Most travel experts will say that March is not the perfect time to visit national parks and sanctuaries. Mostly because migratory birds are gone around this time and the predators are just getting back to action from their winter hibernation. Or so they say. People who love wildlife will always enjoy the forests no matter what the season. So this March, my cousins and I headed to the Rajaji National Park for an adventure in the wild.
Many people might not know about this sanctuary, hidden away at the foothills of the Shivalik Mountain Ranges near Haridwar. Even we didn’t know until we planned our trip. We had to book a dependable taxi from Delhi to Haridwar with an experienced driver, since we were new to the area, and needed someone to guide us.
Rajaji National Park is a vast forested area that covers Pauri Garhwal, Dehradun, and Haridwar districts. It was established by and named after Sri C Rajagopalachari, the first governor-general of Independent India. Initially a small sanctuary, Rajaji was later merged with the sanctuaries of Motichur and Chilla and that was when it became the Rajaji national park that we see today.
Reaching the Rajaji National park
It was a drive of nearly six hours through the hilly roads and forested zones before we finally reached. Thick clusters of Sal and other deciduous trees dominate the forests and the gurgling brooks and streams that cut through, make it the perfect landscape for eco-tourism. We had expected it to be more peaceful than it appeared, thanks to a handful of regular tourists, bird watchers, and campers.
On the recommendation of our driver, we found a cozy little jungle lodge in Chilla, within the park premises on the Haridwar-Dehradun Road. We obviously kept the car with us for local tours. Chilla is the most developed zone of the National Park, in terms of tourist amenities and hence is always busy. Here we had to get a permit to explore the forests and for the stay.
The lodge office informed us that they conduct wildlife adventures like safaris, river rafting, and canoeing, and even elephant rides. We skipped the safari since we had our personal vehicle and opted for rafting instead.
The forest of Rajaji is said to house some of the most endangered species of animals like the Indian panther, and exotic migratory birds, which can only be found in this part of the country.
Next morning, we started at almost 6 am, right after sunrise and went on to explore the jungles of Chilla. Thankfully we had our rental car. One of the benefits of renting a cheap and comfortable car in Delhi is that you can customize your tours and still not burn your pockets.
We went around Chilla for about three or four hours spotting elephants, spotted deer, and other smaller animals like civet and hedgehogs. Indian parrots dominated the higher branches of the trees and their calls resonated throughout the forest. We kept stopping at few places and walked around, particularly around the streams. Some parts of the forests were quite dense and dark, even in the broad daylight.
Around the water bodies, the forest area was a little clearer, where I spotted a few sandpipers hopping around in the puddles and a flock of babblers building a nest on a branch nearby. So although it was not the perfect birding season, I was definitely not disappointed.
Later, we came back to the lodge for a quick meal and headed out again to explore the Motichur zone. This part of the national park is known for being home to Indian panthers. There are only a handful of them left and are protected by the Panther Special Range. In some areas, they have machan (canopies) built on trees for viewing. Earlier the royals would hunt from these canopies but not anymore.
Next day was the rafting day, for which we had already signed up with the lodge. We had to travel a few miles outside the main forest area where the rafting tours started. It was a three-hour tour with a guide. The streams here were not as ferocious as in Rishikesh but we still had a thrilling ride over 12 Km. This part of the forests was less dense with lovely views of the mountains. Splashing through the ice cold water and bobbing on the river currents was truly exciting.
Soon the day got over and we came back before it was dark and unsafe to explore more. We grabbed our favorite drinks and sat in the cool air of the night, listening to crickets and nocturnal animals. The gorgeous views coupled with the melodious harmony of birds, roars of animals, and the gurgles of streams made it the perfect respite for our stressed urban souls.