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India Tigers and Other Wildlife


inyathi
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Inyathi, great report and pictures ... great deal of information and insights.

 

India is high on my list since many years, not only to see one of the last wild tigers ... but also to see the lions of Gir, as well as to experience one of the most amazing countries in the world.

 

I must admit that I have moved Inidia down the list since I have seen a series of documentaries on Animal Planet here in Germany. The Panna reserve (and you made some reference to this reserve) was highlighted as an example how tiger conservation is managed (or not managed) in India. The bottom line was that the numbers of tigers have dwindled down massively over the last years due to "wild card" poaching and the inability + ignorance of the public authorities to deal with this issue. It was depressing to learn about this! Esp. the the way the agency being responsible for tiger conservation and management of the tiger reserves just ignored the reality and rejected any advise from local experts and conservationists was disgusting. Desk research confirmed the facts highlighted in this documentaries so it seems this was not just a single sided view of some people being concerned about the indian tigers.

 

On the other hand there were a lot of documentaries about the success of the lion conservation in India.

 

It would be very interesting to learn more about this from people having been to India or are living in India. May be you and Hari could give some more perspective on the real situation?

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Sorry to divert attention from your excellent trip report inyathi, but I wanted to make readers aware of the recent tiger attack in Ranthambhore in which a forest ranger was gravely injured. To read further about it, click here.

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Inyathi, great report and pictures ... great deal of information and insights.

 

India is high on my list since many years, not only to see one of the last wild tigers ... but also to see the lions of Gir, as well as to experience one of the most amazing countries in the world.

 

I must admit that I have moved Inidia down the list since I have seen a series of documentaries on Animal Planet here in Germany. The Panna reserve (and you made some reference to this reserve) was highlighted as an example how tiger conservation is managed (or not managed) in India. The bottom line was that the numbers of tigers have dwindled down massively over the last years due to "wild card" poaching and the inability + ignorance of the public authorities to deal with this issue. It was depressing to learn about this! Esp. the the way the agency being responsible for tiger conservation and management of the tiger reserves just ignored the reality and rejected any advise from local experts and conservationists was disgusting. Desk research confirmed the facts highlighted in this documentaries so it seems this was not just a single sided view of some people being concerned about the indian tigers.

 

On the other hand there were a lot of documentaries about the success of the lion conservation in India.

 

It would be very interesting to learn more about this from people having been to India or are living in India. May be you and Hari could give some more perspective on the real situation?

 

Don't mean to hijack Inyathi's wonderful trip report ..... but, Peter has a valid point. I do hope SA does not give any cheetahs to the Indian Govt. When we can't save our existing wildlife, why is the Govt trying to re-introduce something that we killed off in the 70s........

 

I met someone in Botswana incidentally, who knows a way to get good sightings of Tigers in Bandhavgarh away from the crowds. It's a group trip that they conduct every year, and they book Private Elephants. No Tiger show and no Crowds ........ I don't have specific info at the moment, shall write them to enquire further. I definitely will be looking into this.

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India 2007 4th- 24th February

 

Kolkatta – Nameri – Kaziranga – Delhi – Corbett – Mumbai – Periyar – Kochi

Photographs on this trip were taken with an EOS 20D + 100-400mm lens or a EOS 350D + 17-85mm

Assam

 

Nameri National Park

 

We started our February 2007 safari in Kolkatta (Calcutta), spending a day sightseeing around the city, admiring the colonial architecture, the world’s largest Banyan tree and visiting the Parasenath Jain Temple. The following day we flew to Guwahati in Assam our original plan had been to go straight to Kaziranga NP however the Wild Grass Lodge where wanted to stay was fully booked for the night so instead we opted to stay 1 night at Wild Mahseer Lodge a nice lodge on a tea estate at Balipara which is run by the same company. We could then visit nearby Nameri NP, at only 21,200ha Nameri is a small park along the Jia Bhorolli River, while it is apparently home to a good variety of large mammals, most visitors are interested in either fishing or in our case birds.

 

On our drive to the river we saw some capped-langur monkeys a species that in India only occurs in the northeast. After boating across the river we walked in some forest finding the very rare white-winged duck on a small pond and plenty of other birds including hornbills which the par is noted for, we also saw a black giant squirrel. Back across the river we stopped for lunch at the ‘Eco Camp’ a nice looking tented camp that is the only accommodation really close to the park. In the afternoon some guys from the camp drove us someway upstream and then rafted us back down the river, this was our primary reason for visiting Nameri. The park is one of the best places in India to see a beautiful wader called an ibisbill these birds nest in the high mountains of Nepal and Tibet coming down in the winter to feed amongst among the stones/rocks along rivers like the Bhorolli. Rafting as well as being good fun is the best way to see these rare birds, we saw 5 along with lots of great thick-knees (dikkops).

 

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Ibisbill

 

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We left Nameri in the late afternoon for the fairly long drive to Kaziranga NP

 

Kaziranga National Park

 

Kaziranga is an incredible national park on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River, protecting an area of 42,996ha on the south bank of the river. Mostly comprising tall grassland and riverine forest, the park is home to an astonishing 1,800 greater one-horned rhinos the largest remaining population of this endangered species. Kaziranga also supports good numbers of elephants and wild water buffalo, these animals can be distinguished from their domestic relatives by their huge long sweeping horns the largest of any animal.

 

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Wild water buffalo

 

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The local race of the barasingha or swamp deer is common in the park; the abundance of large herbivores supports a very healthy population of tigers though they’re not easy to see.

 

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Barasingha

 

Seeing wildlife in Kaziranga involves either going on game drives or out on elephant back through the grassland to find rhinos and other game and if you’re a birder the Bengal florican a rare species of bustard.

 

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Early Morning Elephant Ride

 

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Following a Rhino

 

Scattered through the park are a number of oxbow lakes known as bheels next to these at some of the ranger posts there are watchtowers which provide a great view of the wildlife. The sheer number of large mammals albeit of relatively few species makes Kaziranga one of the few parks that can compare with some of those in Africa. Adjacent to the park across the main road is the Panbari Forest Reserve which is home to the rare and beautiful hoolock Gibbon. In the Brahmaputra River Gangetic river dolphins can sometimes be seen, in addition to all the amazing wildlife if the weather is good you get a great view of the Himalayas.

 

To be continued

Edited by inyathi
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We spent 4 whole days in Kaziranga staying at Wild Grass Lodge, this is generally regarded as being the best place to stay; it was perhaps a little run down when we were there, e.g. the swimming pool was empty and it’s quite basic. As with almost all Indian parks you normally have to be out of the park during the middle of the day, which means returning to your lodge for lunch, fortunately Wild Grass is not too far from the main gate and the food all Indian was pretty good. Our only complaint was that the all the vehicles were awful Maruti Gypsies, with the inward facing seats hopeless for wildlife viewing, as when you’re sat down you have no forward vision. If you want to actually spot animals yourself rather than rely on your guide, the only option is to stand up, not ideal if there’s a group of you and do you really want to be standing for a 3-4 hours. Quite apart from not be able to see unless you lean out to see around the cab sitting down isn’t that comfortable because there’s no leg room. Driving through the forested areas of the park was especially frustrating, sitting sideways on you’re looking straight into the forest which is quite thick so seeing anything even when you’re going slowly is very difficult. If you’re standing up you see all kinds of birds flying across the road and you might see a muntjac deer or two, sitting down you see nothing at all because of the cab. In the open grassland areas it’s not such a problem. When we complained to our bird guide that the cars were awful and described what a proper safari vehicle such as they use in Africa should look like, he was very surprised and said that nobody had ever complained about the cars before. Despite the cars our guide was pretty good, he usually stood at the back and would tap a key on the roll bar whenever he spotted something and the driver would stop.

 

Whilst game driving and or from elephant back we saw numerous rhinos, elephants, water buffalos, barasingha, hog deer, sambar and wild boar.

 

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Wild Boar & Hog Deer

 

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Red Junglefowl ancestor of all the world's chickens

 

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Greater One-Horned Rhino

 

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Hope For the Future

 

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When I was first told that there were around 1,800 rhinos in the park I was very sceptical, however we saw numerous rhinos in every section of the park we drove through and while looking across a large bheel from one of the towers, I spotted over 20 different rhinos, fantastic. So I guess there could well be 1,800, sadly of course they have recently lost a few to poachers, but to see so many rhinos in one place was just incredible. From one of the towers we also saw some smooth-coated otters.

 

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A view from on of the watchtowers

 

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Elephants, a rhino & water buffalos

 

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Hog Deer

 

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Hog Deer Fawn

 

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Barasingha

 

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Himalayan Griffon Vulture

 

There are possibly around 100 tigers in the park which is also fantastic, we didn’t see any though two German guys staying at Wild Grass were lucky and saw tigers several times. On one occasion they saw a tiger rush out of the long grass to try and take a buffalo, the water buffalo turned on the tiger and chased it back into the grass, we were in fact just ahead of them on the same road but all we/I saw was the running buffalo. On a short walk into the Panbari Forest the birding proved very difficult but we saw capped langurs and a solitary young bachelor hoolock gibbon in the tree tops. His whooping call/song was fantastic making for a truly memorable wildlife experience.

 

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Capped Langurs

 

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Hoolock Gibbon

Edited by inyathi
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inyathi, I'm enjoying this report so much!

 

 

Jan

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Thanks Jan,

 

I realised after I’d added my last post that I’d left out quite a lot that I’d meant to include so before I move on to Corbett here is some more on Kaziranga

 

When we entered Panbari Forest we were provided with leech socks which are supposed to provide some protection from leeches however I don’t think I noticed a single one so we didn’t need them perhaps at a different wetter time of year they would have been necessary.

 

After our early morning walk in Panbari Forest we drove to the park stopping to pick up the compulsory ranger before heading off all the way out to an area called Debeshwary near the Brahmaputra River to look for some special birds, because it’s a long way we were allowed to stay in the park through the middle of the day. After visiting the river, doing some birding and eating our picnic lunch at the Debeshwary Ranger Post we headed back the way we’d come, realising fairly quickly that we were heading straight for the entrance gate so we asked to go a different way and stopped at another ranger post where there was a tower. For a little while we watched a big herd of elephants crossing a large bheel, when we got back in to our Gypsy we again found ourselves heading for the gate and left the park at 4:00 p.m. much earlier than we would have liked. Morning game drives are normally around 4 hrs, since we’d been in the park for about that long the ranger and or our driver had decided that our time was up and had no intention of doing overtime, had we not realised what was happening we would have exited the park even earlier still. So we ended up back at the lodge while all the other guests were out on their afternoon game drives, this was very annoying as we’d not been told we would be returning early we’d assumed we’d be out for the whole day returning after sunset. We had to content ourselves with bird watching in the lodge garden not quite as exciting.

 

The weather during our stay wasn’t great it was pretty cold and grey, throughout and rained quite a bit on one day, however on our last whole day it was beautifully sunny and clear in the morning affording us fantastic views of the distant Himalayas, in the afternoon the snowy peaks had disappeared again though the weather remained nice. Kaziranga should be visited between November and April, most of the rest of the year it’s closed because the roads become impassable during the rains. At the end of February the rangers burn off a lot of the grass so March or April are good times to go because viewing the large mammals is easier, although we had no difficulty seeing the animals in February. We had 4 whole days in the park but could easily have stayed longer, it would have been good to have spent more time in Panbari Forest or exploring some of the local tea gardens/plantations

 

On most of the riding elephants or certainly the ones I went on you sit astride facing forwards though not very comfortable on a long ride, sitting this way has obvious advantages making wildlife viewing much easier. When you’re sitting sideways back to back you’re often on the wrong side until the mahout turns the elephant around, so it’s best to make sure you get an elephant with forward facing seats especially if you’re a birder. The rare Bengal Florican is best seen from elephant back in the grasslands near the main gate at Mikhimukh, you need to tell the mahout that you want to see them, but even then you may need to go on several rides to see one as they’re not quite as easy to find as the rhinos.

 

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A tuskless bull, unlike with African elephants, Asian elephant cows never have tusks but the bulls normally do however tuskless animals like this one known as a makhna are sadly becoming more common as a result of ivory poaching.

 

Corbett NP Next

Edited by inyathi
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Fascinating stuff Inyathi. Those rhinos are something else, I never realised that you would have such a good chance of seeing them. What a huge effort you are making for our benefit … thank you.

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Thanks so much for this, Inyathi. Enjoying every description & picture. Feel like bopping myself on the head every time I think that I was born in Calcutta and lived there until I was 22 without ever having gone to Kaziranga! Came late to wildlife, unfortunately...

Really looking forward to your report on Corbett. We were there a couple of years ago & it was a big disappointment for us. Hope you fared better.

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Fascinating stuff Inyathi. Those rhinos are something else, I never realised that you would have such a good chance of seeing them. What a huge effort you are making for our benefit … thank you.

 

We went to Kaziranga in 2006, right at the VERY start of the season, so some areas were still out of bounds because of the water levels. However, we too saw many, many rhinos and were just amazed by how many and how close we were able to get.

 

We did two early morning elephant back rides. When we were there, they had two time slots, and we went on the first both times, because I loved the magical sight of the mists lifting in the cold crisp morning and the sun breaking through. We had great sightings, similar to inyathi of mothers and calves.

 

One of the owners of Wild Grass had developed a soft spot for us (I'd bought lots of diwali fireworks with me for the kids there, and we had a great evening with said owner and the various kids of lodge staff and locals). So he took us to the elephant ride and must have spoken to the manager as I was at the front of the lead elephant (astride not side seats) both times, which gave me the best views, most fantastic. NOT comfortable, but worth it!

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Kavey, I completely agree about the elephant rides, the morning mist with the Mikir Hills in the background and all the animals was just so beautiful.

 

Sangeeta even though it’s no longer on your doorstep relatively speaking I hope you get the chance to visit Kaziranga, I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in wildlife I don’t think it would be possible to be disappointed there. As for Corbett my first visit in Dec 89 from memory was great despite the cold, my last visit in 07 wasn’t as great as I shall explain in my next post coming shortly.

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Uttaranchal

 

Corbett National Park

 

Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Uttaranchal Corbett is India’s first national park gazetted in 1936 it was originally known as Hailey NP and then after independence briefly became Ramganga NP after the park’s main River. Then in 1957 it was renamed Corbett NP in honour of the famous hunter/conservationist Jim Corbett, who had campaigned for the creation of the park. For anyone not familiar with Jim Corbett he was an Englishman born and raised in the nearby Himalayan hill station/resort of Naini Tal, as a young man he took to hunting tigers and other animals like so many of the British in India and as a result became both a crack shot and an expert at tracking big cats. Over time he became increasingly concerned about the future of tigers and wildlife in India generally and gave up sport hunting, in favour of shooting with a camera. However, he didn’t hang up his hunting rifles entirely, during the early decades of the 20th century the people of the region known as Kumaon, were frequently terrorised by man-eating tigers and leopards and when called upon he would track down and kill these dangerous beasts. Some of which were responsible for literally hundreds of deaths, he sought no reward for his services and became a great hero to the people of Kumaon and famous around the world through the publication of his great book ‘The Maneaters of Kumaon’. During the summer months he lived up at Naini Tal and in the winter moved down to his house in the village of Kaladhungi just to the east of the national park, this house is now the Jim Corbett Museum.

 

The 52,082ha Park is mainly sal forest with chir pines on the higher ridges and patches of open grassland known as chaurs alongside the Ramganga River. In the west of the park is a huge lake formed by a dam on the river, which along with the river itself is home to two species of crocodile the mugger and the curious looking gharial, the latter which has a very long slender snout for catching fish is now a highly endangered species. Corbett is one of India’s finest national parks and is a very important sanctuary for tigers, wild elephants and other animals including over 500 species of birds.

 

This was our second visit to Corbett NP on our first in Dec89 we succeeded in seeing tigers briefly and wild elephants, unfortunately this trip in Feb 07 was perhaps rather more eventful than successful.

 

On the return drive from Kaziranga back to Guwahati, we were taken to a roadside cafe for lunch, we were a little bit concerned about eating there however the chicken tikka was very good, but I hoped I wouldn’t regret it later as I wasn’t sure how hygienic the place was. When we eventually reached the airport in Guwahati, we discovered that are flight to Delhi was delayed for 2hrs, this meant we didn’t get to our hotel until very late and didn’t really have a proper chance to discuss our plan for the morning. I then developed Delhi belly which was not helped by having another meal at the hotel, so I really wasn’t looking forward to our nonstop drive to Corbett.

 

We knew we had to leave early in the morning for the drive to Corbett, but had assumed this was just to miss the awful Delhi rush hour, since we hadn’t been told otherwise. So we left in a minibus from the hotel at about 7:45 a.m. for what turned out to be a seven and a half hour journey thanks to the traffic which was fairly bad in places. Thanks to some Immodium tablets I survived the journey despite stopping only once for lunch, I don’t normally take these tablets when I’m ill, but in this case I didn’t have much option.

 

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Travelling by road in India can be quite frightening at times but it’s never boring, all life can be seen on the streets.

 

We arrived at The Corbett Hideaway just north of Ramnagar at 3.15 p.m. from where we were supposed to transfer by safari vehicle to The Hideaway River Lodge, a tented camp on a hillside across the Ramganga River, just outside the park’s northern boundary. However the only way to get to the camp is to drive through the park, but we were told that we’d arrived too late and would be unlikely to reach the park gate in time, so they probably wouldn’t let us in. We hadn’t been warned either by our UK travel agent or the rep from Banyan Tours back in Delhi, that we needed to get to the gate before a certain time. Fortunately there were enough rooms for us to stay the night and we could then drive to the camp in the morning.

 

The Corbett Hideaway, is perfectly nice lodge overlooking the Kosi River, we were able to while away a few hours birding along the river before dark. Soon after we retired for the night there was a major thunder storm and it rained heavily a sign of things to come. In the morning we were very pleased to see that our Maruti Gypsy, had forward facing seats hallelujah, we left about 7:00 for our journey to camp, on our way into the park we saw a good few birds and a number of deer. To reach the camp you have to ford the Ramganga, as there is no bridge, when we reached the river the water level was quite high, the camp staff had sent the camp elephant across just in case it was too high for the car.

 

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We decided to go for it and managed to drive across.

 

Once in camp it proceeded to rain on an off for the rest of the day. The view from the camp was stunning however the camp wasn’t, it was somewhat run down. The rooms were big Meru style tents but with wooden doors some of which didn’t fit very well, there were plenty of gaps to let the cold in not what you want if you’re in the Himalayan foothills in February and the weathers terrible. Fortunately having visited Corbett before in late December, we’d brought good warm clothing which we definitely needed. Aside from the rain it was also very windy making the camp pretty cold, so since there was nothing else to do we all went to bed. At the far end of the camp someone had started to build a fancy new dining room, I presume but had only got as far as creating a small frame of metal girders set into concrete, before abandoning their work. We were told that the camp had been due to be taken over, by ‘And Beyond’ and Taj Hotels, however for some reason the deal had fallen through and it’s certainly not one of their camps/lodges now.

 

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Apart from the wonderful view the camp’s only redeeming feature was the chef who produced the most delicious Indian food.

 

In the morning we soon discovered, it hadn’t just been raining in camp, but had clearly been raining up in the mountains, when we went down to check the river it was too deep to cross so we were effectively trapped on our side unable to enter the park. The only way to get across was on Laxmi the elephant, however visitors are only allowed to ride national park elephants in the park so instead we had to content ourselves with a very short rather dull ride through the tiny area of bush between the bottom of the hill and the river, this produced a few birds, some chital and a muntjac. This was followed by a pleasant walk through the village, this actually consisted of just one remaining farmstead and down to the river; we saw some quite good birds and 2 common gorals (goat-antelopes) on a rocky hill side across the river. After lunch it rained again until late afternoon when the sun finally came out again, so we could at least enjoy the beautiful view. At sunset we drove down to the river and saw a golden jackal.

 

We’d pretty much done everything there was to do from camp and were really not happy being stranded the wrong side of the river unable to get into the national park we’d come to visit. So we discussed the situation with our nice and very competent guide Jettendra who then phoned The Corbett Hideaway and arranged for them to send a couple of cars over to the river in the morning. So at about 7:30 a.m. we were taken down to the Ramganga and ferried across on Laxmi to the waiting cars.

 

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We then spent the whole day driving through the forest above the Ramganga, unfortunately this section of the park known as Durgadevi is not a good area for viewing wildlife, we only saw a few langurs and some deer but we did see quite a lot of birds, the views of the Ramganga Valley were fantastic. Back at the river just below camp we saw some otters probably the common Eurasian variety. For once the evening was very pleasant and we were able to sit out by the fire and enjoy the stars.

 

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Grey Langur

 

The following day we drove the same route as the day before only this time going much further driving through some reasonable sized grassy chaurs but aside from good forest birds all we saw were some wild boar, although we did manage to find a quite fresh tiger pugmark beside the road. We returned to camp for a late lunch and then drove back across the river staying in the area opposite the camp we saw five gorals coming down the hillside across the river which was nice and also a displaying peacock and a sambar stag.

 

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Although we didn't do well for wildlife this time, I'd never seen common gorals before

 

On our final day we sent our luggage back to The Corbett Hideaway and drove off up into the hills instead of the park. Although the weather wasn’t great we saw some snowy peaks and one or two new birds.

 

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At one point we stopped and walked up to a viewpoint, from where the view was stunning. After that we drove to another viewpoint for a picnic lunch, before heading back down to the Kosi River stopping at the river to bird for a bit. When we returned to the Corbett Hideaway Lodge, we had to wait sometime for them to get our rooms ready.

 

The next morning we left early for the drive back to Delhi Airport for our flight to Mumbai. We stayed for a very brief night in Mumbai, luckily no problems with the flight to Kochi this time, though we did have to get up at 4 a.m. again. Drive to Periyar NP, 3 whole days Periyar (see earlier post), then drive to Kochi for lunch and 1 whole day. Return home on morning flight

Edited by inyathi
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Clearly our time in Corbett NP wasn’t a success largely thanks to the awful weather, it was very cold throughout, however the truth is we were staying in the wrong place, even if the weather had been great and we hadn’t had any problems with the river, it’s unlikely that we would have seen much more as far as mammals are concerned. Unfortunately the best place to see tigers, elephants and other wildlife in Corbett, is at dhikala where there is a huge area of grassland beside the Ramganga Reservoir. We visited this area in 1989, but since then unbeknownst to us the park rules had changed; now you can only make daytrips to Dhikala, in a national park truck known as a Canter, otherwise to enter the area in a private vehicle, you have to stay the night at the government run Dhikala Forest Lodge. If you want to stay there, I would think you have to book pretty far in advance. In our case both we and our travel agent hadn’t done sufficient research. If you can book the Dhikala Forest Lodge, then Corbett is well worth visiting, and actually I would guess that The Hideaway River Lodge has probably been refurbished and in good weather without any of the problems we had, it would be a very nice place to stay, if you’re a birder or a fisherman. The Ramganga is a very beautiful river and a fantastic place to fish for mahseer India’s premier freshwater game fish. Combining Dhikala and Hideaway River Lodge would be ideal.

 

On Christmas Day back in Dec 89 we were able to go on a day trip to Dhikala, we went on a short elephant ride at one point when we reached the Ramganga River, we saw a fresh looking tiger pugmark in the sand going off to the right, we stopped looked and then promptly turned left and went in the opposite direction. Clearly we were following a set route and weren’t allowed to deviate no matter how close the tiger might have been, very frustrating, though given how the mahouts behave in Kahna, maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t go after the tiger. I don’t know how they run the elephant rides now.

 

As well as being very cold, it also rained at least once, but fortunately nothing like as much as in 07, open vehicles are great until it rains, once the roof goes on you can’t see anything. While it was raining the driver and our bird guide saw a tiger, sat in the back of the Gypsy we couldn’t see anything at all. To our huge annoyance when we said to our guide, that we hadn’t seen it he suggested that if we hadn’t been talking we might have done.

 

If you are a birder the time to visit is winter, to catch both long distance migrants and altitudinal migrants, birds that in summer breed much higher up in the Himalayas are in winter driven down by the cold. After my first visit I wouldn’t recommend going in Dec or January unless you don’t mind the cold, though I should say that that was a very hard winter, quite a few people in the north of India actually died of cold, so our discomfort was pretty minor. Perhaps we were unlucky in 2007, but the weather wasn’t much better in February, so maybe if you’re not so interested in birds March/April, would be better, in summer it can get pretty hot, but of course like in Africa, this can be the best time to view mammals, as they tend to stay close to the water.

Edited by inyathi
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Great Corbett info, which I will be putting to use relatively soon and Kaziranga info, which gives me something to dream about. Wonderful rhino shots--mother and baby are adorable.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Originally I wasn’t going to write about any of my first Indian safari in 89-90, simply because it was 20yrs ago and much has changed since then, however, I’ve decided to write a little about Ranthambore as it’s still regarded as one of the best places to see tigers. I’ve tried to find out what the current situation in Ranthambore is from the web in order to write this, but also for my own interest, anyone whose been there recently, would have a better idea of what the park is like now.

 

Ranthambore

 

At 39,200ha Ranthambore is not one of the biggest parks in India, the main habitats are dry deciduous forest and dry thorn forest, the latter gives the park quite an African appearance. The parks more open habitat along with 3 lakes makes it a very good place to see wildlife especially tigers. Unfortunately during the early 90s there was a spate of tiger poaching in the park and the population crashed, but now numbers have recovered and there are said to be around 39 in Ranthambore. The park is home to a variety of other mammals; the most commonly seen are chital, sambar, nilgai and wild boar, very occasionally leopards and sloth bears are also seen. Ranthambore is dominated by the 1,000yr old Ranthambore Fort, this is not only a very interesting place to visit, but offers stunning views over the park.

 

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View from Ranthambore Fort

 

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The landscape reminds me a lot of Ruaha NP in Tanzania

 

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Ruins Ranthambore Fort

 

Soon after the last villages were removed from the core area of the park, it was realised that tigers were not largely nocturnal, as had previously been supposed, but were actually diurnal. Quite quickly Ranthambore gained a reputation for being the best place in the world to see tigers, resulting in major influx of tourists, this caused major disturbance to the tigers and other wildlife. In order to reduce the disturbance, the forest department first divided the park into 5 zones, before entering the park you are assigned a zone chosen by a lottery (in theory) and you must then remain in that zone, throughout your game drive, regardless of whether you see tigers or not. You’re not supposed to receive the same zone for 2 consecutive drives (in theory). To control visitor numbers and further reduce disturbance, only national park vehicles are allowed in and the numbers are strictly limited. Vehicles come in 2 types 6 seat Gypsies or 20 seat trucks known as Canters. In theory both offer the same chance of seeing tigers, however it’s obviously much better to be in a Gypsy and if you’re a birder or a keen photographer it’s pretty much essential. In order to ensure you get a Gypsy, you need to book well in advance, ideally through a travel agent and you’ll probably have to stay at one of the high end lodges, even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a Gypsy for every drive. If you’re an independent traveller and you just show up your chances of getting one are very slim and you’ll end up in a Canter. Also under the current rules, groups cannot book Canters for their own exclusive use so if you go as part of a group tour, you won’t just be sharing with your group.

 

On Our first Indian trip our travel agent had booked us a bird guide called Dhemendra, but presumably to cut the cost had not booked him for the entire trip, he was supposed to leave us at Bharatpur Bird Reserve and not come to Ranthambore, I suppose because we would be focused on tigers there and not birds. However in conversation with him, we discovered that he knew Ranthambore very well, so although we didn’t always see eye to eye, we decided to ask him to come with us to the park. Fortunately he didn’t have other commitments so we were able to hire him for our last few days, we were very glad we did. Not all of the zones are good for seeing tigers, yet in our case we always seemed to end up somewhere where there were tigers. Since the entrance procedure was always handled by Dhemendra, we could only assume that a certain amount of extra money was changing hands.

 

A few reports I’ve read suggest that the entrance lottery, may still be as corrupt as when I visited. At least one of the zones is really not good for viewing tigers, so it’s perfectly possible to leave Ranthambore without having seen one. So to maximise your chances of scoring one of the best zones and therefore seeing tigers, you need to stay for at least two whole days, ideally longer especially if you want to visit the fort which is well worth doing.

 

As stated earlier my visit was 20yrs ago, so my knowledge of the current situation has come entirely from the web, I would hope that the behaviour of the drivers has improved since my visit, but based on my experiences elsewhere I doubt it. We had fantastic sightings of tigers including a tigress with cubs but at one particular sighting we were less than impressed with our drivers, while travelling along in our two Gypsies we saw a Canter parked further up the road, the Indians in the back waved to us indicating that they could see a tiger. As we drew up behind them we could see that there were in fact two tigers moving away from the road, off in to the bush, suddenly without any prompting from us, our drivers turned off the road and headed after them. I guess the tigers were moving at a reasonable pace because we bounced along uncomfortably in pursuit of them, until either we couldn’t go any further or the tigers had disappeared or maybe we asked them to stop I can’t remember for sure. Either way we were pretty disgusted, feeling that the tigers were being harassed and that our drivers had also shown no consideration at all for the people in the Canter, who had kindly waved us over to join their sighting.

 

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Jungle Cat

 

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Nilgai India's largest antelope

 

Would I recommend visiting Ranthambore? Yes and no. If you want to do a ‘Taj and Tigers’ trip then Ranthambore is the easiest tiger reserve to visit, so if you can be sure that all or the majority of your game drives will be in Gypsies or you don’t mind if you have to be in a Canter then yes. If you really don’t want to do a Canter safari or you don’t intend to go to the Taj Mahal or Bharatpur Bird Reserve then no, if you really want to see tigers go to Madhya Pradesh as mentioned earlier the parks there offer fantastic tiger viewing and the camps/lodges are allowed to use their own vehicles, so you won’t end up in a Canter. I certainly wouldn’t want to end up in a Canter with a bunch of people who have no idea how to behave on safari and have no interest in seeing anything other than tigers, this is why I’ll probably never go back to Ranthambore.

 

 

 

I think everyone who goes to India should visit the Taj Mahal at some point and although I said Ranthambore is the easiest tiger reserve to visit if you’re going to the Taj, it is actually possible to travel by train from Agra to Bandavgarh

 

In our case we drove from Agra site of the Taj Mahal to Bharatpur Bird Reserve/Keoladeo Ghana NP, stopping on the way at the ancient abandoned city of Fatepur Sikri, after staying for a couple of days at Bharatpur we carried on to Ranthambore. After a few days in Ranthambore we drove (roughly 4hrs) to the historic city of Jaipur and flew back to Delhi, this worked perfectly well and of course can be done in reverse.

Edited by inyathi
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I enjoyed reading this and looking at all the wildlife pictures. Thank you for such a detailed account!

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Enjoyed reading about my favourite places. Dhole sighting in Kanha is something that is very very special to me.

:P

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  • 3 weeks later...

Keoladeo Ghana National Park

 

Keoladeo Ghana NP better known as Bharatpur after the local town at just 2,873ha is a very small park that is primarily a bird sanctuary; in the late 19th century the local Maharajah had a series of artificial ponds created in a naturally marshy area in order to attract wildfowl for shooting. The park is home to a large variety of both resident and migratory waterfowl often found in huge numbers, with over 380 bird species recorded Bharatpur is something of a paradise for birders . Apart from the sheer variety and number of birds the park was best known as a wintering site for Siberian cranes, I was lucky enough to see some of these rare birds on my visit, sadly none of these birds have been seen for at least 10yrs.

 

Despite protection in both India and Russia it’s likely that the central population of these cranes is now extinct, the birds were almost certainly shot on migration over Afghanistan and Pakistan. If this migration route can be made safe, an attempt will be made to reintroduce the birds sometime in the future, in the United States cranes have been trained to follow microlights so they can be taught to migrate but at the moment I don’t think flying a microlight across Afghanistan would be a particularly good idea. So I doubt the cranes will be returning anytime soon. Although primarily of interest to birders Bharatpur also supports a variety of mammals including blackbuck, nilgai, chital, sambar, wild boar, smooth-coated otters and though you would be very lucky to see one fishing cats. Being very small and having no dangerous mammals means that it is possible to get around the park on foot, by hiring a bicycle or taking a cycle-rickshaw.

 

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Being very close to Agra Bharatpur is definitely worth visiting if you’re going to the Taj Mahal

 

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I wasn't sure if I was going to write anymore but I decided to add this as I've covered all the other parks I've been to, though I'm afraid I haven't got any decent photos to put in. I may also add a couple of general posts at some point.

Edited by inyathi
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  • 3 weeks later...

Since my last post I’ve been trying t o think of ways in which India has changed since my first visit certainly as I mentioned earlier there are a lot more cars and I would think also a lot more scooters. The traffic Delhi is noisier and more chaotic than ever, though on my last two trips I only passed through the city. The only place I visited on my first trip that I’ve been back to is Corbett NP as described earlier and I was in a different part of the park. There are a lot more places stay around Corbett now than there were in 89 and though I haven’t been back there I know this is true of Ranthambore where there are now numerous camps/lodges and hotels (probably too many). New camps and lodges are also springing up around Bandavgarh and Kahna as well, this may just be an indication that wildlife tourism has become more popular but I suspect it also has a lot to do with the fact that India has become much more prosperous. On my last two trips it was noticeable that the majority of the other guests in the lodges were Indian, this has to be a good thing, as long as tourism is properly managed then the more Indians that visit their national parks the better, tigers and other animals need all the friends they can get.

 

 

On a sad note it’s not just tigers that are in trouble, on my 89-90 trip I saw vultures of various different species on almost every single day, outside of the national parks just travelling from A to B it would be quite common to see vultures perched in roadside trees or squabbling over the carcass of a cow near the road. On my last 2 visits I saw a few on the cliffs by the Bandavgarh Fort, some in Kahna, a handful in Kaziranga and at least one in Corbett but outside of these national parks I didn’t see a single one anywhere. As I mentioned earlier all species of vulture in India are now very rare.

 

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Long-Billed Vulture on the Cliffs at the Bandavgarh Fort

 

All over India vultures have just about disappeared initially conservationists and scientists were mystified fearing that the birds were dying as a result of some unidentified virus. However after carrying out post mortems on all the dead vultures they could find they discovered that all the birds had died of kidney failure and all contained traces of a drug called Diclofenac. In India all cattle are considered sacred by Hindus and it is an offence to harm or kill one, so people keep their cows until they die of old age as a consequence of this policy, the animals often suffer from severe lameness and other painful conditions, rather than have them put down as would be the case in the West, they give them pain killers, usually the powerful anti-inflammatory Diclofenac. When a cow dies the carcass is taken to a local dump and left for the scavengers, which used to include large flocks of vultures, but the use of Diclofenac was so wide spread that vultures have been practically wiped out not just in India but in neighbouring countries as well especially Pakistan, in India at least the drug is now banned for use in livestock.

 

The extinction of several vulture species in India is a very real possibility as populations were halving each year the fastest recorded decline of any species. In order to save the vultures the RSPB in partnership with the Bombay Natural History Society have established 3 captive breeding centres in India to try and bring the vultures back. Whether or not they’re successful will largely depend on how effective the ban on Diclofenac is, this is not just a serious conservation issue as the vultures have disappeared stray dogs have taken advantage of all the cattle carcasses and their population has sky rocketed leading to a massive upsurge in the incidence of rabies.

 

Also the disappearance of vultures has had a major impact on the Parsee community in Mumbai according to their religious beliefs the dead may not be buried in the ground or cremated instead they practice what are known as sky burials where they lay the bodies of their dead at the top of towers. The neighbourhood vultures would immediately come to these ‘towers of silence’ to feast on the corpses, now they are picked by crows and kites but otherwise just rot. This is very unpleasant and not at all popular with other communities in the area as a result the Parsees have had to find alternative methods of disposing of their dead, if the vulture population recovers reviving traditional sky burials won’t be straight forward as Diclofenac is also used to treat pain in humans.

 

Unfortunately there is still a lot of Diclofenac around a good deal is no doubt still sold under the counter and of course people can still get hold of the human form of the drug and may well choose to ignore labels stating not for veterinary use, however there is hope a new anti-inflammatory drug Meloxicam has been developed which is harmless to vultures if enough people can be persuaded to use this new drug then the birds may be saved.

Edited by inyathi
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  • 7 months later...

Great Trip..inyathi!!

 

@Atravelynn has also posted her India's trip report in Fodors Forum with great photos.

 

Both the trip reports are excellent and I have no choice but go India in search of Tigers

 

Thanks for sharing such a great trip report.

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