We have been offering tours to Northern India for many years now, and we usually record up to 400 species of bird and there is always a very good possibility that we’ll encounter Tiger.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening with dinner at an airport hotel in Delhi. Night in Delhi.
Day 2: After an early breakfast we’ll transfer to one of Delhi’s bustling railway stations, where we’ll begin our grand tour with a train ride south to the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Gliding through the open countryside of the Gangetic Plain will be a wonderful introduction to rural India, and we can expect to see Indian Pond Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, Common Peafowl, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Indian Roller, Black Drongo, and Common and Bank Mynas along the way. Arriving around midday, we’ll go straight to our hotel, and in the afternoon we’ll have our first of six safari drives in the reserve in search of the majestic Bengal Tiger. Night at a comfortable lodge outside the Tiger Reserve at Ranthambhore.
Day 3: Ranthambhore is the subcontinent’s most famous and accessible Tiger reserve, and we’ll take a number of drives inside the park during the mornings and early evenings. Our open-topped vehicles will allow excellent views of the wildlife, and we will undoubtedly see good numbers of Spotted Deer, an important prey item for the elusive Tigers. Elusive they may be, but the habitat here is fairly open, and a healthy population ensures that we have a good chance of at least one encounter with this magnificent cat. Ornithological distractions could include Painted Spurfowl, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, and White-naped Woodpecker. Night at Ranthambhore.
Day 4: This will be our second full day in and around Ranthambhore. If we still haven’t seen a Tiger we’ll concentrate our efforts to find one. There are numerous other attractions here as well, including a spectacular ancient fort and a series of bird-thronged lakes. Outside the reserve we have a good chance of finding regional specialties such as the gorgeous Indian Courser and elusive Painted Sandgrouse. Night at Ranthambhore.
Day 5: After a final morning drive in the reserve, we’ll leave Ranthambhore and take the afternoon train to Bharatpur, one of the ornithological wonders of the world. We’ll arrive in time to sample some of the region’s ornithological delights. Night at Bharatpur.
Days 6-7: Keoladeo National Park, or simply Bharatpur, was originally a vast wetland developed for duck shooting. Coaches are not allowed inside the park, so we’ll explore the 10 square miles on foot, by bicycle-rickshaw, and in the park’s electric bus. Birding here is always very rewarding, with the possibility of more than 150 species ranging from Sarus Crane to Small Minivet, from Brown Crake to Eastern Imperial Eagle. Amongst the vast numbers of waterbirds, Black-necked and Painted Storks, Intermediate Egret, and Oriental Darter will vie for our attention as we search for more sought-after species such as Ferruginous and Red-crested Pochards or Greater Painted-snipe. In the trailside trees we’ll look for Marshall’s Iora, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Common Wood-Shrike, White-bellied Drongo, Coppersmith Barbet, and Ashy Prinia. Beneath the bushes the slightest movement could signal a Bluethroat or, with luck, an Orange-headed Thrush or Siberian Rubythroat. In the sky above there might be Greater Spotted Eagle, Red-headed Vulture, or Crested Serpent-Eagle. Dusk may bring us Collared Scops Owl, Dusky Horned Owl, or a nightjar or two. Note that Bharatpur is suffering from a long-term acute water shortage, and although the actual amount of water in the park varies, depending largely on the magnitude of the previous summer’s monsoon, the sanctuary has been very dry for most of the 21st century. Because of this, we might now spend only one full day inside the reserve, and we might visit other sites outside the reserve during our time here. Nights at Bharatpur.
Day 8: Leaving Bharatpur we’ll drive through Agra an on towards Chambal Safari Lodge where we’ll take a boat on the Chambal River. Indian Skimmers still breed here, and we should be able to find several of these increasingly rare birds, along with Black-bellied Tern and perhaps Sand Lark. The rare Gharial, Mugger Crocodile, and even Gangetic Dolphin are also found here, and we’ll hope to see all three. Night at the very comfortable family-run Chambal Safari Lodge.
Day 9: After breakfast we’ll return to Agra and visit the Taj Mahal - “no mere building, but a love immortalized in marble.” Birders unmoved by Shah Jahan’s promise to build a tomb that would forever recall the love he shared with Mumtaz Mahal, should at least enjoy seeing the profusion of raptors over the Taj; there is also a chance of Pallas’s Gull or River Lapwing on the Yamuna River, while Asian Koel and Brown-headed Barbet can be seen in the leafy gardens. In the afternoon we’ll continue north back to Delhi where we’ll overnight.
Day 10: We’ll leave the hotel very early this morning to catch our train to Kathgodam at the base of the mighty Himalayas. We should arrive around midday, and after lunch we’ll drive to Ramnagar where we’ll search the boulder-strewn river for the rare and increasingly elusive Ibisbill, as well as wintering Wallcreepers. From there we’ll drive up to a delightful lodge just outside Corbett National Park, with superb views across the Kosi River and surrounding dense woodland where we are free to wander on foot. We’ll spend two nights at The Den.
Day 11: Today we’ll explore the river edge for Brown and Tawny Fish-Owls, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, and Plumbeous Water and White-capped Redstarts. The surrounding area is full of surprises, and in recent years we have regularly seen Long-billed Thrush and Little Forktail, as well as Rufous-bellied Eagle and Mountain Hawk-Eagle. The many new species possible in the forest could include Collared Falconet, Crested Tree Swift, Hair-crested Drongo, and Orange-bellied Leafbird. Night at The Den.
Day 12: After breakfast we’ll enter the highly scenic Corbett National Park, where Red Junglefowl and Kalij Pheasant are immediate possibilities. Please be warned that the accommodation here is spartan by Western standards; we can expect leaky plumbing and unpredictable supplies of heating, electricity, and hot water. But the food is reasonable, and the location and its birds are magnificent. Night in Corbett National Park.
Day 13: The internationally famous Corbett National Park, established for Project Tiger in 1935, covers 200 square miles. The Tigers here can be hard to find, and with vast areas of forest in which to roam, encounters are a bonus as opposed to something one can expect. Exploration on foot is not allowed—indeed, it is possible only in areas adjacent to our lodge or if accompanied by an armed guard. Happily, the park is easily accessible by our open-top jeeps. Located in the Himalayan foothills between 1,300 and 3,500 feet above sea level, the reserve is divided by the River Ram Ganga (which harbours two species of inland crocodile) and offers a variety of habitats from dense jungle and mature forests to open grassland, broad river valleys, and rolling hills. The wealth and variety of species seems almost inexhaustible: Great Hornbill, Asian Barred Owlet, Slaty-headed Parakeet, Himalayan Swiftlet, Lesser Fish-Eagle, or even Great Thick-knee, Stork-billed Kingfisher, or White-tailed Rubythroat. As well as Tiger, mammals include Indian Elephant, Indian Muntjac, and Hog Deer. Night at The Den.
Day 14: After a final morning exploring the area, we’ll drive to the old colonial-era hill station of Nainital, a journey that takes us along one of the world’s more spectacular mountain roads as we climb into the Kumaon Hills to this delightful “lake city.” We’ll stop along the way to look for birds including Long-tailed Broadbill, Black-throated Jay, Black-throated Bushtit, Blue-capped Redstart, and the stunning Spotted Forktail. Night in Nainital.
Days 15-16: Driving up to the mountain ridge above Nainital we’ll look across to the snow-capped Western Himalayas and the borders of China and Nepal. If the weather is clear, we’ll be able to see Nanda Devi, at 24,500 feet India’s highest peak, from a viewpoint often alive with Oriental Turtle Doves, Chestnut-crowned and White-throated Laughingthrushes, Gray-winged Blackbirds, and Red-flanked Bluetails. The gentle downhill stroll back into town will add many sub-Himalayan species to our list. On walks through the surrounding valleys and forested hills we’ll hope for Hill Partridge, Altai Accentor, White-tailed Nuthatch, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, Golden Bush-Robin, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, and Common, Dark-breasted, and Pink-browed Rosefinches. From a nearby mountain lookout, close-passing raptors could include Himalayan Vulture, Lammergeier, and Steppe Eagle while other surprises could include Cheer and Koklass Pheasants, Great Barbet, White-browed Shrike-Babbler or Rufous Sibia. Streaked Laughingthrush is a common or garden bird here, and the numerous wooded gullies and gardens around town can hold many other exciting birds. Recent tours have produced Chestnut Thrush, Fire-fronted Serin, and Russet Sparrow - all within walking distance of our hotel.
On one day we’ll visit the lake at Sattal, passing through coniferous forests, a patchwork of farm fields, and deciduous woodland surrounding the lake. Each of these habitats holds different birds, and highlights on previous visits have included Brown Wood Owl, White-crested and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrushes, Red-billed Leiothrix, Scaly Thrush, Black-throated Accentor, and White-capped Bunting. Nights in Nainital.
Day 17: After a final morning around Nainital, we’ll return to Kathgodam for our afternoon train back to Delhi.
Day 18: To finish off our birding in this exciting and bird-rich part of the world, we’ll visit Sultanpur, a site close to the capital. Even after nearly three weeks in this fascinating country, there will still be new species to distract us, perhaps including Eastern Orphean Warbler and regional specialities such as Brooks’s Leaf Warbler and Sind Sparrow. Night in Delhi.
Day 19: The tour concludes with transfers to the airport.
Updated: 02 July 2020