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India November 2012


michael-ibk

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kitefarrago

@@michael-ibk, I think Lightroom is having an effect here - it allows me to tag all my photos with what's on them (and where they were taken, etc), and it becomes a bit compulsive wanting to tag everything correctly! I still have a couple of ? tags though. (Tagging your pictures means you can then search for photographs bearing particular tags.)

 

We spent time in both, the Mukki and the Kisli zone (our guide was very keen to go there). However, the latter is quite a drive from the Mukki gate, and we didn't really see anything particularly good there on the two occasions we went.

 

One of the many useful features of Lightroom is that it now comes with an interface that allows you to see the locations of your GPS-tagged photos on maps supplied by Google, and it seems I took hardly any pictures while we drove around the Kisli zone. (It's really nice to be able to sort out where one has actually seen something on a map - certainly driving around on winding forest roads doesn't give one a good idea of where one actually is...).

 

We stayed at Kanha Jungle Lodge (which is also very close to the Mukki Gate). I enjoyed the fact that it was in the forest itself. Also, the owners knew a lot about the wildlife - they have a hand-drawn map where they're keeping track of the various tiger territories, and sightings, within Kanha, which I found particularly fascinating.

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michael-ibk

From Kanha we drove to Raipur. The airport there was a surprise, spotlessly clean, almost sterile and quite calm. Back after the flight we returned to the fabulous hotel Meridien in Delhi where we stayed for the night – and enjoyed a burger with fries! As much as I enjoyed Indian food after more than two weeks of predominantly saucy stuff it was high time to grab something a bit more firm to the bite. To our delight we met Vejah again, our wonderful driver from our time in Rajasthan!

The drive to Corbett the next day was quite long, the greatest hassle was getting out of Delhi´s traffic jams. The far north you get it is really noticeable how much more Muslim the area is, lots of black-dressed women in burkas, a far cry from the gaudy outfits farther south. At times the road is pretty bad, and so we were quite relieved when we finally arrived at the city Ramnagar, the main entry point to Corbett Park. We stayed there at the Wild Crest for the night. (Not enough time left to get into the park proper, and you won´t really see anything in the fringe areas.) An ok place, I liked the premises and the stone bungalows, and it was fun watching the rhesus macaques all over the place:

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We even had a little visitor:

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Food was ok (just ok), and service alright (just alright.) It seemed a bit like a place that had left its best days behind, and there were only very few guests present (which was of course a plus). Since it was way too early to do nothing a young man from the resort accompanied us to the river for some birdwatching. It was nice, amongst others we saw several kingfishers (including our first pied one), white wagtails and woolly-necked-storks. Our guide was great fun, I really enjoyed his almost overboarding enthusiasm for anything with wings.

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Harvesting India-style.

The next day it was time to go to Corbett. To our delight we would have our own private car for the park. Unfortunately the driver/guide who came with us was a little bit of a mixed bag. He had sharp eyes and really did try to show us things, but we didn´t quite “click.” I felt that his heart didn´t belong to animals and nature, but much more to speeding around with the car. Additionally his English sounded like “mbdfadsfljlawfjasldjlbasdlj” most of the time to me, and I´m quite sure he had no clue what I was talking about when he gave me his polite “Yes, Sir”s. It was not too bad, but I couldn´t help thinking how nice it would have been if our bird-loving friend from the day before would have come with us, (which we had expected), and I could have kicked myself that I didn´t ask for him.

Anyway, Corbett Park: It was the first national park of India, founded in 1936 and named after legendary tiger hunter then conservationist Jim Corbett. The core area is about 520 sq km, the buffer area nearly 800 sq km. Contrary to most other tiger parks the actual core area is mostly off-limits for tourists, the areas open for tourists are Dhikala, Bijrani, Jhirna, Domunda and Sonanadi. From what we were told Dhikala is the undisputed highlight of the park, wheras you have to be lucky elsewhere to see anything worthwhile, although Birjani can offer good sightings too at times.

Our drive to Dhikala more or less confirmed this, it´s almost a 40 km drive there from park entrance through mainly thick forest, often crossing dried-out streambeds running to the main river, the Ramganga. Though scenically beautiful, mammals are hard to see here, on the whole drive we spotted four spotted deer, three hanuman langurs and one muntjac. It´s better for birds, of course, (although it can get quite dark in the forest), highlights were a flock of scarlet minivets, some (very skittish) kalij pheasants and two great hornbills, making a lot of noise flying up to the trees. There are also some nice viewpoints to the river. So it was a beautiful drive through this area but if you would just stay mostly here (as many unknowing tourists apparently do on a half-day-trip) you´re in for a disappointment.

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The landscape changes the nearer you get to Dhikala, the forest undergrowth gets thinner, and then suddenly you reach beautiful meadows:

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This is where Dhikala is, a bit of an anomaly in the midth of the park, and apparently many conversationsts feel a place like this shouldn´t be allowed to exist in the middle of the park.

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Dhikala is a bit weird, not your regular lodge, it´s more like a tiny village with many little huts and several bigger accommodations. It´s government-run, and not really big on service therefore. Rooms are quite basic, and the bed linen definitely could have been cleaner. (And I´m really not picky.) The restaurant is more or less a canteen, but food is wholesome and tasty, so no complaints there. (Meat lovers beware, though, only vegetarian meals are served, and no alcohol either.) And it´s the perfect place to chat with other visitors, which was very nice. (On the first day we were the only Non-Indians there, not many international tourists seem to go to Corbett.)

The premises are crowded with rhesus macaques (and the inevitable mynas) which are quite a nuisance. You are well advised to always keep your room properly closed because the little bandits will break in there and steal everything they can in a heartbeat. Not exaggerating, on one occasion I forgot to pack some suncream and hastily went back to the room to get it from the bathroom. I left the door open for less than a minute. Enough time for one of the little buggers to get in and grab after the camera, I was just in time to shy it away.

The government thing is quite odd, at times. Officially tourists are only allowed to stay one night at Dhikala, which nobody does, of course, nearly everyone we met there had stays for several days. But apparently as a result of the official one-night-rule you are permanently asked to switch rooms. We just pretended to not understand and played the dumb-foreigner-card and succeeded in sufficiently enervating the (not very fluent in English) staff to give up. Additionally, there are often some VIP-persons in Corbett, and whole areas get blocked exclusively for them. (Unfortunately, when we were there, so were major parts of the river road, as we were told one of the most productive areas for sightings.)

gallery_19319_809_1417815.jpgOur room.

So Dhikala is a bit of a curious place, but still it was the best place of all national parks to stay in. Why? Location IS everything, that´s why. It was the only place we stayed where one really felt to be “out there”, in the wild, and that was magnificent. The premises are on a slight elevation and are overlooking a partly-flooded landscape around the Ramganga river and reservoir.

I was standing there every free minute, just watching and watching with the binocs and chatting with other guests. Lots of birds there, especially egrets and cormorants, but also ruddy shelducks, lots of deer, gharials, wild boar, turtles and even otters can be seen from there. At times we also saw the local wild elephant herd in the distance. The animals are keeping their distance, of course, but the scenery is just magical. The domesticated elephants are also staying there in their “free-time”, and *ahem* are following nature´s call.

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Standing guard.

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View from Dhikala



In the afternoon we went on an elephant safari.

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Truth be told, it was not that thrilling. It´s fun getting up and sitting on an elephant´s back for a while but it´s quite cramped with four people and you always have to watch out for the proper balance of the thing you´re sitting on, it´s a bit of an uncomfortable feeling when the “seat” is shifting more and more to one side or the other. We didn´t see lots of animals, either, just one sambar stag and birds. But it was impressive how these huge animals can maneuver even through the wood without making one noise,. And our ele really displayed his trunk aptitude when he picked up the camera´s lens hood one of us had accidentally dropped (and believed lost). Things got more exciting towards the end of the ride (which lasted almost 2 ½ hours.) A tiger apparently was nearby, and a bit of a thrill of the chase came up when we tried to follow the trail in the grass. But it´s no ordinary grass we´re talking here, it´s almost higher than the elephant, and so it´s really hard to spot anything. The second elephant was just 30 m away, and they were lucky – they saw the big cat crossing the nearby road, even if just for a few seconds.

Corbett has not that much of a reputation for tiger sightings. And yes, the high grass and the thick vegetation make it very hard to see them. But still, nearly everybody at Dhikala I talked to had seen at least one tiger during their stays, albeit fleetingly, mainly when crossing roads. Four tigers alone are prowling the immediate vicinity of Dhikala itself, so I think there´s a fair chance of having a sighting, especially later in the year when the grass is lower. We came close several times, even at Dhikala itself, once watching several hyper-nervous deer just 50 m behind the fence, it was obvious a predator was near. And once camp´s staff had the most wonderful sighting when at about 16:00 one beautiful tigress was parading around directly in front of the view point, not more than 200 m away, and relaxing by the water for nearly an hour. (Everyone was out on drives that time, of course.)

And we were lucky, too. When we drove out early in the morning we stopped only 100 m after the entrance gate. A beautiful tigress was sitting on the road:

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She soon moved away into the grass after a few minutes (where she became invisible to us), and reappeard only for a short glimpse when she crossed another part of the road, but wow, what a way to start the day, and so near to Dhikala! (Which is fenced, btw, but the fence is no longer hyped up and damaged, so tigers have been known to even wander through Dhikala at times.)

Our only tiger sighting, but since we hadn´t really expected one, it was a great one and we proceeded with big, wide grins on our faces. The most beautiful place around is probably the area around the Ramganga reservoir which feels a bit like African savannah, with big herds of deer (and some wild boar) grazing there. Grass is very short around the river, so here you at least see something.

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We also came close to the wild elephants, which was exciting, but they stayed in the deeper grass so it was really an impossible task to get even half-decent pics of them. It was really amazing how animals that huge can completely disappear in the vegetation, we had a hard time looking for them and when we drove on from the sighting just a few m they were completely invisible again. (They´re much skinnier than their African counterparts, btw.)

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The roads deeper in the wood are a bit of a let-down, we really didn´t see anyting there. It´s much better by the river, lots of deer and birds there, and my personal highlight was this big monitor lizard:

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But what really stands out in Corbett are all the birds around. Small, big, in any shape and colour, there´s always something to see, and I took great pleasure in watching them. I was really happy to find our fourth parakeet species, and especially enjoyed a relatively close red-headed vulture. The widespread use of NSAID diclofenac has caused their population to collapse, they are unfortunately becoming more and more uncommon these days.

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gallery_19319_809_18261.jpgPallas´ Fish Eagle

gallery_19319_809_157400.jpgJuvenile Changeable Hawk-Eagle?

gallery_19319_809_246052.jpgStonechat?

gallery_19319_809_173417.jpgSlaty-Headed Parakeet

gallery_19319_809_346276.jpg(Long-tailed?) Shrike

And even without animals Corbett would be worth seeing for its inherent natural beauty, in that aspect I liked it the most from all the parks we had visited, so I would love to return there someday, although the park is harder to reach and to combine with other nature hot spots.

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Our two nights there were definitely too short a time to fully enjoy this beautiful parks, but, all good things must come to an end, and so our trip was over. :(

So, what´s my verdict on India, especially compared to Tanzania the year before? Apples and oranges, of course, but India not only met, but surpassed our expectations. Of course one won´t find large herds that are so impressive in Africa, there´s not as much diversity concerning mammals and you need to be lucky to have good predator sightings. Additionally, most of the time you are quite aware that you are in a national “park” and not really “out there”, Dhikala/Corbett being a notable exception.

But Indian parks are astoundingly beautiful in their own right, be it the thick jungle of Kanha with its mystic Kipling-flaire, the rocky hills and beautiful meadows of Bandhavgarh or the plains of Corbett at the foothills of the Himalaya mountains or even the barren drylands of Ranthambore. And yes, you won´t see mammals all the time (though deer are plenty), but it makes it all the more exciting if you spot something out of the ordinary (like Gaurs in Kanha, elephants in Corbett). And if you´re willing to also enjoy the smaller stuff, i.e. birds and insects, especially butterflies, you won´t have one boring minute. I had never been all that much into birds, but India changed that, and is mainly responsible for the fact that I´m also always armed with binocs when I go for a walk here at home.

And of course, there´s the tiger. As I wrote in the beginning of this thread, by far my favourite animal, and enjoying the privilege of seeing this magnificent cat, the king of the jungle, in the wild was an undescribable experience for me. Our Bandhavgarh sighting, almost privately enjoying the three cubs undisturbed for such a long time, was pure bliss for me, and I don´t exaggerate when I wrote that it was one of the best moments of my life. (And no need to worry there, I have a pretty good life. :) )

I had read that people behave terribly in the parks, especially at sightings, but with the exception of Ranthambore, it really didn´t feel that way. Even when there were more cars at a certain spot at a time all people behaved, were just awestruck and happy with what they saw, and – most importantly – enjoyed quietly. No shouts, no whistling. Maybe we were just lucky but the whole “terrible tiger crowd” just wasn´t our experience. And most of the time we drove around pretty undisturbed, and a greater number of cars happened in all “my” Tanzanian parks as well.

Aside from the proper nature part of the trip, I was really smitten with the beauty of India´s sights. The Taj Mahal, Fort Amber and Humayun´s tomb especially are magnificent. I much more enjoyed the city part of our trip than I had expected. Not only for the sights, but the sheer number of people in cities, on the streets and even on the countryside is fascinating. Of course one has to cope with the stark chasm in society, and seeing some of the poor devils living on traffic islands can be depressing. But people are very friendly, I liked the fact that most people just smiled and saluted us when we would look around during (frequent) traffic jams. (Not like at home where everyone would look away embarrassed and declare you mad if you would greet someone you don´t know.) Then there´s food, of course, which is just delicious, especially if you are into spicy stuff. (Or sweet. Try Gulab Jamun. Trust me.)

Last, but definitelty not least, is price. We were in India for almost three weeks, in top-notch hotels, had private guides in all cities, our own driver most of the time, had all entry and park fees, train and flight tickets and most meals (just breaktfast in cities, full board at national parks) covered, the price we paid was great value for money IMO, it´s certainly much cheaper than a comparable itinerary to Africa. (Internatonal flights are quite affordable, too.)

So it was a holiday I thoroughly enjoyed, and will definitely return there in the not too far future. Would love to see Tadoba (thanks @@kittykat23uk , Gir and Kazirangha and return to Kanha and Bandhavgarh. We´ll see.

And now … the long wait till September for Brazil and the Pantanal. Work sucks, spoils all free time. :wacko::P

Edited by michael-ibk
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Atravelynn

Have not gotten to Corbett yet. Thanks for your report and the details such the Ranthambore dead zone and the rule changes in Kanha so that Wed is entirely closed. Very helpful. We have lots in common. My favorite bird is the Hoopoe. Like you, I was shocked at how baffling and bewildering the train station and boarding was. And we both were left wondering if Bandhavgarh would produce a tiger for us, but got lucky at the end. I did not celebrate with whiskey, though. Kanha showed you its nice variety, a nice addition to just tigers.

 

Your landscape of Zone 5 is really cool and the white grasses shot, too. Good to have more than animal memories to bring back. Sounds like you had some interesting conversations too.

 

Your trip included Ranthambore, which mine did not. What a well rounded itinerary, one that can't miss for tigers even early in the season!

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michael-ibk

@@Atravelynn :

 

Thanks for the feedback. Well, we started to doubt the "can´t miss tigers"-things after an only kind-of-sighting in Ranthambhore and almost four drives in Bandhavgarh without one tiger in sight. We had known that chances of sightings are better later in the season but with 18 drives scheduled we were confident that it would work out. Luckily, it did. :)

 

But in hindsight I wouldn´t really recommend going to Ranthambore. A shame, really, since the park is so very beautiful, but the zone lottery system with the life-devoid areas, 6 visitors per (small) gypsy, the canters with very loud people are quite off-putting. But who knows, maybe I would rate Ranthambhore much more favourably if we had had tiger sightings there.

 

Yes, I loved the white grass, especially early in the morning when it would look almost a bit like it had snown. Wonderful atmosphere.

 

I would like to go looking for hoopoes in Austria this summer, btw, but unfortunately they are extremely rare here.

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Atravelynn

Now I've been to Corbett via your report. We certainly agree on the location advantage of Dhikala, but we differ on our Corbett tiger photos. None for me. How nice you got to see one from the vehicle, which is usually easier for photography than from the ele. I was glad to read you did not have any bad experiences with other tiger viewers in the other parks besides Rathambore. Seems Tadoba has many of us intrigued now and I haven't even read kittykat's report yet.

 

Did you post an itinerary summary of your trip? That's always helpful.

 

I really can't believe the similarities; we both have the same wait time for the same destination up next. I think we may have discussed Pantanal once before.

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kittykat23uk

We were in Corbett in 2007. We didn't look for tigers there and focused on the birds instead. We did have a great sighting of a bull Asian elephant. Those who are interested in birds can combine Corbett with Pangot and Nainital. Lots of laughing thrushes, woodpeckers, barbets etc.

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michael-ibk

@@Atravelynn :

 

Yes, we did, both in your trip report and in my trip planning thread. And yes, I did post an itinerary summary, post 1 of this thread. :)

 

Do you think you were just unlucky in Corbett? (I read your fabulous report, of course btw, one of the most entertaining and informative reports here.) As I said, really everyone I was speaking to at Dhikala had one or even multiple sightings.

 

@@kittykat23uk :

 

I seem to have missed the trip report? (He said growlingly in his best Game Warden voice.) ;) Did others at Dhikala see tigers?

Edited by michael-ibk
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kittykat23uk

Hi, I don't think I posted it on here as it was in 2007, but here is a link to my website where you can read it.

 

http://www.kats-korner-uk.com/India.html

 

We didnt stay in dhikala, we were outside the park. We specifically asked our driver to focus on birds not tigers in corbett.

 

But people can get lucky or unlucky in any of the parks. In fact we saw B2 on our first morning in Bandhavgarh, but when we spoke to a group at our lodge they had been there three days and had only a single distant and obscured view of tiger. We went on to have two more good views, including the male in my avatar.

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michael-ibk

Thanks for the link, already reading. Always nice to see familiar places in other people´s reports, like your shots of Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Taj Mahal (you had better weather), the break site or the rocks in Bandhavgarh, and so on.

 

Of course I´m aware that seeing tigers is a matter of luck anywhere, it´s just that I had read so often that Corbett does not really have a good reputation for tiger sightings that I was really amazed how often they were spotted when we were there. Maybe things have changed there.

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Atravelynn

@@Atravelynn :

 

Yes, we did, both in your trip report and in my trip planning thread. And yes, I did post an itinerary summary, post 1 of this thread. :)

Right at the start. There it is. I was scrolling only on page 2.

Do you think you were just unlucky in Corbett? (I read your fabulous report, of course btw, one of the most entertaining and informative reports here.) As I said, really everyone I was speaking to at Dhikala had one or even multiple sightings.

 

@@kittykat23uk :

 

I seem to have missed the trip report? (He said growlingly in his best Game Warden voice.) ;) Did others at Dhikala see tigers?

Thank you, Michael-bik. In Corbettt I wanted to concentrate on elephants, even at the expense of tigers, but did manage a glimipse of two that did were not photo material.

 

If only you could have known when you were fretting over the tiger ban, that everything would turn out so well.

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michael-ibk

Yes, if only, then I wouldn´t have grey hair at my temples now. :)

 

Our trip operator offered to pay us everything back in case we wanted to cancel but since our flight was already booked that was not an option. Luckily, otherwise we would probably have called the search for tigers off.

 

I had already begun to adjust my anticipation to "Plan B", which would have been - aside of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra - Gir, Little Rann of Kutch, Blackbuck National Park, Bharatpur and Chitvan Park in Nepal.

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kittykat23uk

I expect you will be interested to read the second half of my trip report in that case.. :)

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michael-ibk

Interested indeed. So what are you even doing here, get back to writing now! ;)

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kittykat23uk

I was hoping to get one of Hari's photos to include in the next part of the report because I wasn't able to get a shot of one particular sighting. But sadly haven't heard back as yet so might have to press on regardless and add it in at a later juncture!

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  • 1 month later...
africapurohit

@@michael-ibk I've just finished reading the rest of your report and it was definitely a successful trip. Lots of wonderful scenic and landscape shots - thank you.

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michael-ibk

@@africapurohit

 

Glad you liked it. Am already in early planning stages for a three week-trip to India in March 2015. :)

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