A Tiger rests in the shade at Ranthambore Photo: Paul Holt
India is a mystical and exotic country that for many people epitomizes foreign travel. It is an extraordinarily varied land, and long after you have returned home images will remain to enrich and liven your daily round: the cool marble splendor of the Taj Mahal; the snows of the Himalayas, flamingo-pink at dawn; and the lush green jungles. And above all the birds: the thrill of your first Siberian Rubythroat, a Red-flanked Bluetail or Altai Accentor beside a mountain stream a Sarus Crane striding majestically through the cornfields an Orange-headed Thrush lighting up the undergrowth or minivets streaming through the emerald canopy. With so many birds on the potential list, the examples can only be arbitrary, and the total for the tour should be between 380 and 400 species.
We have been running up to three tours a year to Northern India for many years. Now we’ve added a visit to Ranthambhore, thereby offering the very real possibility of an encounter with a tiger and making this one of the most comprehensive northern India itineraries available.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening 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 safari drive in the reserve in search of the majestic Bengal Tiger. Night at a comfortable lodge outside the Tiger Reserve at Ranthambhore.
We were remarkably lucky with tiger sightings, and our experience on the elephants at Corbett is something I will remember vividly the rest of my life. The focus on mammals as well as birds really kept this trip exciting, and the variety of habitats also added a great deal of interest. Normally after two weeks on a three-week tour, I am looking forward to going home, but I loved virtually every day of this tour.
Paul Holt is extraordinary—beyond being a superb birder and knowing India so well, he is patient, gracious, funny, helpful and an all-around terrific person who seems to be genuinely interested in the participants and to enjoy leading tours. Many things went wrong or could have gone wrong as far as logistics were concerned but he anticipated everything and planned extremely well, and when things did go wrong, he and Rajvir did a great job of pulling things together. Paul was exceptional in dealing with an anxious participant with special needs. Going way beyond the call of duty, he loaned me his own camera to use when mine broke. I will be grateful to him forever whenever I look at the pictures of this trip.
Nancy Soulette, Feb 2011
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 allowing excellent views of the wildlife, and we will undoubtedly see good numbers of Spotted Deer, a main 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, and 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.
Days 5: After a final morning drive in the reserve, we’ll leave Ranthambhore and take the 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. Those whose overriding memories of birdwatching abroad are dusty and bumpy roads and whistle-stop stakeouts will find this a marvelously relaxing time. Nevertheless it will be very rewarding, with the possibility of more than 200 species ranging from Sarus Crane to Small Minivet, from Ruddy-breasted Crake to White-tailed Eagle. Among the numbers of waterbirds, Black-necked and Painted Storks, Intermediate Egret, Cotton Pygmy-Goose, and Darter will vie for our attention as we search for less usual 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, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, White-bellied Drongo, Coppersmith Barbet, and Ashy Prinia. Beneath the bushes the slightest movement could herald 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 an 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 now spend only one full day inside the reserve, with the other full day visiting a bird-thronged deepwater reservoir about two hours’ drive away. Nights at Bharatpur.
Day 8: Leaving Bharatpur we’ll drive through Agra and on to Chambal River Lodge, where we’ll take a boat up 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. Gharial, Mugger Crocodile, and even Gangetic Dolphin are also found here, and we’ll hope to see all three. Night at the comfortable family-run Chambal River Lodge.
Day 9: After breakfast we’ll return to Agra and visit the Taj Mahal—“no mere building, but a love immortalized in marble.” Obsessive 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, and Asian Koel and Brown-headed Barbet can be seen in the leafy gardens. In the afternoon we’ll continue north and back to Delhi, where we’ll have dinner and access to two day rooms before we take an overnight sleeper train to Kathgodam at the base of the mighty Himalayas.
Day 10: We’ll arrive in Kathgodam in the early morning, then switch to a fleet of jeeps for the rest of the drive to Ramnagar. Here we’ll search the boulder-strewn river for the rare and elusive Ibisbill, a species we almost always see, and for 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. Night near Corbett National Park.
Day 11: During our full day here we’ll explore the river edge for Brown and Tawny Fish-Owls, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, and Plumbeous and White-capped Water 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 near Corbett National Park..
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 excellent, and the location and its birds 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 are extremely hard to find, and with vast areas of forest in which to roam, encounters are now very rare. 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, safaris on elephant-back provide a thrilling alternative. 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 harbors 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, Jungle 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 in Corbett National Park.
Day 14: After a final morning in the park we’ll drive to the old 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 Tit, Blue-headed 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 Orange-flanked Bush-Robins. The gentle downhill stroll back to 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 Griffon, Lammergeier, and Steppe Eagle, and daily surprises could range from Cheer or Koklass Pheasant to Great Barbet, White-browed Shrike-Babbler or Rufous Sibia. Streaked Laughingthrush is virtually a 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 day around Nainital, we’ll return to Kathgodam and take another overnight sleeper train back to Delhi.
Day 18: Arriving in the early morning, we’ll transfer to a hotel and have breakfast, followed by an optional birding excursion to a site close to the capital. Even after nearly three weeks in this fascinating country, there will still be new species to distract us around Delhi, perhaps including regional specialties such as Brooks’s Leaf Warbler or even White-tailed Stonechat. The tour ends after dinner this evening in Delhi.
Updated: 30 March 2012
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2013 Tour Price $5300)
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
Maximum group size 12 with one leader. Single rooms cannot be guaranteed at Bharatpur and at Corbett National Park.
Participants who prefer to meet the group in London should contact the WINGS office, as should participants who wish to arrive early or remain late in Delhi and would like assistance with their arrangements.