Desert National Park

Prepare to be amazed by the sheer abundance of wildlife that thrives in and around this land of wide horizons and vivid habitats

Vipul Ramanuj | Catherene Christian

Desert National Park

Known to be some of the harshest habitats on earth, deserts are unique ecosystems that can range from sand dunes to rocky terrain to grasslands to vast open scrubland. At first glance, the stark landscape of the Thar may not seem like it harbours all that much biodiversity, but those who experience life within this habitat come back with a story that says otherwise.

The great Indian Thar desert is home to the expansive Desert National Park (DNP) which is spread over 3162 sq.km, making it the second largest national park in the country after Hemis. DNP is home to the highest number of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards in the country today.

Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

Jodhpur is the nearest airport (335km; 6 hours away).

Rail

The best way to reach DNP is via Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer railway station is the closest, with trains from Jodhpur or Delhi.

Distance from Jaisalmer to DNP – 60km; approx. 1 hour away by road.

Road

If you opt to travel by road, leaving from Jodhpur is your best bet. There are private operators like Laxmi Traveller and Kalpana Travels that offer AC bus services between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer (priced between ₹300 – ₹600). Visit www.redbus.in for details.

Rajasthan State Road Transport has regular buses that run daily from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. You can book tickets here.

From Jaisalmer, you can hire a cab or jeep for around ₹3000 per day to commute during the course of your visit at DNP.

best time to visit

The Desert National Park is open all through the year, however the wildlife activity varies depending on the season.

Note: Photography of Great Indian Bustards is banned during their breeding season, between April and October.

  • MAR – JUNE:  The summer months are inhospitable, with daytime temperatures often rising up to 47°C. There’s very little wildlife activity during this time of the year, although you may see a few Chinkaras and Desert Jirds.
  • JULY – SEPTEMBER: The arrival of the monsoons sees temperatures drop to around 25-40°C, and brings with it greater birding opportunities. This is a great time to photograph passage migrants such as the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Spotted Flycatcher, European Roller, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater or, if you’re lucky, the European Nightjar.  
  • OCT – MARCH: In winter it can get as hot as 35°C at noon, but early mornings and late evenings are chilly, at around 5-10°C. This is the best season for birding. Migratory birds such as Steppe Eagles, Griffon Vultures, harriers, Common Kestrel, Demoiselle Cranes, Red-tailed Wheatear and various species of larks start arriving by October. You will see falcons and eagles making the most of the abundance of prey like Spiny-tailed Lizards and other reptiles before they hibernate for the winters. This is also the best time to see and photograph resident species such as the Great Indian Bustard, Laggar Falcon, Tawny Eagle, Cream-coloured Coursers, Desert Lark and Greater Hoopoe Lark, as well, since the weather and light both are conducive for photography.

History

The Thar Desert’s vast stretches of sand are interspersed by hillocks, rocky areas and sandy and gravel plains. It is spread across 200,000 sq.km, of which more than 60 percent of the desert lies in Rajasthan alone, while the rest extends into Gujarat, Punjab, and Haryana. 

In 1980, a portion of it was declared the Desert National Park, which is spectacularly representative of this desert ecosystem. The highlight here is the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, which has been extirpated from 90 percent of its former range. 

There are approximately 73 villages and also settlements or Dhanis existing within the Park. Of these villages, Sudasari is the prime location for Great Indian Bustards.

Apart from the GIB, this seemingly inhospitable ecosystem hosts a variety of bird species, both migratory and resident. Chinkaras run loose on sand dunes, Desert and Indian Foxes bask in the morning sun and Desert Cats make bold appearances out of their burrows during the day.

Stay

Sam village is your best option for stay. This popular tourist destination is about 40km away the Desert National Park very popular tourist destination and there are plenty of hotels and camps to suit all budgets. Many tourists prefer the experience of staying in luxurious tents set up on the dunes, but for some, traditional mud-lined cottages are a more comfortable option.

Note: The rates at most places fluctuate depending on the season. Since they cater to tourists, most of the tariffs include camel safaris, cultural shows and bonfire activities. If you want to opt out of these frills, you can ask for a separate tariff to be calculated.

  • Luxury: 

Chokhi Dhani Desert Camp: A luxurious indulgence in the desert, Swiss tents here are approx. ₹6500 per night, inclusive of dinner and breakfast.

The Mama’s Resorts & Camps: Located around 16km from DNP, you can choose from Swiss tents or spacious cottages for around ₹5500 – ₹7000 per night. Call +919414205970 or +919521224455 for details.

  • Mid-range: 

KK Resorts and Camp: About 20km from DNP, this is one of the first and the oldest desert camps, priced between ₹3500 and ₹5500 per night. Call +919414149466 for details.

Pal Rajah ResortThis is the closest option to DNP, with comfortable traditional mud cottages offering a view of the sand dunes in the backdrop. Rooms are available for around ₹3000 per night, inclusive of dinner and breakfast. Call +919829762275 for details.

  • Budget: 

Sam Dhani: This government-run hotel offers tent stays for ₹2500 – ₹4000 per night. Call +919414430787 or email samdhani@rtdc.in for details.

See|Do

  • You can actually start birding on the way to Sam from Jaisalmer. The long stretch of this road has vast areas of open land on both sides with rocky patches in between. The Laggar Falcon, Tawny Eagle, Red-tailed Wheatear, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and large groups of larks can be spotted while birding on the go.
  • The Desert National Park is one of the best parks in India to see and photograph the graceful Great Indian Bustards. Sudasari is the prime habitat for the GIB and as it is a protected area, wildlife thrives here. This is also a good place to look for the Macqueen’s Bustard, Cream-coloured Coursers, falcons and vultures.
  • Keep an eye out for vultures and eagles around the vast scrublands and grassland areas near Sudasari. Carcasses of livestock attract a good number of species like Egyptian, White-rumped, Indian and Red-headed Vultures.
  • The surreal rocky terrain at Kuldhara is the perfect habitat for the Striolated Bunting, Desert Lark, Trumpeter Finch, Red-tailed Wheatear. While at Kuldhara, do make time to visit the ruins of the village, which was once prosperous in the 13th century but abandoned under mysterious circumstances in the 19th century. In some huts, even the vessels inside the kitchen can be seen as they were centuries ago. Kuldhara is around 45km away from Sam.
  • An oasis in the desert, Netsi Talab, like its name, is a lake with greener pastures surrounding it. Other than the waterfowl, the highlights of this place are the Demoiselle Cranes, Chestnut-bellied, Black-bellied and (if you get lucky) the Spotted Sandgrouse, which frequent this area to drink water.  You can also find the Water Pipit here. Make time for a full day birding session here. It is around 100km away from Sam.

Good to know

  • Phone connectivity is generally poor, although some areas like Netsi and Kuldhara have decent BSNL network connectivity.  
  • Khuri village in DNP has a health centre, but the nearest hospital is in Jaisalmer, around 40km from Sam.
  • The advantage of staying in Sam is that all the birding hotspots are easily accessible.
  • The open areas around Sudasari are worth exploring. These are great places for sighting Vultures, Falcons, Coursers and some mammals like Chinkaras, Foxes and Desert Cats. You may get lucky and sight Great Indian Bustards too!
  • Kuldhara can be clubbed with a session at Sudasari.
  • The areas around DNP are small villages with no options for shopping for any Rajasthani souvenirs. The closest market is Jaisalmer. 
  • There are no restaurants near Sudasari. However, the hotels in Sam do provide complete meals. In case you’re planning to spend the whole day in the field, carry a packed meal from your hotel.

What to pack

  • If you’re travelling in winter, be prepared to protect yourself from the chill, as temperatures drop down to single digits in the early mornings and late evenings.
  • Being a dry, arid region, it tends to get very dusty and windy irrespective of the season. Carry sunglasses, sunscreen lotion, a cap/hat and also something to cover your face at all times.
  • Since this is a small village settlement away from the city, it’s a good idea to carry dry snacks and juice for when you’re out in the field.
  • Dull/khaki coloured clothes are recommended and closed shoes are a must.
  • Carry your prescription medicines and a first-aid kit.
  • Binoculars and a birding field-guide.
  • A functional torch with extra batteries is a must.
  •  Your camera gear.

For photographers

  • Try to spend a good amount of time in each ecosystem within the desert, from dunes to arid patches with bushy vegetation, rocky hillocks and grassy flatlands. Each has its own target species, with its own challenges to photograph. With some species like the Greater Hoopoe Lark or the Cream-coloured Coursers being highly agile and well camouflaged, you’re sure to learn a lot.  
  • To photograph birds, lenses with a minimum length of 400mm and further are recommended.
  • A tripod and/or monopod will come in handy, although bean bags are best to shoot birds from the car.
  • Carry a wide-angle lens for landscape shots.
  • As you will be staying in a small village, electricity can be unpredictable. Remember to charge your equipment whenever possible.
  • Don’t forget your lens cleaning kit; there is no escaping the dust here. A cloth or a dust cover to cover your camera helps a lot.
  • Skip the tents to protect your equipment from sand that is brought in by the wind. It’s better to stay in regular rooms for the sake of your gear.
  • From October to March, the sand flying off the dunes creates great opportunities for dramatic landscape photographs. The skies during sunrises and sunsets take on a thousand different hues. This time of the year is great for those interested in astro-photography, too.

Don't Miss

  • There are plenty of other experiences to enjoy too, including dinner on the dunes and live performances by Kalbelia dancers. Ask your hotel to make the necessary arrangements.
  • Located 17km from Jaisalmer is the Akal Wood Fossil Park, which is under the jurisdiction of Desert National Park. Fossilised remains of 180 million-year-old forests are preserved here. This is also a good place to find larks, buntings and Chinkaras.
  • Roadside birding on the way from Jaisalmer to Sam can be extremely rewarding – don’t miss it!

Budget per person

A three-night trip will allow you to explore and make the most of the sights here. Expect to spend between ₹4000 to ₹8000 per person per day here, depending on your choice of accommodation, food and transport. 

Forest entry fees of ₹50 and vehicle permit fees of ₹200 need to be paid at the Sudasari forest checkpost.   

Vipul Ramanuj - Herpetologist and Wildlife Photographer

Vipul Ramanuj

Herpetologist and Wildlife Photographer

Vipul is a herpetologist and an award-winning wildlife photographer. He has worked on various surveys and conservation projects, including radio telemetry on King Cobras. Vipul uses photography as a tool to connect people with nature. Together with Catherene Christian, he runs Wild Ark, a travel and photography company formerly known as Bike N Hike. He posts as @vipul_ramanuj on Instagram .
Catherene Christian - Wildlife Enthusiast

Catherene Christian

Wildlife Enthusiast

Catherene is an ardent birder who enjoys spending hours exploring the wilderness and documenting natural encounters. Some of her observations have been acknowledged by bird journals too. Together with Vipul Ramanuj, she runs Wild Ark, a travel and photography company formerly known as Bike N Hike. She posts as @catherene_christian on Instagram.