On safari: Animal trips with a difference around Asia

Safari in India

Tourists ride an elephant on a safari at the Jim Corbett National Park in northern India, located in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Pic: AP

FOR a chance to travel to less touristy areas in Asia and encounter wildlife, nature and local life, an animal safari is an excellent option. Elephant, camel and horse safari operators exist in places as varied as the Inner Mongolian steppe, Thailand’s northern mountains and India’s desert sands and their itineraries provide the chance to stay with nomads, sleep under the stars and enjoy varied landscapes while also getting to know your sure footed companion. Traveling with animals also slows the pace down, enabling the traveler to  enter into the rhythms of local life.

Elephant safaris, Northern Thailand

Elephant safaris are provided in the northern regions of the country in places like Chiang Mai. Many are simply part of full-day itineraries near Chiang Mai city and are often combined with other adventures such as bamboo rafting. Such adventures are a great way to combine an appreciation of beautiful natural surroundings in northern Thailand’s mountainous landscape under the steam of a sure footed beast. For those wanting an extended experience of the elephant safari there are some operators offering longer, multi-day trips which have a few additional thrills such as swimming and bathing with the elephants and the chance to visit indigenous hill tribes and even stay with them. The pace of an elephant is best described as ambling, and so it’s also the perfect opportunity to look out for bird and other wildlife, plants, fruits and views, besides getting to know one of the world’s most gentle giants.

Another place to consider an elephant safari in Asia is in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Elephants are often used in India’s national parks for wildlife spotting.

Elephant safari in Chitwan, Nepal. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Camel safari, Rajasthan, India

Camel safaris in Rajasthan provide an unforgettable experience of India’s rippling Thar desert and a chance to really experience rural, desert life. They also get you up close and personal with the ship of the desert, the camel, whose smelly and sometimes bad temepered personality is also memorable!

While the Thar is a desert, it is surprisingly populated and is not all rolling sand hills. For the best opportunity to see the latter, you should organise your safari around Jaisalmer, although camel safaris are possible in almost any town in the state.

Safari options and comforts can vary widely so it is wise to check exactly what is included in terms of food, water, blankets and other supplies as cheaper safaris may lack essentials you want. It can be very cold in the desert in winter and hot in summer so choose your seasons wisely: September to March is best. Things move at a slow pace in the desert and the rolling, rocking motion of a camel is not for everyone. If in doubt choose a shorter, rather than longer itinerary, but it is possible to arrange a safari for as long as you wish. Most people choose an overnight or two night option.

Some operators may organise a night time program including dancing or other local entertainment. This is well worth taking in, however make sure you schedule in a night camping in the desert with your camel guides or fellow safari friends under the stars.

Camel safaris are also offered in Ladakh in northern India. Australia is another place to undertake a camel safari, particularly in desert areas such as Alice Springs, and the famed sands of Broome’s Cable Beach.

Camel safari in the Thar desert, Rajasthan, India. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Horse safaris, Inner Mongolia, China

Asian horses were domesticated by tribes of the Mongolian steppes and today it’s still a fantastic place to explore on horseback. If you have visions of galloping across endless steppe and visiting real nomads, Inner Mongolia is the place to do it. Horses still play an important role in local culture and traveling the way the locals do, is a good way to experience both the landscapes, other animals and the people of the region particularly if you can find an operator that offers homestays.

Most horse riding trips through this region are eco friendly with camping under the stars and they also visit beautiful grasslands, forests, mountains, lakes and rivers. Sichuan and Xinjiang, where there are Tibetan nomadic communities, are also excellent options for horse safaris. Some can be arranged on arrival but many can also be booked online.