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India has 54 National Parks and 370 Wildlife Sanctuaries, many of which were former Maharajahs' hunting grounds in the central portion of this enormous country.

India also has over 1200 species of bird, and is on main migratory routes, so it is a satisfyingly good country for bird-watchers, but everybody knows the main event is the increasingly endangered tiger. Although poaching and lack of organisation are detrimental factors, the country is finally becoming more aware of its wildlife heritage, and it is well worthwhile exploring a wildlife park or two.

Among the best parks are Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Nagahole, and Gir (where the last of the Asian lions still exist). Kanha, spread over 1,300 square miles of thick forest and savannah plains in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh, is the area that inspired the writings of Rudyard Kipling, and in particular The Jungle Book.

Elsewhere there is the completely unexploited Satpura National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Spread across the highest stretch of the rugged Satpura mountains, the National Park is classic tiger country, supporting an astonishing array of prey species including gaur, sambar, chital, wild boar, chausingha, nilgai antelope and their predators - tiger, leopard, wild dog, wolf and sloth bear - in such numbers that every foray into the jungle all but guarantees sightings of some impressive beastie or other.

Away from the wildlife, the centre of India also boasts some of the country's cultural highlights. In Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi - the city of Shiva - has been a centre of learning for thousands of years, and is one of India's holiest cities, where colourful (and seriously photogenic) religious rituals take place on the ghats by the Ganges. In Madhya Pradesh, Khajuraho has some of India's best known temples, a thousand years old and covered with erotic carvings. At Bhimbetka see rock paintings dating back more than 10,000 years, while Ahoka has an ancient stupa, and Gwalior a forbidding fort

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