Introducing Rajaji National Park
This unspoilt park, covering 820 sq km in the forested foothills near Haridwar, is best known for its wild elephants, numbering around 600 at last count.
As well as elephants, the park contains some 32 tigers and 250 leopards. Although they’re not easily seen, they have thousands of chital (spotted deer) and hundreds of sambars (India’s largest species of deer) to feed on. A handful of rarely seen sloth bears are hidden away. Some 300 species of birds also add interest.
Rajaji’s forests include the traditional winter territory of over 1000 families of nomadic Van Gujjar buffalo herders – most of whom have been evicted from the park against their will. For more on this and other issues affecting the unique Van Gujjar tribe, visit www.sophiaindia.org.
The village of Chilla, 13km northeast of Haridwar, is the base for visiting the park. At the Forest Ranger’s office, close to the tourist guesthouse at Chilla, you can pick up a brochure, pay entry fees and organise a jeep. These take up to eight people and cost ₹1000 for the standard safari (plus a ₹500 entry fee for the vehicle). Elephant rides are no longer offered at Rajaji.
Before visiting, contact the GMVN tourist office in Haridwar and Mohan’s Adventure Tours, which offers abridged safaris even when the park is officially closed. These are five-hour trips (₹1950 per person) that include being taken on a short safari, hopefully seeing a parade of wild elephants, and maybe visiting a Van Gujjar forest camp.