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Rajaji National Park

Rajaji is Corbett in miniature, and doesn’t at all pale in comparison to its great (and touristy) neighbour. Spread out in three districts of Garhwal (Dehradun, Haridwar and Pauri), this national park is wonderfully picturesque, serene, and offers as many opportunities of spotting wildlife as its popular neighbour, boasting a local ecosystem teeming with flora and fauna. Rajaji’s most famous residents are its elephants (they number around 450 to 500).
The Chilla Wildlife Sanctuary (240sq km) forms part of Rajaji National Park. In fact, Chilla village, 13km to the northeast of Haridwar (across the Ganges), is the base for visiting Rajaji. Chilla reserve, separated from the Motichur and Rajaji sanctuaries by the Ganges River, has 23 species of animals and over 300 species of fauna.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Rajaji is the Asan Barrage, now a bird sanctuary. This manmade wetland (4sq km), near the confluence of the Asan and Yamuna rivers, is a delight for birdwatchers. There’s avian life aplenty here, both local and migratory. Among the migratory species that can be spotted at the reservoir in winters are the Brahminy duck, pintail, red-crested pochard, gadwall, common pochard, mallard, coot, wigeon, common teal, tufted duck and the shoveller. Meanwhile, during the summer months (May to September), there’s every chance of sighting locals like the painted stork, open-billed stork and the night heron.


There were originally three wildlife parks here – Rajaji, established 1948; Motichur, established 1964; Chilla, established 1977 – before all were merged into one, in 1983. The sanctuary is named after C. Rajagopalachari, fondly known as Rajaji, one of the leading lights of India’s Independence movement, and the first (and last) governor general of Independent India.


Rajaji is located between the Shivalik range, in the foothills of the Himalayas, and the Indo-Gangetic plain. It stretches out across the rugged slopes of the Shivaliks, to the east of Haridwar, and falls in the same band of forest that makes up much of Corbett. The Ganges River flows for about 24km in the east of the park.
Amid dense jungle and extensive forest cover, Rajaji boasts an incredibly rich biodiversity, contributing to which are the different types of landscape existent here. Sal forest predominates, but Rajaji also has semi-evergreen, moist and dry deciduous, khair-sissoo, grassland and sub-tropical pine forests (chir pine abounds in the upper reaches of the sanctuary), besides scrubland, grassland and riparian vegetation.


Winters (November to February) are the time when the migratory birds come calling – Rajaji is their first tryst with the sub-continental land mass. Between October and February, the park’s wetlands are home to the likes of the Himalayan pied kingfisher and redstarts (white-capped and plumbeous). Nights are cold but days are gloriously sunny (12-25C). This is the best time for a safari, or a spot of birdwatching.
Spring (March-April) is the ideal time for camping and trekking; the weather is pleasant at this time of year (though there is the likelihood of rain showers). And while summers are hot (with highs of 38-40C), they provide a good chance of sighting wildlife in the vicinity of watering holes.

Flora and Fauna

While the Asian Elephant is Rajaji’s most visible occupant – it has the biggest population of these wonderful beasts anywhere in Uttarakhand – the park is host to many species of mammals, birds and reptiles. There are leopards, the Himalayan bear (and the occasional sloth bear), four species of deer – spotted (chital), hog, barking (kakar) and the sambar – wild boar, antelopes (including the nilgai and the goral, the goat-antelope), jackals, hyenas, jungle cats, civets and (from the family of primates) the rhesus macaque and Hanuman langur. You’ll also come across the Indian Hare, the Indian Porcupine – and also a rare species of anteater.
Sightings of tigers, however, are once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences, even though there is a tiger corridor in the park. But Rajaji has chital in the thousands and sambars in the hundreds.
The park is particularly blessed with avifauna, of which there are more than 400 species, occupants on land and water. Peacocks are plentiful here but you’ll also come across the Himalayan yellow-throated marten, the great pied hornbill, fire-tailed sunbird, rusty-cheeked scimitar, babbler, golden-spectacled warbler, chestnut-tailed starling, Indian roller, Drongo cuckoo, crested serpent eagle, brown hawk-owl, red jungle fowl, orioles, white-necked stork, grey-headed fish eagle, red-headed vulture and the kingfisher.
The reptile kingdom is represented by pythons, the king cobra, the Indian Cobra, the common krait and monitor lizards. In the rivers here (Ganges, Song), you’ll encounter goonch, trout, Mahseer, Kalabanse (a green-grey fish with scales of a pinkish hue) and Chilwa, a silvery fish (sadly, much over-fished).

How to reach

The nearest airport is Jolly Grant, Dehradun (33km), barely a few kilometres from the park’s northern boundary; there are daily flights from Delhi (50min). The nearest railhead is in Haridwar (8km), which is connected to Delhi by the overnight Mussoorie Express, and the Janshatabdi Express; the Doon Express goes to Kolkata via Lucknow and Varanasi.
There are hourly buses to Chilla from Haridwar (en route to Rishikesh) from 7am to 2pm. You can also walk to Chilla village, a distance of 4km, if you take a shortcut from Har-ki-Pauri via the bed of a river and a bridge.
Rajaji National Park is 220km from Delhi.

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