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sek07

Lucky 13 

A First Time Safari to India

Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks 

 

TRIP ORGANIZED BY WILD WORLD INDIA

 

Itinerary: 11 Days/10 Nights

November 20th Depart Newark on United

November 21st Arrive Delhi       Overnight Andaz Delhi

November 22nd Fly Delhi to Jabalpur and drive to Banhavgarh.  Short evening drive           Overnight King's Lodge

November 23rd Bandhavgarh full day drive.  Overnight King's Lodge

November 24th Bandhavgarh full day drive.  Overnight King's Lodge

November 25th Bandhavgarh full day drive.  Overnight King's Lodge

November 26th Bandhavgarh AM drive.   5 hour transfer to Kanha with overnight Kipling Camp

November 27th Kanha AM drive.  PM bathe Tara the elephant and Village market visit.   Overnight Kipling Camp

November 28th Kanha full day drive.  Overnight Kipling Camp

November 29th Kanha full day drive.  Overnight Kipling Camp

November 30th Depart Kipling camp ~5 hour drive to Nagpur aiport.  Flight to Delhi and road transfer 3 hours to Agra.   Overnight Oberoi Amarvillas

December 1st  Visit Taj Mahal.   Drive to Delhi, day room at Oberoi Delhi.   Midnight flight back to USA

December 2nd Arrive Newark Airport 

 

 

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Atravelynn

Since your itinerary is not 13 days, I am guessing 13 is the # of tigers you saw.  So glad Wild World India turned out lucky for you.

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sek07

A big thank you to all who replied to my request for help:

@Galago @kittykat23uk @madaboutcheetah @janzin @inyathi @Atravelynn @Botswanadreams @ice @Wildship @Filip A @TonyQ @Soukous and @Dave Williams 

 

A special thank you to all who did prior trip reports which were incredibly useful,  particularly those that recommended wild world India. 

We debated heavily between locations but given Vikram at Wild World India's recommendation, the change in the rules about full day permits at Ranthambore, and finally our decision to focus on primarily wildlife we pulled the trigger on the above itinerary.   it was not cheap but the biggest share of cost were the full day (or filming) permits.   In the end we are glad we did them as our best sightings were as a result of them, but they did admittedly make for some very long days.  

 

Wild World India was a great operator.  Abishek and Vikram were extremely responsive, were very focused on delivering what we asked for (and more) and provided above and beyond services in many instances.   The transport vehicles they subcontracted were all top notch with very good drivers, Abishek picked up all of our boarding passes in advance so we saved time at the airports, he also provided local currency to us so we were able to avoid having to deal with this and getting ripped off at bad exchange rates (which we settled up for).  Vikram ended up accompanying us on the trip and very clearly had great relationships with the hotels and their owners.  He is clearly a valued partner for them and as such when he asks for things they get done.  They are both  really nice guys and super interesting to boot and I have great respect for people who take the risk of starting their own businesses.  it seems many of you feel the same as it sounds like his trip to see the polar bears coming up will have several of you accompanying him. 

 

Ok, enough of an intro now on to the trip!

 

 

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mtanenbaum

I'm looking forward to reading this! India is on my bucket list but I'm not sure if I will like it as much as Africa! 

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Atravelynn

Best sightings on the full-day,  very interesting!  Vikram and the Polar Bears, I'm sure it will be successful though it sounds a little odd.

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janzin
5 hours ago, mtanenbaum said:

I'm looking forward to reading this! India is on my bucket list but I'm not sure if I will like it as much as Africa! 

 

We didn't think so either but now are heading back soon for trip #3...its actually a hard choice between India and Africa these days, although they are very, very, very different!

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Atdahl

Add me to the list of people interested in this report @sek07.  Can't wait to get see how it went.

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sek07

After a delay of an hour + due to the plane in Newark being filled with too much gas we were off (we waited for them to burn off the excess gas weight: not off to an environmentally friendly start!).   We had done the e-visa in advance (the website is HORRIBLE and it was only due to some internet sleuthing that I found the workarounds) and the lines weren't very long and the process very smooth.  

Abishek was waiting for us after the luggage pickup and we were off to the airport Andaz.   The pollution started burning my throat pretty much as soon as we stepped off the plane and there was a noticeable haze in the air upon walking out of the airport.   We had read about the pollution ahead of time and you can read about some of the believed causes here:

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/11/8/20948348/delhi-india-air-pollution-quality-cause

It is apparently worst at certain times of year (usually around Diwali due to fireworks and farmers burning their fields on top of the heavy pollution).

It was a very short 5+ minute drive to the Andaz, a very modern recently built hotel.  We were landing on the late side and with the delay it was close to midnight before we were checked in.  The hotel has a 24 hour menu and the food was excellent even at this hour.  

The next day we were up early for breakfast and there was a massive buffet and made to order breakfast before our morning flight to jabalpur.    It was a mix of Indian and western/continental food and really quite a display.   Below the rooms and a view of the haze as seen from our hotel 

 

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sek07

The destination for our two safari parks was Madhya Pradesh (which translates to Central Province). 

Madhya Pradesh (MP) state is situated in central India and is a part of the peninsular platue of India. The state is bordered in the northeast by Uttar Pradesh, to its southeast lies Chhattisgarh, to its south lies Maharashtra, to its West lies Gujarat and to its northwest lies Rajasthan.  Once largely forested it is now a largely agrarian state.  The second map shows the national parks with both Bandhavgarh and Kanha on the eastern side of the province.  

 

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Edited by sek07

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sek07

Following is a clearer map showing just the two parks followed by two Bandhavgarh specific maps.

These maps depict the three main zones of the park: Tala zone, Magdhi Zone and Khitauli Zone.

One of the maps also depicts the location of King's Lodge, our hotel for our time visiting Bandhavgarh. 

 

Bandhavgarh was a Shikargah, or game preserve for the maharajas of Rewa and their guests.  The park was declared a national park in 1968 and a tiger reserve in 1972 under the Project Tiger and Wildlife Protection Act.  In 1982 three more nearby ranges namely Khitauli, Magdhi and Kallawah were included along with Tala (the original national park) to form Bandhavgarh National park.  The buffer zone includes the forest divisions of Umaria and Katni

 

King's lodge is located in the safari town of Tala about 10-15 minutes from the Tala and Khitauli gates and about 30+ to the Magdhi Gate.   Built on 10 hectares of pretty land, it has 10 cottages and 8 stilt rooms, a spa.  They have an onsite garden growing a lot of their vegetables, and great birdlife.  They also claim to have some visitors from the neighboring park and buffer zones with the manager saying he came face to face with a tiger one evening and a mother and cub a few years back from the buffer zone that included the hotel in her territory.  The service was extremely attentive and the food EXCELLENT at this lodge.  The lodge manager is on his game here and the staff personable and well trained.   King's could hold its own as an African safari lodge.

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Edited by sek07

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sek07

I meant to mention at the outset-  all photographs are my own, predominantly with my trustee Canon EOS rebel T6i Digital SLR camera with 55-250mm lens that I have had for years at this point.    Other photos/videos are from iPhones where noted and the occasional one taken by my wife M (she prefers to enjoy the view and take it all in).    This report is both meant to be helpful to others, but also to serve as a history and as such may be a little heavy on the pictures. Some of which are admittedly not of great quality as I don't pretend to be anything other than an amateur, but there are a handful that even I couldn't mess up that I'm very happy with.  

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sek07

Our 10am flight from Delhi to Jabalpur landed at noon, followed by a 3+/- hour drive to King's Lodge through farmland and some rural villages with typical cow road blocks.   Our first sighting was an Indian roller at the airport:  game on!   As you start to approach the town of Tala the road becomes a one way road with sections of the park and/or buffer zone on either side of you at points.  There are numerous speed bumps and a speed limit as people often see wildlife along this corridor including the cats.  Our anticipation built as we hit this section of the road but we mostly just saw monkeys and some birds on this particular drive.  I was a bit surprised by the amount of large trucks and anyone who has been to India knows how aggressive the driving can be (similar to growing up in New Jersey).   The town of Tala resembled many of the safari towns we've seen in Africa that have grown up outside of parks to support the tourism industry, 

We arrived at King's Lodge, dropped our bags and had a quick late lunch, but we were anxious to go on our first drive.   For this drive we would be in the Tala Zone, historically the primary zone with the  best tiger sightings.

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sek07

Things change over time however, and this would be one of only two drives we did in the Tala zone.  And we would do zero drives in the Khitauli zone for a different reason to be discussed shortly

Edited by sek07

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sek07

IMG_7731.jpg.4242d3ba01c0bba03542bb000c21c1cc.jpgIMG_1783.jpg.7b8cdaeab9017a8a45e348867ccd75b2.jpgIndia Traffic Jam

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sek07

Tala Zone gate-  no traffic b/c we arrived to the drive 'late' relative to the usual start time.   You will notice the water reservoir right after the gate which serves to clean the tires of the jeeps as they enter to attempt to reduce the introduction of foreign items into the park.    At this point it was Vikrim as mentioned but Rajan had also joined us as we had requested him based off of everyones reviews.  While he usually works in Kanha (he is the 'king of kanha' as one review noted) he also is frequently requested by guests.  We also had a required local guide we picked up at the gate.   He would only join us for this one drive and he was fine for our introduction.  

We fairly quickly spotted pug marks which got the heart racing.   The park is spectacularly beautiful, and we settled in and knew we had made a great decision to try something new.  In addition we really liked Rajan from the start.  The ubiquitous cheetal were spotted quickly as well as sambar.  We spotted a pair of malabar hornbill which the guide said were not overly common in Bandhavgarh, and I included this less than stellar picture because that proved true and we didn't see them again the rest of the trip in Bandhavgarh.  

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sek07

We then spotted a female and baby elephant which got us excited until they explained that these were the elephants used in the service of the park.  I will say we were relieved to see they seemed to be treated well as we had read some horror Stories prior to coming.   Vikram was adamant that rules had been passed limiting the amount of hours they can be worked and in what capacity.  We only saw them either grazing or occasionally with park rangers out in the park.  Our data point will be we saw no mistreatment and we saw no rangers forcing tigers into view of the vehicles for purposes of collecting tips like we read about during the time of our trip.  Elephant back safari is also no longer allowed at either park we visited

 

The reason we got excited was that a herd of wild elephants had walked a LONG distance supposedly from a completely different province and had arrived in Bandhavgarh.  Why they came can only be speculated but there have not been wild elephants in Bandhavgarh in a very long time.   Unfortunately, they have disrupted the parks normal operation b/c the park is not set up to handle them and many rangers and guides not trained to deal with them.   The Khitauli zone was closed the entire week we were there b/c the elephants had decided to take up residence.  Other zones have been closed previously as well as they move around.  

The way they have handled it is to allow permission to enter a different zone for those people who had purchased passes for the affected zones on a day to day basis. This made for some rather crowded viewing on a few occasions (another reason the full day passes worked for us).   

I found stories about this from earlier 2019 and now it seems to have occurred again

https://www.bandhavgarh.co.in/blogs/wild-elephants-in-bandhavgarh-national-park.html

https://www.bandhavgarh.co.in/blogs/wild-elephants-in-tala-zone.html

 

In the end we did not locate a tiger and our shorter drive felt like it ended too quickly and the normal panic set in- what if we don't see any... On the flip side, we liked our group, the park was stunning and we were able to see good numbers of other wildlife.   We returned to the camp, had a great dinner and attended an information session the Kings Lodge holds at night and went to bed hopeful for a productive day tomorrow

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sek07

The next morning we prepared for our first full day drive in the park.  Very early tea and quick bites at Kings lodge (hard boiled eggs and oatmeal) and we departed around 5:15am for the park.  We were visiting the Magdhi zone as most of the activity since the park reopened in October after the monsoon season had been in Magdhi.  In fact, Tala had been very very quiet with only a few tiger sightings.  Definitely a bummer for those who many months before had booked Tala thinking it would be the most active area. 

 

A little more about the full day permits.  I believe there are 5 available each day but apparently they are often not all sold due to cost obviously but also due to lack of consumer knowledge about them.  They are usually taken by professional photographers or film crews.  During our time there a Disney crew had them every day and then another car or two of tourists.   The passes firstly allow you to enter the park 10-15 minutes before everyone else so you get to see all the fresh tracks and if any animals happen to be in the road you will obviously spot them first.  Secondly you can stay in the park when everyone else must leave when the morning permits end (around 11am I believe). You are therefor in the park for several hours until the afternoon session with only a handful of other cars.  5 cars over the three zones usually  is a LOT of space (two because of the elephants this week).  If tigers have been spotted in the AM you can wait for them to get active.  Also Vikram noted that often times the tigers were more active In open view during these hours as there were less vehicles around chasing them.    In addition the passes allow you to go in any zone including entering and reentering zones. One important change this year though is that you have to leave the gate of the zone you are In and reenter a different gate for the new zone whereas previously you could just drive from zone to zone. This is important b/c if you are in the Magdhi zone and you want to go into the Tala zone it can take about an hour to drive all the way out and over to Tala and in there.  Finally you can stay 10-15 minutes after the time when everyone else has to leave.   

 

We were the second car in the park this day, and every day we were treated to incredible sunrises as we worked our way into the park 

 

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Edited by sek07

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sek07

Right away lots of pug marks and tracks likely of Solo and her cubs and then as we moved further on of Dotty and her cubs.   But no sign of actual tigers.....  Our head start advantage didn't pay off today!   After some more tracking we came upon a very nervous Gaur.   The beautiful animal was on the move and it actually was holding one of its front legs in the air (like our dog does) and looking back nervously.   Mr Munjit said this is a sign there may be a predator around.   We quickly headed in the direction it was looking and found several vehicles stopped looking towards a lake where apparently Dotty and her cubs frequent.  All of a sudden Mr Munjit pointed towards the tall grass and said its moving.  We couldn't see it at first but then there he was.  One of Dotty's male cubs crossed the road right in front of us (we'll call him Mr Independent). The sighting was fairly brief but close and it took a huge weight off the whole vehicle it felt like!  As beautiful and amazing as we had hoped

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Edited by sek07

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sek07

Dotty has 3 male sub adult cubs that are almost to independence age.   This particular male apparently is dominant and often goes off on his own, and as we we find out later has started to get himself in a bit of trouble.  Apparently tehy were all seen together near the water a day or two ago so it was expected that Dotty was off hunting. Moms will leave them for a day or two until she is successful.  We did a quick search for for his siblings and mom but gave up and decided to go look for Solo.   We were on a high at this point enjoying the AMAZING sunbeams that made this beautiful park look even more special when they stopped the vehicle to show us some tracks.  They were the tracks of a sloth bear..  Unfortunately they were headed into the woods so we kept going.   We came around a corner and saw several vehicles stopped looking at something.   The guides shared info in their native tongue as you become accustomed to and vikram pointed to the rocks and said a sloth bear has been sighted by those rocks but is hiding.

This was HIGH on our list of hopefuls, but we had low expectations given they are not commonly seen especially in Bandhavgarh. When the bear emerged briefly we were able to snap some shots.   It was only Mr Munjits 4th sighting that year to give some perspective on frequency.   To say we were ecstatic at this point would be an understatement.  

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Edited by sek07

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Zubbie15

Great start, the full day passes really make such a difference if you can afford them. It certainly makes the day better when you have a good tiger sighting early on, it's much easier to relax and enjoy whatever else comes your way. 

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sek07

After the Baloo (sloth bear) moved out of sight we continued on to see if we could find Solo, stopping where all of the cars were parked including the Disney car with a huge camera/arm mounted on it.  The park ranger was on an elephant well into the woods/bushes and apparently solo and her cubs were in there but out of sight.  We did see a nice black headed oriole (pictured) while waiting.    We decided to head back to the area of Dotty and her 1.5 year old cubs and stopped on the way at a mass of cars who had seen a male tiger from a distance but we never caught a sight of it.  We did a few rounds near the lake but no sign of the tigers so we started to head to the lunch area.   Fortunately for us this meant we went on the road past where Solo was hiding off Road.  Solo had moved within sight but still reasonably far away.  The rest of the vehicles had to leave for lunch but we decided to stay b/c Mr Munjik thought the cubs would probably come down  to meet their mom and they would typically head to the water hole.

Below some photos from the time we were searching and waiting.  oriole, female peacock, seed pod I think for moths, cheetal with nice lighting, and some decent bird shots

 

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Atravelynn

What a setting for the sloth bear!

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sek07

As we came to expect, Mr Munjit was right.

 

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sek07

Then tongue out tuesday.  Each of the cubs came down and greeted Solo which was great but still a little far for my 255m lens.   We moved our vehicles as they stood up and parked next to the watering hole they have used previously.  at this point it was just us and one other vehicle with two young Indian gentleman who I guess are trying to be professional photographers.   As predicted they came head on towards us.  Mr Munjit and the other vehicle guide were in contact about both backing up to let the cats come our way and go to the water.  A lot easier with two cars than the scene we would encounter later.

 

 

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Edited by sek07

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sek07

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