Jump to content

India November 2012


michael-ibk

Recommended Posts

michael-ibk

One safari to Tanzania had done it – my interest in „normal“ holidays had decreased to zero level, it was not even in question that the next annual holiday would have to be something similar. So the “Safari” quality of the next destination was not even discussed, the question was rather where to? And so we pondered which animal we would love most to see in the wild. For me there could only be one answer: Tiger! Tiger!

 

I had never understood, why the lion is called “King of animals” (at least in German). To me, the tiger is so clearly the more elegant, the more powerful and the more beautiful creature, and not even the villainous depiction of Shir Khan in Kipling´s Jungle Book and the Disney movie (both of which I loved as a kid) could ever shatter my conviction that the tiger is one of the most magnicficent animals, if not THE most magnificent animal in the world.

 

India was, of course, the place to go then, and so in February we booked the trip for November 2012. Going to India and not visiting at least some of its world famous sights would just have felt wrong, so we chose an itinerary with a mixture of national parks and more ordinary sightseeing:

 

Day 1: Arrival in Delhi at 0200 a.m., Sightseeing (Humayun´s Tomb, Old Town, Jama Masjid …)

Day 2: Sightseeing in Delhi, drive to Jaipur

Day 3: Jaipur (Fort Amber, City Palace, Hawa Mahal, …)

Day 4: Drive to Ranthambore NP, afternoon safari

Day 5: Safari in Ranthambore NP

Day 6: moring safari, drive to Agra with Fatehpur Sikri on the way

Day 7: Agra (Taj Mahal, Red Fort, …), night train to Katni

Day 8: Drive To Bandhavgarh NP, afternoon safari

Day 9. Safari in Bandhavgarh NP

Day 10: Safari in Bandhavgarh NP

Day 11: Morning safari, drive to Kanha NP

Day 12: Safari in Kanha NP

Day 13: day off with some walks and relax time (NP closed, which was not known at the time of booking)

Day 14: Morning safari in Kanha, drive to Raipur, flight back to Delhi, overnight there

Day 15: Drive to Corbett NP, overnight at Wild Crest

Day 16: Drive to Dhikala area, afternoon safari

Day 17: Safari in Dhikala area

Day 18: Morning safari, drive back to Delhi, flight back home.

 

So, all looked great, and we were really looking forward to this trip. Then, in July, we were informed of the tiger ban! All parks closed, no one could know when and if they would reopen for tourism again! At first we were quite confident that the Supreme Court wouldn´t really ban tourism for the coming season but then September came. And October. And the court would just postpone and postpone its decision. A real nailbiter for us, we were very unsure what to do (yes, we had a Plan B but who wants to go for B?). Imagine the relief when the ban was lifted on Oct 16th – only two weeks before our departure!

 

The court had limited park access, of course, only 20% of core zones were now accessible, no “tiger shows” anymore, but we didn´t really care, the main point was our trip would work out, and we had almost lost faith by this time. So lucky us!

 

All arrangements for the trip were done by http://www.naturesafariindia.com/index.html. Great company, highly recommendable and great value for money. Everything worked perfectly, we had accommodations exceeding our expectations, very knowledgeful guides in the cities, made all our connections smoothly and had the most wonderful driver in Rajasthan and to Corbett. Though I have to say all the “Yes, Sir” and “Of course, Sir” felt a bit uncomfortable, but I guess the Our man Vejay was an artist, I´m not scared of traffic but I never, ever would dare driving around in Indian cities especially by myself. No one seems to care about traffic rules at all, most trafficlights are completely ignored and of course cows and other animals are always wandering around, even on highways. As we were told by Vejah you need three things to survive Indian traffic: Good brake, good horn, and – most of all – good luck!

 

As this is meant to be a safari trip report I won´t go into details about the city sightseeing, suffice to say that the monuments are most impressive and the incredible number of people everywhere creates a challenges for all senses. I loved it, the country is absolutely fascinating, most people very friendly but you have to be prepared for extreme contrasts. You can marvel at the splendour of the Taj or Fort Amber or relax in luxurious environments in your hotel, but a few minutes later you will have to bear with the sight of cripples living on the streets or even whole families housing on traffic islands.

 

And then there was the “winter fog”, as everyone would insistently call the intense smog in the cities. Bit of a pity since you really couldn´t see that far, but it didn´t really detract from our enjoyment of sightseeing there. Just a few impressions here:

 

Humayun´s tomb, probably my favourite sight in Delhi, kind of a predecessor to the Taj.

 

gallery_19319_809_3211660.jpg

 

And here is smelly, loud, chaotic, dirty, but most of all utterly fascinating Old Delhi:

 

gallery_19319_809_3405665.jpg

 

And we even saw quite some animals in the city:

 

Palm Squirrels. These cute little guys were practically everywhere, and they always made me smile.

 

gallery_19319_809_990170.jpg

 

The first of many, many Rose-Ringed Parakeet, as prevalent there as common pigeons are in European cities.

 

gallery_19319_809_734550.jpg

 

No trip to India can be complete without some spectacled cobra:

 

gallery_19319_809_4584567.jpg

 

I was astounded to see several steppe eagles in the middle of the city (on the parks around Humayun´s tomb), our guide told us that they are being attracted by the refuses of a nearby butchery.

 

gallery_19319_809_306383.jpg

 

And here we first saw one of my favourite birds, a hoopoe. They do exist in Austria, too, but I have never seen them here.

 

gallery_19319_809_859191.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites
africapurohit

A great start to your report with some wonderful images. They say that if you can drive in Indian cities, you can drive anywhere - I look forward to your next instalment.

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

@@africapurohit :

 

Thank you. Well, I can definitely not drive anywhere. I would get sore arms from all the honkings. (Which they don´t do to show their resentment with other car´s driving styles, btw, it´s really "Watch out I´m here." Nearly every truck has a "Horn please" sign at the rear.)

 

 

Our drive to Jaipur was a bit of a disappointment. The landscape was dusty, barren and just dirty tones of grey and brown. Not really what I had expected from the so-called “Golden Triangle”. Surroundings became a little more interesting the closer we got to Jaipur. Lots of hills, the first greener, lusher-looking fields, colourfully-dressed people everywhere.

 

And lots of “Camelcars”:

 

gallery_19319_809_1905046.jpg

 

I had never associated India with dromedars but here in Rajastahan they were quite numerous. Unexpected, but in a good way, of course.

 

And we saw our first monkeys by the roadside, rhesus macaques. A species which would prove to be a bit of a nuisance almost two weeks later. (I´ll get to it.)

 

gallery_19319_809_1156797.jpg

 

 

And after a relaxing evening in our wonderful hotel all was good again. Even more so the next day. Jaipur, the “Pink City”, is magnificent, and it´s really hard to tell what´s more impressive, the powerful Fort Amber, the beautiful City Palace or the bee-hive-like “Hawa Mahal” (which is in fact just a big façade, designed for the noblewomen of old times to watch the streets).

 

gallery_19319_809_482650.jpg

 

 

We had a great time in Jaipur, especially enjoyed going up Fort Amber on elephant back. Incredibly touristy, of course, nearly 200(!) eles are in action there, but it was fun nonetheless.

 

gallery_19319_809_5616247.jpg

 

The level of craftmanship in the old buildings was intriguing. What you see here are not paintings, but rather artful inlays of diverse stones and minerals.

 

gallery_19319_809_6972056.jpg

 

We saw some birds by the lake, especially cormorants. And this Indian pond heron, a frequently-seen species:

 

gallery_19319_809_126401.jpg

 

And some blackwinged stilts.

 

gallery_19319_809_1041647.jpg

 

The next day we finally travelled to our first nationalpark: Ranthambore! The road there was extremely bumpy at times, but the landscape was so much nicer than on our drive to Jaipur that we didn´t mind. Lots of green fields, many huge water buffaloes, little ponds and lakes. But no matter where we were lots of people always around, walking the streets or just standing there and chatting. India is one of the densest-populated countries in the world, and that´s very noticeable all the time.

 

At about noon we arrived at Tiger Den Resort.

 

gallery_19319_809_3491536.jpg

 

A perfectly acceptable accommodation with nice, clean rooms and well-tended facilites. Staff was friendly and helpful, and food was ok, albeit a little bit too catered to Europeans in my opinion. I could have done with a bit more of Indian culinary authenticity.

 

Our first safari was on, and we were pretty excited about what we would see.

In short: Hardly anything.

 

We joined two nice English ladies in our jeep who asked the guide where we would be going. The answer “Zone 8” did apparently not exactly delight our new companions. They had heard that it was a “bad zone”.

 

Ranthambore consists of 8 zones (I think). Zone 1 and 6 were closed because tragically a forester had beein killed there by a male tiger just one week before our arrival. Zone 1 is reputedly not that great anyway, your best chances for seeing tigers (and other wildlife) will be zones 2 to 5. Zone 8 is in a different area of the park, and it took us more than half an hour to even get there. I did not exactly hate it, the scenery is quite beautiful, and it didn´t start out that bad. We saw some nilgai crossing the street even before entering the park:

 

gallery_19319_809_294423.jpg

 

Some red-vented bulbus at the entrance:

 

gallery_19319_809_183113.jpg

 

A nilgai bull´s butt in a bush nearby. Then we drove up a very steep road to a plateau.

 

gallery_19319_809_6429258.jpg

 

And saw nothing for three hours. No mammals, no birds, no reptiles, no butterflies. Nothing. Well, I spotted a chinkara with the binocs once, but that was it. Zone 8 is very, very dry.

 

gallery_19319_809_2303535.jpg

 

That´s why it is also called the “death zone.” Keep in mind, we were there shortly after monsoon, I can´t imagine what the place looks like in March or April. Sahara-like, I would suppose. Zone 7 is apparently even worse we were told by some other guests. The one plus is that we saw Nilgai and Chinkara there, animals we would not see again in the richer, lusher areas and other parks we would visit later. And as I said I liked the feel of the place. But you will be very lucky to see animals up there. Unfortunately you can´t choose which zone you get, the park runs kind of a lottery system. (And I suppose you would get better zones with some bribery, as we were told.) The only sure way to avoid zone 8 (or 7) is not to book a “gypsy” (jeep), but to go in a canter. You have to share your experience with 20 people in there, but the canters can´t go to these barren lands because it´s too steep for them. And the jeeps are not very comfy anyway since the park officials cram them with six people. I couldn´t tell if our driver/guide was good or not, btw, since there was nothing to show to us. But his constant muttering of “this is a bad zone” didn´t exactly thrill us.

 

Of course you can be lucky even here, a couple we met later on had been allocated zone 8 the following morning and had the most wonderful tiger sighting, a big male was walking just 40-50 m next to the car for nearly half an hour. (They showed us the video.)

 

Since it was our first safari drive we didn´t mind that much but I really felt for a Belgium couple who had travelled from Jaipur just for this one afternoon drive. They had known that they couldn´t expect to see a tiger but they had rightfully expected to see something. Anything.

 

Back down in the woods we saw a beautiful sambar deer.

gallery_19319_809_2707752.jpg

 

And our driver claimed to hear some alarm calls. None of us did, but at least he tried to cheer us up a bit.

 

So I have to confess, our first drive was not exactly brilliant. It could only get better. Luckily, it did.

 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
madaboutcheetah

I've not been to most places on your itinerary, Michael - So, look forward to reading your report....... Hopefully, I will make a quick weekend this summer some place!

Link to post
Share on other sites
bushbaby

Nice start - hope you enjoyed Ranthambhore, one of my fav places in India. Sad the routes were closed - was I think due to the male

T24, killing a forest guard. Zone 1 is also a beautiful zone just for landscapes and some iconic shots of the park. So you should plan a revisit ! :-)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Treepol

Thank you for this very interesting trip report. Like your photos of the squirrels, Rose Ringed Parakeets and the nilgai.

 

I've not been to India since 2001 and your photos of Humayun's tomb and the marble inlay remind me of the richness of this culture and the history of India. Its heartening to see such a wide variety of wildlife around the cities and monuments, I don't remember that.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

My first safari was in Ranthambhore in 95, I saw my first tiger ther from a cantor. Sorry to hear that you didn't see much, although chinkara are quite rare I believe. I have only ever seen two and that was in Gir.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kitefarrago

I visited India (my first trip there) in January, so I'm very much looking forward to reading more.

 

Just one comment, and I hope you don't mind: Your picture of a `steppe eagle' doesn't show an aquila eagle - those always have feathered (rather than bare) tarsi. In steppe eagle the gape line would also extend to the back of the eye.

 

It looks more like a black kite to me, although the claws are rather on the large side.

Link to post
Share on other sites
inyathi

Very nice to read another Indian report, I look forward to reading more especially about Dhikala, but I'm afraid I have to agree with kitefarrago your 'steppe eagle' is definitely a black kite a species that is very common in cities all around India.

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

Thanks for the feedback, everybody.

 

@@inyathi

@@kitefarrago

 

Thank you both about my "steppe eagle". Of course I don´t mind, kitefarrago, I´m thankful for the correction. As I wrote in another thread, I´m quite rubbish with birds, but I try to get better and appreciate any advice. :) It was my trip to India which piqued my interest in birds, there I bought a little pocketbook "Birds of India" and discovered how much fun it can be looking for the little feathered guys and trying to find out exactly what it was one had seen in a tree or in a bush. My book didn´t have the Black Kite (is this the same as the "Pariah Kite"?), and the steppe eagle seemed to resemble it most. I´ll go better prepared for Brazil, I´m already studying a (intimadatingly voluminous) field guide book. B)

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

After our not entirely satisfying trip to Zone 8 we were told by our company that there had been some mix-up with our bookings, and since the danger of getting zone 8 (or 7) again was apparently quite high we were persuaded to switch to canter for the next day. Those are pretty big vehicles, with about 8 rows for 4 persons each (and 5 in the back row). Not that easy to get in proper safari feeling in there, but we were lucky on our afternoon drive. Since Tiger Den Resort is closest to the park entrance (just a few minutes away) we were picked up last, and the seats next to the driver were free – we were delighted. The guide was quite good, but with more than 30 people on boards there will always be some who can get irritatingly loud. And children, of course, who naturally just can´t stay calm. But it was easy to blend all that out sitting right in front. Ranthambhore, here we come!

gallery_19319_809_224359.jpg

Immediately after entering the park it was evident that this was a completely different environment from the day before, thick, moist wood with lots of water everywhere. The scenery alone was just beautiful, and we saw lots of animals during this trip which took us through Zone 5. Chitals, which without a doubt were our most-seen animals in all parks, the Indian equivalent to gazelles and Impalas. (Not to make false impressions – of course they aren´t that numerous.)

gallery_19319_809_882826.jpg

A few Sambar deer, which are a bit more elusive and solitary most of the time.

gallery_19319_809_2052519.jpg

And Hanuman langurs, the beautiful black and white monkeys who share their name with an Indian deity. It was always a joy watching them.

gallery_19319_809_3809975.jpg

That was it for mammals here, though both deer and langurs could be seen most of the time. No tracks, no alarm calls. But we hadn´t come just for tigers but for Indian nature and wildlife in its entirety, and in that regard Zone 5 of Ranthambore certainly delivered. The most beautiful place was a mid-sized lake, with lots of waterfowl, cormorants, parakeet and kingfishers around. (No less than three different species, common, white-throated and stork-billed.) Here´s a white-throated kingfisher:

gallery_19319_809_51683.jpg

And of course, the quintessential Indian bird, the peacock. (Unfortunately all of these eyecatching beauties refused to open their tails for us.)

gallery_19319_809_7871398.jpg

The scenery was just wonderful, we were allowed to get out of the car here and just enjoyed the mood. And hey, who says there are no elephants in Ranthambore:

gallery_19319_809_217333.jpg

So, our morning drive was a beautiful experience, and we got back to the resort pretty happy. This was how we had imagined Indian woods, and we were very much looking forward to the afternoon.

We didn´t have that much luck with our seats this time, but we just passed on our proper seats and stayed at the front with the guide. Sitting was not that comfy there, of course, but the view was far superior, and so we stood most of the time (or leaned against the vehicle´s framework).

This time we went to zone 4. The trip started nicely with a rufous treepie who didn´t mind the vehicle at all:

gallery_19319_809_1027469.jpg

A beautiful bird, whose sight we would enjoy a good many times. Mammal-wise, it was much the same as in the morning, chitals, a few sambars and my beloved langurs:

gallery_19319_809_2338347.jpg


New were a few wild boar, but they would stay in the undergrowth.

Zone 5 has wonderfully scenic waterbodies, and even without any animals I would have loved it there.

gallery_19319_809_6016248.jpg

But of course areas like these abound with birds, lots of cormorants, darters and egrets anywhere. And a splendiferous common kingfisher.

gallery_19319_809_74200.jpg

Like hoopoes, they exist back home, but I´ve never had a good sighting of them here.

We saw mugger crocs small….

gallery_19319_809_2971328.jpg


,,,, and bigger.

gallery_19319_809_7134714.jpg

And this interesting bird, a grey francolin, I believe?

gallery_19319_809_238774.jpg

Then the vehicle broke down, the driver tried and tried to jumpstart the engines again and again, but no good. So we had to stay for more than an hour at a resting place until help arrived with some tools which luckily did the trick. But we unfortunately had lost a lot of time. I was sitting on needles since our guide had called our attention to a low, weird repeating sound – a growling tigress!

But time had run out, we had to get out of the park. I could hear the growling again and again, and me (and the rest of the car) watched, watched and watched in hope of the one sight ultimately everybody comes here for first. We were in the territory of Machali, the famous “lady of the lake”, the most photographed tiger in Ranthambore, said to inspire fear even in her male conspecifics and well-known for killing crocs. She is old now, said to have lost nearly all her teeth now and will no doubt die very soon.

Did I see her? Well, sort of … we stopped for a few minutes in the vicinity of the growls, and after very exact directions from our guide I spotted her with the binocs. It was already quite dark, and she was far too far away for pictures, but still I felt privileged. It was not a “good” tiger sighting, but it was a tiger sighting, and I got goosebumps all over for seeing my favourite animal in the wild.

Our last drive in Ranthambore next morning returned us to zone 8 again. I tried hard to stay optimistic, after all the couple we had met the afternoon before had told us of their magnificent sighting here. But it was not to be, again we didn´t see much in the dry lands of the “death zone”, but had three nice sightings at least.

A Chinkara:

gallery_19319_809_5744352.jpg

A small nilgai herd with a baby:

gallery_19319_809_5604391.jpg

gallery_19319_809_277427.jpg

gallery_19319_809_164507.jpg

And a tree full of exquisitely coulourful plum-headed parakeet.

gallery_19319_809_66105.jpg

And so our time in Ranthambhore was up. Would I go there again? I honestly don´t know. The park IS extremely beautiful, and even the barren zones provide scenic attractions. But the weird zone lottery system and the overcrowded cantors are a major turnoff. Ranthambhore definitely had the loudest visitors of all our parks visited in my opinion, and I think that´s because most people coming here are not primarily here for wildlife. The park is conveniently-situated for visitors of the golden triangle, so lots of tourist groups who mainly visit India for its sights make a short stop here just to have one day of tiger excitement as part of their India holiday. The audience for Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Corbett was very different, and I think it shows in the way people behave in the parks.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

I can definitely recommend Tadoba for a better experience..

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest kuduuu

SUPER DUPER excited to hear your report on Tadoba! We almost extended our trip 4 weeks ago just to go there but due to some flight issues, the planets didn't align :( We were one of the few lucky ones in Kanha to actually see Tiger. Trip report coming soon!

Link to post
Share on other sites
kitefarrago

I guess the one advantage to going with a group is that one only has to share vehicles with (hopefully) like-minded travellers who know better than to make a lot of noise. I was in Tadoba, Pench and Kanha in January and we certainly saw some fairly badly behaved people (flash photographing a poor sambar stag that looked rather dazed was just one example).

 

Apparently tiger sightings become easier (and are likely to be more prolongued) the later in the season one goes. Then the water has dried up apart from the water holes, and everything has to come to the water eventually. Of course, that's also the time of year where one can get temperatures of 40C and more. I think my next trip will be later in the year, but probably not in late April/May!

 

PS. I agree with grey francolin for that photo.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

Oh that's a shame, I think Tadoba is really in the perfect window to go right now, great sightings, and still relatively undeveloped. There are 4 sub adult female cubs that were so photogenic last year, which are still doing well and hanging around Telia Lake, which is one of the more photogenic areas of Tadoba. They are at the stage where they are beginning to make their own way in life but still yearning for contact from their siblings.. Interestingly one of the other tigresses we saw, who had an injured paw, looked to be lactating so may well have a litter hidden somewhere. The forest authorites swore she wasn't with cubs but certain very knowledgeable people thought differently...and the authorities were keeping a very close eye on her.. Go figure! :D

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

After a 5-hours-drive and a stop at Fatehpur Sikri (a deserted Mogul palace) we finally reached Agra. Incredibly crowded place, maybe even more so than Delhi. We were quite relieved when we could flee the masses and reached the safe haven of our hotel for this night, the Jaypee Palace. A hotel more like a little city, it was easy to get lost in this (too) huge complex. Rooms were fine, though, and dinner was delicious. Like in Delhi and Jaipur, full security controls were in effect here, too. You and your luggage get scanned all the time in Indian hotels, which I had to get used to. I guess they will have their reasons and it´s necessary because of potential terrorist threats, but it still felt weird.

Next morning the undisputed most famous Indian sight was up – the Taj Mahal. Since the “fogsmog” was very heavy in Agra as well there was no point in getting up for the sunrise enlightening the Taj so we had a good, long sleep-out. The Taj is just as magnificent as one would imagine, the pure symmetry of it creates a captivating beauty, which is displayed more from a distance.

gallery_19319_809_4778001.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1218714.jpg

Lots and lots of people there, of course, our guide told us the Taj is visited by more than 30000 people a day! Cattle Egrets don´t mind:

gallery_19319_809_479827.jpg

After about two hours we visited a marble manufacturer and against all my intentions I bought something, of course. I did my best to bargain like an experienced pro and was quite proud of paying ultimately less than half of the price initially asked, but I strongly suspect that it was not me who had struck a good deal.

Afterwards we visited the Red Fort, where Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj, was imprisoned by his own son and had to live out his last days, said to always watch the last resting-place of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal from there. Impressive, beautiful place….

gallery_19319_809_1586245.jpg


gallery_19319_809_2928246.jpg


….but I was much more delighted with hand-feeding palm squirrels:

gallery_19319_809_4365763.jpg

Last stop was the “Baby Taj”.

gallery_19319_809_2161193.jpg

From nearby we could watch the Taj Mahal from the other river side. I let myself be persuaded to ride on a camel there, which turned out to get a bit scary. After the ride the camel guy demanded more money than we had agreed on, and was trying to summon some friends of his to persuade (=coerce) me a little more. Our guide advised us to run very fast to the car, which we did. Never before had I been that relieved about our wonderful driver Vejah, who swiftly hit the pedals in true James Bond-fashion. Not an experience I´d like to repeat especially since our guide told us that this are was not secure. Well, all turned out good.

Our train to Katni, the Gondwana Express, arrived about five hours late, but we didn´t mind that much since we hadn´t expected it to run on time, anyway. But we were very glad that our driver Vejah waited with us, never in my life would I have been able to find the right wagon in this seemingly-endless train. Our 1AC-sleeping booth was not really what we had imaginded since we had been told that it would be a 2 person compartment. We shared, however, with an Indian family with a little girl, which was all for the best since we chatted for several hours with them in the morning, and it was very interesting to learn more about Indian society from them. And they were very keen on hearing about Austria, too, so it was a nice meeting. Bed linen was clean, and though the cabin is quite narrow we had a good sleep. In the morning, however, I could have slapped myself when I discovered that the toilet opposite of the one I had used (IC) was a WC one. B)

After arrival in Katni we were picked up after a few worrysome minutes when no one seemed to show up for us. The drive to Bandhavgarh lasted about three hours. Since the train had accumulated even more delay on its way we were worried that we wouldn´t be in time for the afternoon drive but it all worked out nicely. We even had time to unpack and grab something to eat.

I absolutely, absolutely loved Bandhavgarh. Everything there was as it should be, infinitely better than our very mixed Ranthambhore experience. Our resort, Tiger´s Den Resort, was outstanding. The rooms were comfy, bathrooms spacious and the gardens and pool very well kept.

gallery_19319_809_4296314.jpg

gallery_19319_809_355821.jpg

gallery_19319_809_128800.jpg

Most important, however, were the brilliant staff there. We were treated like very special V.I.P. guests, or even like old friends who had come here for years. Special mention must go to Milan who was probably the most friendly, courteous and obliging staff member I have ever met. Anywhere. And everyone was very helpful, when I told them that my neighbours were a bit loud we were switched to another, bigger bungalow in less than five minutes. Food was great, very spicy, very “Indian” – just delicious!

Best of all, however, was our guide. We half expected to be crammed in a jeep again with four other people. But quite the contrary, on our first drive, we had the jeep entirely to ourselves! We would be alone for one other drive, and shared the other four with two nice ladies from Scotsland whom we got along with fine.

And Jagat Chaturvedi, our guide/driver, was exceptional. Extremely knowledgeful, could tell every plant, every bird, every insect, every animal´s call, was always working hard to show us everything one could see and made two extremely good decisions later on without which we would not have left Bandhavgarh as happy as we did.

Our resort was less than five minutes away from the entrance to Tala Zone, the park´s premium zone.

gallery_19319_809_6468448.jpg

We went there five times out of six, and once to zone 2 (about a 20 minutes drive along the most bumpy road we had to endure). Tala is divided in Areas A, B, C, D, and every car is always assigned a specific route (AC eg..), which it is not allowed to leave. (No such restrictions for zone 2 and 3, I think.)

 

 

As a result of the tiger ban and the new regulations issued by the Supreme Court, “tiger shows” (from elephant´s back) are no more, though you can still do elephant rides for about two hours if they are available (unfortunately they were not).

gallery_19319_809_388277.jpg

Since the park is comparatively small, quite some roads are off-limits to ensure the 20%-only quota. Jagat thought nothing of this restriction, and pointed out that tigers apparently don´t mind cars at all anyway– quite opposed to leopards.

I had heard bad things about Bandhavgarh, about extreme numbers of cars, and lots of people who couldn´t behave. That was not the case at all in my opinion. It is very much for Ranthambhore, but the number of vehicles in Bandhavgarh was quite limited, in fact we were alone most of the time. And everyone we met there did behave, there was no shouting, no flashlighting, just people loving and admiring the landscapes and wildlife of Bandhavgarh. Quietly. As it should be.

What´s there to see?

Breathtakingly beautiful sceneries:

gallery_19319_809_2948488.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1717899.jpg

gallery_19319_809_3255933.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1004297.jpg

Myriads of birds (Hornbills, Lapwings, Orioles, Drongos, Woodpeckers, Hoopoes, Rollers, Pigeons, Flycatchers, Peafowl, Jungle Fowl, Adjutants, Parakeet, Eagles, Shikras, …):

gallery_19319_809_57504.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1300991.jpg

Wild boar:

gallery_19319_809_379085.jpg

gallery_19319_809_4499972.jpg

Rhesus Macaques and Hanuman Langurs, Gaurs (imported from Kanha, since the Bandhavgarh population had just inexplicably vanished one day) and deer and deer and deer. Mostly spotted, but also a few Sambar. And Muntjac, the shy, elusive Barking Deer:

gallery_19319_809_2768034.jpg


gallery_19319_809_4948872.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1510533.jpg

gallery_19319_809_4184935.jpg

But no tigers. Lots of tracks, lots of alarm calls, lots of “almosts” – but just almosts for four drives. As was already mentioned here by @@kitefarrago , chances of seeing them are far higher in spring when vegetation dies back down and everything congregates at the last few remaining water holes. As Jagat told us in summer he sees tigers almost every drive. Now, in winter, he put it to 4 out of 10. (Leopards 1 in 10 drives btw, and sloth bears about 1 in 30. Even rarer are wolf sightings, and hyenas he has never seen in the park though they are said to wander around in its vicinity.)

Well, statistics are all well and good, but where was OUR tiger after almost four drives? To be honest, I started to get a bit frustrated on and even began to doubt if we ever would see my favourite animal, the king of the jungle, at all. Jagat then made the decision to not got for the morning break meeting point but drove on, I think he was very aware that our spirits were getting lower and lower.

Good choice.

Next up: The best 45 minutes of my life – or: Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

Jagat drove on the rocky hills where a tigress had apparently been seen the day before. He told us he hoped to see her or her cubs who hadn´t been spotted this season yet after monsoon. When we came down the hill again one car with a young couple was already there, intensely staring in the undergrowth. Was something there? Could it be a tiger? Two mahouts were nearby also, and everyone seemed to stare in the same direction. We did, too, of course. No one said a word, no one even seemed to dare to breath. Jagat calmly just said “wait.” We were buzzing with excitement, but I was also nervous, for everything could very likely be false alarm again, after many times before here in the park, when alarm calls and fleeing deer or boar had convinced us some predator had to be just behind the next tree, and then … nothing.

But not this time. Some leaves in the undergrowth were rustling, and then the most beautiful animal I had ever seen came into sight: My first tiger! Moving as graciously and dignified as I had ever imagined, and looking ever grander. I can hardly describe my feelings in this moment. I had experienced terrific sightings in Tanzania, but nothing came even close to my state of pure joy and emotion I was going through now. It is a privilege to see this magnificent animal, and I was very well aware of it. I´m not ashamed to say that my eyes even filled with tears. But enough babbling, here´s “my” tiger: :wub:

gallery_19319_809_4977827.jpg

gallery_19319_809_71973.jpg

gallery_19319_809_663031.jpg

gallery_19319_809_625195.jpg

Indeed, it was one of the “cubs”, but – as Jagat pointed out – he had grown immensely since the last time he had seen them. He was about one year old now, and I probably couldn´t have told that this fine specimen was still that young. It was nice to see that Jagat seemed to be as happy about this sighting as we were, he was grinning all over. I was just so thankful for his decision to ditch the morning break and could have kissed him for it and even told him so. The others in the car seconded me, but luckily for Jagat we had no time for smooching – we had a tiger to watch! :)

Now he was hiding a bit in the grass.

gallery_19319_809_515689.jpg

It was clear that it were the elephants who had caught his attention. Jagat told us that young tigers like to follow them around because they are fascinated by their swooshing tails, and very brave young tigers even dare to try to hit them with their pranks.

gallery_19319_809_3994741.jpg

That would of course have been just too exciting to see, but I´m quite sure elephants and mahouts would have disagreed. And then Jagat said: “Watch there!” And yes, now “cub” Nr. 2 came out of the jungle, a bit more careful, not as self-confident as his brother, but just as beautiful:

gallery_19319_809_5695082.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1728971.jpg

gallery_19319_809_333156.jpg

I started to compare their stripes and enjoyed the subtle differences, but all of a sudden the task of comparing tiger stripes got even more complicated. I wrote Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! in my last post, and indeed, the third brother came out of the wood! Moving faster than his siblings, he was evidently very keen on closing up with them. It felt a bit like he had first been too afraid to come out but now couldn´t stand to be left alone.

gallery_19319_809_4162522.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1421148.jpg

gallery_19319_809_519487.jpg

For a short time we lost them in the grass, but Jagat moved up the hill a bit and then we could spot two of them relaxing on a rock.

gallery_19319_809_6084711.jpg

gallery_19319_809_3371092.jpg

gallery_19319_809_924564.jpg

The third one had crossed the road and was hiding in a bush, perfectly camouflaged.

gallery_19319_809_4154632.jpg

Just then two park rangers drove by – on bicycles, armed with nothing but a stick. Jagat warned them of the cubs and they decided to leave the road and take a shortcut down the rocks. Didn´t had the impression that they were nervous about the situation but Jagat confirmed that, of course, especially if mother would return things could indeed get ugly and also the danger of their “little ones” should not be underestimated. He told us of hairy situations when tigresses with cubs had behaved very aggressively, even towards cars. So I thought as much as it is a thrill seeing tigers in the wild is you would have to pay me a lot of money to drive through Bandhavgarh by bike just with a stick. I rather prefer to see them out from the relative safety of a jeep.

All in all, the sighting lasted a good 45 minutes, and it was just us and the other car. Then the bulk of the others arrived, and suddenly more than ten cars got in a frenzy to have the best positions for the tigers. Time for us to leave, but we didn´t mind, since we had seen them in absolute quiet and privacy for a good long time, and it was time to leave the park anyway. Still overjoyed we had to celebrate this with whiskey – a natural decision since we were in the company of two Scottish ladies. B)

Link to post
Share on other sites
africapurohit

Fantastic that you had the tiger sighting all to yourselves.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

What a fantastic sighting!

Edited by kittykat23uk
Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

The pressure was off. The main objective of the whole trip had been a good tiger sighting. Now that we had had the luck to experience a magnificent one we were much more relaxed. A better state to enjoy the park in its entirety, and so we were content again with the usual suspects (birds, deer and langurs) on our way to the park exit. We saw an Indian flapshell turtle just a few metres next to the road:

gallery_19319_809_596745.jpg

And shared these langurs ostensible indignation….

gallery_19319_809_482504.jpg


…about this unseemly behaviour, impudently displayed in public:

gallery_19319_809_4004800.jpg

About the safari drives in general: Morning drives started about 07:00 (park entrance time), and it is indeed still freezing at that time, even if you wear coats and caps. Without the blankets we were supplied with by the resort it really would have been quite unbearable, and as an Austrian (with winter practically lasting six months) I am used to cold. Drive time in the morning is nearly four hours. Afternoon drives started around 14:30 (entrance time) and lasted three hours.

In the afternoon we went to zone 2:

gallery_19319_809_5411765.jpg

A beautiful area as well but it became quite apparent why Tala is the premium zone, animal density is much lower, and even chitals were only seldomly seen. About 10 of them, one sambar, a few langurs, one sounder of wild boar, three peacocks and a lot of birds (changeable hawk eagle, oriole and woolly-necked stork were the more interesting ones) – that was about it. But still, we had a good time, Jagat showed us to the “Charger” monument, the resting place of Bandhavgarh´s best-known tiger, famous for his pulse-driving mock charges on gypsies. We again talked about best sighting times, and were urged to return in spring one of these years, when Jagat practically promised us to see many more tigers. We´re pretty much decided on doing this sooner or later, though I still have to say that the rich, lush green vegetation is beautiful in itself and the scenery will be quite different in March or April.

gallery_19319_809_6184348.jpg

gallery_19319_809_4686837.jpg

Late in the afternoon things got exciting again. We joined a longer car queue on the road. Queues like this can only mean tiger, and indeed, we heard the very near growling of a tigress. Jagat estimated her to be 150 m away at most, but no one could spot her. We stayed for nearly 45 minutes, but it was no good, she wouldn´t come out and instead audibly started to move deeper into the jungle, so we left the park.

In the evening the resort entertained its guests with a tribal dance which was quite fun. What stands out more in my memory is that Jagat joined us for drinks later, and we had an fascinating conversation for several hours about Indian castes (very much effect also in modern society), national parks administration (not in high esteem with Jagat), the conflicts with farmers (who do still kill tigers), hope for tigers´s survival (bleak, but not hopeless) and so on. We were told how shattering the tiger ban had been for Tala. The whole village depends on the park, and had the ban not been lifted they all wouldn´t have known what to do to ensure their existence. For us it had been a cause for worry if our holiday would work out, for them it was a life or death thing.

The next day it was our last drive. And as they say – good things come to those who wait. The morning started a bit slow, the whole jungle still seemed to sleep, and after sunrise we concentrated more on the small things, like our third parakeet species (Alexandrine)…

gallery_19319_809_7711.jpg


… or even butterflies:

gallery_19319_809_1041258.jpg

But about 10:00, things started to get more exciting again. A male tiger had been seen on the rocks of route B, and apparently he was heading in our direction! We waited, waited, and waited together with about 15(!) other cars (in an orderly queue), but for about half an hour – nothing! A lot of the cars lost patience, and proceeded, anticipating the tiger to have chosen another path. Jagat decided to wait. And quite rightly, since only 5 minutes later the undisputed king of the jungle appeared: Bamera, the dominant tiger of Bandhavgarh. Bamera was first seen in 2008 on a dam called “Bamera” and is one of the sons of B2, the last dominant tiger in Bandhavgarh. His territory includes parts of all park zones. Apparently he is quite generous and tolerates other tigers up to a certain extent. We, however, were of none interest whatsoever to him, and he passed us by without even looking once! He was on the street for just a few minutes before he majestically treaded to the jungle on our left where – as Jagat said – a tigress in heat would await his majesty. Bamera is a most impressive specimen of a tiger, power and dignity personified, and of course the best sighting one could wish for to end a Bandhavgarh visit:

gallery_19319_809_6593236.jpg

gallery_19319_809_6965466.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1024288.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

Nice! We met his dad in 2007 :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

Still thrilled with our Bamera sighting (which earned us another whiskey), we finally had to leave Bandhavgarh. A pity, we loved the park and Tiger´s Den Resort and will definitely return there one day. The drive to Kanha, lasting about 5 hours, was quite nice, we passed through several areas quite untouched by civilization, and I´m sure there must be lots of animals, maybe even tigers, in some of the woods we got through. Especially the last hour of driving was very scenic, and we saw several langurs and deer along the way. The few villages around the park feel a bit like a trip with the Tardis to the middle ages, windowless huts, lots of ox-carts with wooden wheels, no motorized vehicles to be seen anywhere.

We stayed at Chitvan Jungle Lodge (http://www.chitvan.com/), a very beautiful resort, rated as No. 1 in Kanha by Tripadvisor (which they are quite proud of). It is a cleverly designed complex with absurdly huge “rooms”, our bungalow was larger than most flats I´ve lived in, with terrace, living room, sleeping room, dressing room, inside bathroom, outside shower… much more than needed, actually. Food is delicious, and staff very polite, but I was quite surprised that hardly anybody there except the (very pleasant) manager Mr. Ashwani and his co. were fluent in English, communication with serving staff was therefore not always easy. It was no problem whatsoever. There were only about 10 guests there (including us), which was nice, the Lodge could host lots more.

gallery_19319_809_6461676.jpg

gallery_19319_809_6908072.jpg

Chitvan is only 5 minutes away from the Mukki Gate of Kanha Park, which is a lot bigger than Bandhavgarh. The core zone spreads over 930 sq km, so together with the buffer zone (1,134 sw km) the whole tiger reserve enfolds an area of more than 2,000 sq km. So it was not really possible to visit all of the park with our only three drives, we stayed in Mukki zone. (Kanha core zone has a slightly better reputation for tiger sightings, btw, but it´s apparently also much more crowded.) The majority of the area consists of thick sal tree woods with very dense undergrowth, but there are also a lot of meadows and smaller water bodies. These clearances are actually the sites of relocated villages and their agricultural sites, and park management is always working to keep these parts wood-free.

gallery_19319_809_3268143.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1862083.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1354230.jpg

gallery_19319_809_6522.jpg

Morning drive is very long, from about 06:00 till about 12.00, and packed (very wholesome and tasty) breakfast is enjoyed at a picnic site at about 09:30. Afternoon drives start at about 14.30 and end at 17.30. As in Bandhavgarh it is very cold in the morning hours before sunrise, so again we were thankful for the blankets. We had the same guide for all drives, and shared the car with only our Scottish Companions, who had also come here directly from Bandhavgarh – a coincidence, but a nice one. Shamefully I have forgotten the name of our naturalist, a quite young man, but he was very good, always hard working and very knowledgeful. As in Bandhavgarh a park official always joined for drives, and like there, they were very different: Some try very hard to spot things and like to tell things (and are deservedly earning good tips that way), others just sit there and don´t even pretend to be interested in giving you a good time. Doesn´t matter too much, if the driver/guide is good, and that he was. I admired his sharp sight, never in a million years would I have spotted something like this in the wood:

gallery_19319_809_817446.jpg

gallery_19319_809_2626927.jpg

Birders help! Indian Scops Owl?

We had three nights in Kanha, but because of the long drive couldn´t make the afternoon safari. At the time of booking we had expected four drives in total, but unfortunately after the whole tiger ban situation the park further reduced its opening times, and instead of only the afternoon drive not being possible the park was closed for the whole second day of our stay. Well, couldn´t be helped, and after almost two weeks of always getting up early or running aroung city sights and monuments all day a bit of relaxing time wasn´t too bad. And at least we could do a very nice walk in the vicinity of the resort and were happy to concentrate on butterflies, spiders and dragonflies for a change. And the river we went to was just beautiful! We were escorted by a nice young man called Sam, who carried a strong stick with him to “defend against leopards”. He admitted, however, that he never ever had seen one in his whole life. :rolleyes:

gallery_19319_809_991856.jpg

gallery_19319_809_2555225.jpg

gallery_19319_809_358190.jpg

gallery_19319_809_50990.jpg

gallery_19319_809_1213930.jpg

So, how were the safari drives? As beautiful as the wood can be it wasn´t very productive for sightings. The undergrowth is so dense at times that you could be surrounded by herds of mammals and wouldn´t even notice. So we didn´t see very much there, mostly peacocks here and there and some chitals. Langurs were more heard than seen.

gallery_19319_809_1070052.jpg

We were not lucky with predators. Lots of tiger tracks, claw marks on trees, but decidedly fewer alarm calls than in Bandhavgarh. We didn´t see one tiger in Kanha, the closest we came was quite a fresh chital cadaver. I believe tigers are harder to see in Kanha than in Bandhavgarh, especially since the supreme court had done away with the “tiger shows”. Just my feeling, but also the other few guests we met (at the lodge and on drives) didn´t have much luck with tiger sightings. (According to a brochure of the park it should host about 73 – 105.) We did see one other predator, though. Just when I had asked the car to stop for admiring the beauty of a little creek running through the wood a leopard was dashing over it! The langurs went into total frenzy, and we could even tell from their calls and where they were looking where the leopard had to be, but because of the thick vegetation we weren´t able to spot him again. All happened much too quickly for pictures, I just saw the leopard for maybe 30 seconds, but we decided it was worth at least half a whiskey. We came close to another leopard sighting on our third drive, judging by the langurs behaviour he had to be very close, but no luck again – just too much vegetation.

So, what did we see? Some (but not too many) langurs, but not much luck on most other mammals: No sambars (population of 3,500), no boars (8,000), unfortunately no jackals (450), dholes (350) or sloth bears (150), which I would have been very eager to see. No Nilgai (102) and no chousinghas (150), either. More than 25,000 chitals in the park , and indeed, of course we saw lots of them:

gallery_19319_809_7143289.jpg



And a lot of nice bird sightings, which I really enjoyed:




gallery_19319_809_176668.jpg

Spotted dove

gallery_19319_809_452832.jpg

Spotted owlets? (At least I think so)

gallery_19319_809_121124.jpg

Little Grebe

gallery_19319_809_857993.jpg

Red-Wattled Lapwing

gallery_19319_809_1380649.jpg

gallery_19319_809_269373.jpg

Indian openbill, sitting there all day long. (We saw him three times in exact the same position.)

gallery_19319_809_60903.jpg

Changeable Hawk-Eagle

gallery_19319_809_272502.jpg

Way too far away for pics, I know, but I loved watching this “hoopoe-tree” with the binocs. There´s even a black-rumped flameback in there, and some mynas. And a drongo?

gallery_19319_809_85499.jpg

gallery_19319_809_224750.jpg

Indian roller gleaming in the sun.

One Kanha specialty is the hardground barasingha deer, a sub-species of the swamp deer, which only exists here. The population is only 450, but since they prefer open habitats with lots of water it´s easy to see them. In 1970 only 66 animals were left in the park. The steep decline was attributed to over-predation by tigers, poaching, infectious diseases and habitat loss. Counter measures were taken and have brought the barasingha back to a more secure level, but as they cover a highly specialised niche, are restricted to a few pockets of the park with no significant migratory tendencies and apparently have a relatively underdeveloped instinct of self-preservation against predators, they remain highly endangered. Without ongoing measures taken by park administration (weed eradication, maintenance of tall grasses for fawning, grass exclosures for relieving pressure from other herbivores) they probably couldn´t survive. Their loss would be a terrible shame, I loved watching them:

gallery_19319_809_2231326.jpg

gallery_19319_809_968797.jpg

gallery_19319_809_2101001.jpg

gallery_19319_809_4422886.jpg



Another highlight in Kanha are Gaurs. These enormous bovines (weighing up to a ton, bigger than bisons) are not that numerous either (about 1,700), but we had nice sightings of a herd:



gallery_19319_809_746557.jpg

gallery_19319_809_4869641.jpg


And two solitary bulls, this one passed us by just a few metres away:


gallery_19319_809_2135819.jpg

Has seen better days, poor guy, apparently he came out alive from a tiger fight. But definitely not unscarred:

gallery_19319_809_4606322.jpg



So, all in all, though we had hoped to see more in Kanha, we enjoyed our stay there very much, mainly because of its diverse habitats, the lovely water bodies, birds and especially Barasingha and Gaur. And of course the Leopard sighting, albeit that one was very short. And we had only three drives there, the last one a bit abridged because we had a plane to catch, so who knows what we would have seen in six drives? After all, we hadn´t seen predators in Bandhavgarh after three drives. I would definitely like to return to Kanha one day, and to Chitvan Jungle Lodge as well, which was very enjoyable but we will probably combine it with some accommodations nearer to the Kanha core zone.

Link to post
Share on other sites
kitefarrago

I spent rather more time in Kanha on my holiday in January (7 drives), and we did see tiger on two occasions (one large male close to the Mukki gate, and one female with four young 4-5 months old at the time, but the young stayed in the scrub thanks to the only other car, which was noisily changing position variously). We also had jungle cat and sloth bear, so they do indeed exist. Pity you didn't get more chances. Oh, and we had sambar on pretty much every drive...

 

Agree on the barasinghas - in January they were rutting as an added bonus.

 

I think all your bird ids are correct. The big spider is Giant Wood Spider, and the butterfly Danaid eggfly (I ended up taking so many butterfly pictures that I spent a lot of time trying to id them after I got back).

Link to post
Share on other sites
michael-ibk

@@kitefarrago :

 

Thanks for the ID confirmations. We have lots of butterfly pics, too, but I confess I cowardly shied away from the task of identifying them. I admire you for doing that (Birds already were a struggle for me. :) )

 

Have you also been exclusively to Mukki zone, or to the other areas as well? Seeing no sambar was definitely weird, our guide confirmed that normally you see them on every drive.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy