National parks in India are formed by the state and central governments to protect flora and fauna or anything that holds historical or geographical significance. What separates them from wildlife sanctuaries is the fact that there are no human activities allowed in national parks. By Moyena Parikh
Visiting a national park is not just an opportunity to witness nature at large; you will also learn about different ecosystems that exist in one sprawling park. These parks draw all sorts of tourists, ranging from adrenaline junkies and curious minds to nature lovers, burned-out souls, and those looking for a digital detox.
Famous national parks dotted across India not only provide geographical and climatic diversity but also serve as a thriving ecosystem for species of birds and animals. The country’s first national park, Jim Corbett, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, was established in 1936. The largest national park in India is the Hemis National Park in Ladakh. One of the largest Asian glaciers, Zemu Glacier, is located within the Khangchendzonga National Park in the northeastern state of Sikkim.
Despite the country’s geographical divisions of mountains, rivers, an arid desert and much more, national parks in India enrich its position in the world when it comes to preserving wildlife.
As per a 2020 National Wildlife Database report, there are 104 national parks in the subcontinent. They preserve about 70 percent of the world’s wild tigers and lions, sloth bears, birds and flora. Northeast India is home to some of them.
Here are the national parks you can visit in the northeastern states of India
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Kaziranga National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Spanning across 430 square kilometres, the national park serves as a famous holiday retreat too.
The vast expanse of land is dotted with dense tropical forests, tall elephant grass meadows and swampy lagoons. It is also here that four rivers, including the River Brahmaputra, intersect. The park’s landscape is made of muddy grasslands, savanna woodlands, tropical moist mixed deciduous forests and semi-evergreen forests.
When it comes to fauna, Kaziranga boasts the largest population of the one-horned Rhinoceros and is home to wild water buffalo, leopards, Asiatic elephants, Royal Bengal Tigers and varied species of migratory birds.
The best time to visit the Kaziranga National Park is before 1 May and after 31 October, as the park remains closed for the period in between. For wildlife enthusiasts, the national park offers jeep and elephant safaris that cover four primary zones of exploration: the Central Zone or Kohara Range, the Western Range or Bagori Range, the Eastern Zone of Agoratoli Range and the Burapahar Zone.
The nearest airport and railway station are in Guwahati, and it takes five hours to cover a distance of 200 kilometres to reach the Kaziranga National Park.
Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Assam
Measuring an area of 340 square kilometres, Dibru Saikhowa National Park is the largest salix swamp forest in Northeast India. It was established in 1890 as Dibru Reserved Forest to conserve the habitation of the white-winged wood duck.
In 1929, the Dibru-Saikhowa Biosphere Reserve was added to the area, which was declared a wildlife sanctuary 57 years later. Eventually in 1999, it was officially announced as a national park.
Comprising wetlands, grasslands, and dense semi-evergreen and evergreen forests, it serves as a sanctuary for several extremely rare and endangered species. Boasting over 400 species of birds, the river island national park has recorded 36 species of mammals, including feral horses, the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, Gangetic Dolphin, Malayan giant squirrel, Asiatic water buffalo, sambar deer, capped langur, hoolock gibbons and Asian elephant.
Located about 12 kilometres north of the Tinsukia districts of Assam, the nearest airport to the national park is in Dibrugarh, while the nearest railway station is in Tinsukia.
When in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, visit Maguri Beel, Kekjori Tree, Churkey Sapori island and Laika Forest Village.
The best time to visit is from November to April.
Manas National Park, Assam
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, Manas National Park is spread over 391 square kilometres of beautiful landscape, including forested hills, evergreen forests and grasslands. Located near River Manas, it stretches to the borders of Bhutan and shelters around 60 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 42 species of reptiles and seven species of amphibians.
While visitors can spot the Asian elephant, slow loris, gaur, sloth bear, Asian water buffalo, chital and hog deer at the national park, it is also one of the most suitable places for birdwatching in the country.
Along with one of the most endangered species, Bengal Florican, tourists can also find Indian hornbills, fishing eagles, harriers, falcons, herons and magpie robins in their natural habitat.
If you’re intrigued to explore the depths of the national park, you can choose from different safaris, as well as opt for jungle walks. Activities like river rafting are also available for those who would like to witness wild buffalos, deer and elephants on the banks or bathing.
Tourists can also get a glimpse of culture and tradition by taking a short trip to the Bodo villages and witnessing tribal dances at tourist cottages and resorts.
The most suitable time to visit the national park is between February and October. Arrive at Guwahati airport/railway station and reach the park in about four hours (approximately 150 kilometres) via private or state-run buses.
Other than these three, Assam has two more national parks, as per the website of Government of Assam. They are Orang National Park and Nameri National Park, which exhibit a rich flora and fauna spread across their sprawling landscapes.
Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
Located in the Changlang district, the Namdapha National Park acts as a natural boundary between India and Myanmar, and lies between the Mishmi Hills’ Dapha Bum range and the Patkai range. It was declared a tiger reserve and national park in 1983 and harbours the big four feline species — leopards, tigers, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. This makes it the world’s only park where all four big cats reside.
Boasting 1,285 species of fauna, the primate species found here are Assamese macaque, pig-tailed macaque, stump-tailed macaque and Hoolock Gibbons, along with the only ‘ape’ species. However, the latter lives in the deepest, accessible part of the forest. Other animals that you can spot here are elephants, black bears, Indian bisons, deers, reptiles and various arboreal animals.
The Namdapha National Park is one of the best places in the country for birdwatchers. The 453 species found here include the rare and endangered white-winged wood ducks, the Indian hornbills, jungle fowls and pheasants flop.
Measuring 1,985 square kilometres, the evergreen rainforests receive rainfall even in December, while its higher altitudes are covered with snow. Popular tourist attractions include Deban, Firmbase, Camera Point and Gandhigram.
The best season to explore the national park is from October to April. To reach the national park from the Dibrugarh Airport or the Tinsukia railway station, hop aboard one of the private or state-run buses.
Mouling National Park, Arunachal Pradesh
Established in 1986, the Mouling National Park is known for its 18 biodiversity hotspots. The name ‘Mouling’ is derived from a nearby mountain peak that produces a red-coloured poisonous plant.
Covering an area of 483 square kilometres, the national park is said to house a variety of flora, such as livistoma, calamus, pandamus, musa, betula, alnus and exbuklandia. It also shelters wild animals such as takin, goral, Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, barking deer and red panda.
Visit the Mouling National Park between November and February as the temperatures are just right for sightseeing. The national park can be reached by first arriving at the Lilabari Airport in Tezpur or the Tinsukia railway station, and is well-connected by roads from major cities.
Balpakram National Park, Meghalaya
Situated in South Garo Hills, the Balpakram National Park is known as the “land of perpetual winds” and spans 220 square kilometres. Its forest-covered canyon-cum-gorge and various geophysical formations remind tourists of the Grand Canyon National Park of the US. It is the largest national park in Northeast India.
The succession of hills with an abruptly elevated valley is said to be the “resting place of spirits of the dead.” However, the Balpakram National Park is home to several rare and endemic animals along with elephants, tigers, sambar, barking deer and gaur.
Tourist attractions include the 600-metre-deep Mahadeo gorge and the Chitmang peak or Kailash, which scales a height of 1,023 metres. November to March is the best time to visit the national park, which is 93 kilometres from Guwahati, about 166 kilometres from Tura and 62 kilometres from Baghmara.
Tourists can also visit the Siju Bird Sanctuary, Siju Cave, Nohkalikai Falls and Umlawan Cave nearby.
Nokrek National Park, Meghalaya
Notified as a national park in 1988, Nokrek National Park is located in the south-eastern part of East Garo Hills. It was enlisted as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2009.
Its varied fauna includes Indian elephants, leopards, hoolock gibbons, capped langur, stump-tailed macaque, Himalayan black bear, sloth bear, clouded leopard, gaur, sambar and barking deer.
It also harbours highly vulnerable fauna species like Slow Loris, Petaurista philippensis (giant flying squirrel) and Macaca leonina (pig-tailed macaque).
Winter migrant birds, such as Saxicola maurus (Siberian stonechat), Luscinia calliope (Siberian rubythroat), the rare mountain Bambusicola fytchii (bamboo partridge), and the Pycnonotus flavescens (flavescent bulbul), can also be sighted at the national park.
However, it is important to note that entry to the Nokrek National Park is allowed only after permission from a forest officer.
Keibul-Lamjao National Park, Manipur
Known as the only floating park in the world, Keibul-Lamjao National Park is located in the southwestern part of Lake Loktak in Manipur.
Other than being a natural habitat of the brow-antlered deer (Sangai), aka the dancing deer, visitors can spot hog deer, otters and a host of waterfowl and migratory birds in the national park.
To witness several species of endangered wildlife in their natural habitat, the national park can be best visited from November to March. You can reach the Tulihal International Airport in Imphal or take a train to the Jiribam Railway Station in Manipur and then avail public transport that plies to the national park. You can also take the road (National Highways 2, 37 and 29) to reach here.
Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim
Covering 1,784 square kilometres, the Khangchendzonga National Park in Yuksom is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to exotic animal species such as red panda, snow leopard and musk deer. Bird species like the black-necked crane, grey-peacock pheasant, Himalayan monal pheasant, blood pheasant, satyr tragopan, Tibetan snow cock and Himalayan snow cock can also be spotted.
Other than that, the Khangchendzonga National Park has 18 glaciers, 17 alpine lakes and 19 mountain peaks.
Accessed via road, April to May is the ideal time to visit the national park. Popular tourist points include trekking points Yuksom, Green Lake, and Lachen, while the Tholung Monastery located in the national park’s buffer zone is counted among the most holy monasteries in the northeastern state.
Murlen National Park, Mizoram
The Murlen National Park was established in 1991 and covers an area of 100 square kilometres. It is located next to the Lengteng Wildlife Sanctuary but is preserved by the state government for the betterment of biodiversity and wildlife.
Situated amid six caves, the park has tropical and semi-evergreen forests, where tiger, leopard, Himalayan black bear, serow, hoolock gibbon, sambar, barking deer and wild boar exist.
Several threatened species of birds like Hume’s pheasant, hill myna, dark rumped swift, and common partridges can also be spotted. Murlen National Park is known for its numerous cliffs.
You can explore the area by availing bird safari, jungle safari and trekking during its peak tourist season, which is from October to March.
To reach the park, you need to first arrive at the Shillong airport or the Silchar railway station or take the road (National Highway 54).
Phawngpui Blue Mountain National Park, Mizoram
Phawngpui is the highest peak in Mizoram and is also called the Blue Mountain. Owing to its exotic and diverse flora and fauna, especially the orchids and rhododendrons, Phawngpui was declared a national park. At times, the area spanning 50 square kilometres is shrouded by a thin sheet of cloud, giving it a blue appearance when spotted from a distance. Hence, it was given the name Blue Mountain, which overlooks the River Chhimtuipui.
The national park is home to the Blyth’s tragopan — the rare avian species — Hume’s pheasant, dark-rumped swift as well as mammals such as the Asiatic black bear, slow loris, stump-tailed macaque, tiger, goral, capped langur and leopard. The Kolodyne River, flowing on the eastern part of the park, forms an international border with Myanmar.
Major attractions, including the Phawngpui peak and Vantawang waterfall, can be explored while trekking, and you can camp here too. The ideal time to visit the Phawngpui National Park is from November to April.
The national park is 300 kilometres away from Aizwal. While the nearest airport is the Aizawl Airport, the Silchar railway station is the closest railway station. There is also a reliable road network connecting major cities and the Phawngpui National Park.