Bagheera is the kind of friend everyone needs: honest, dependable, and loyal. Always a good thing in dense forests like the Dandeli reserve in Karnataka, where you never know who’s around the next corner. The branches of Dandeli’s hulking teak and rosewood trees are home to wiry green vine snakes and majestic Malabar hornbills while cobras and other snakes slither across the forest floor. But the reserve’s most elusive resident is the black panther.
Fun fact: There is a species of tropical jumping spider called Bagheera kiplingi that can be found in parts of Central America. The jumping spider is believed to be named after Kipling’s panther, because of its agile movements that are similar to those of Bagheera.
Where to see: Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve (Karnataka; approx 165km/3.5hr from Panjim), Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala; approx 125km/3hr from Kozhikode)
Baloo is that fun-loving uncle who always sneaks you a little extra ice-cream after dinner, and is always up for a game. This playfulness can sometimes be seen in the sloth bears of Madhya Pradesh’s Satpura National Park and the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra who can be seen digging into termite hills for breakfast. India is also home to the rare and endangered Himalayan brown bear, which roams the hills of Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh.
Fun fact: Ironically, sloth bears are the only known bear species to carry their babies on their back.
Where to see: Try your luck spotting the sloth bear at Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary (Karnataka; 350km/6hr from Bengaluru) and the Jessore Sloth Bear Sanctuary (Gujarat; approx. 200km/4hr from Ahmedabad).
In Rudyard Kipling’s world, Shere Khan snarls viciously, stealthily stalks the jungle, and takes every chance he can to remind everyone he is king of the jungle. The big cat is as much of a star in the forests and grasslands of Rathambore (Rajasthan) and Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh). Both national parks provide ideal habitats for tigers to roam: clumps of tightly-packed trees, craggy hills, and rolling grasslands that perfectly camouflage those stripes. In addition to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, tigers can be sighted in reserves in Maharashtra, Kerala, and Arunachal Pradesh (if you’re lucky).
Where to see: Ranthambore National Park (Rajasthan; 180 km/4 hr from Jaipur), Bandhavgarh National Park (Madhya Pradesh; 165 km/4 hr from Jabalpur and 260 km/6 hr from Khajuraho), Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra; 110km/2hr from Nagpur).
The Jungle Patrol, conducted by Colonel Hathi, is the most memorable posse of pachyderms we’ve seen on the big screen. Herds of elephants in the wilds of Kaziranga (Assam), Bandipur (Karnataka), and Periyar (Kerala) are far less boisterous, but just as unforgettable as the lovable bunch from The Jungle Book. Elephants are found in many national parks and reserves throughout India, across a range of landscapes that include dry grasslands, deltaic planes, and thick jungles.
Where to see: In the Northeast of India, try Kaziranga National Park (Assam; 193km/3.5hr from Guwahati) and Nameri National Park (Assam; 220km/4.5hr from Guwahati). Bandipur National Park (Karnataka; 225km/4.5hr from Bengaluru) and Periyar Tiger Reserve (Kerala; approx 145km/3.5hr from Madurai) are great options in the south.
Much like the mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, the leading human character in The Jungle Book was also raised by wolves—Raksha is Mowgli’s adoptive mother while Akela is the leader of the pack. The masterful predators roam a cross section of India: from the snowy slopes of the Himalayas to the barren scrublands of Gujarat. These nimble-footed creatures can be found in the wilds of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh.
Where to see: Look for the Indian grey wolf in Velavadar National Park (Gujarat; 140km/3hr south of Ahmedabad) and the Himalayan wolf in Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary (Himachal Pradesh; approx 175km/4hr from Kinnaur; Dharamshala (425km/10hr) is the closest airport).
With thick twisty coils and hypnotising eyes, Kaa is the other antagonist in The Jungle Book. The python has her own plans for Mowgli the man-cub. Find the real-life Kaa, or the Indian rock python, draped on tree branches in Corbett (Uttarakhand) and coiled in mossy corners of wetland sanctuaries like Keoladeo (Rajasthan) and Ropar Lake (Punjab). Try not to look into their eyes like Kaa from the movie suggests; they don’t take to it very kindly.
Where to see: Pythons can be spotted in many parts of India. Keep an eye out for them in Jim Corbett National Park (Uttarakhand; 200km/4.5hr from Dehradun) and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan; 55km/1hr from Agra).
Kamakshi Ayyar is a former member of NGT India's digital team. She is partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.