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Tigers and Then Some


Atravelynn

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Atravelynn

This subforum materialized at the pefect time for my own India planning and now a report.

 

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In preparing for my first trip to India, I wanted to know about some of the past kings, such as the famous Ashoka who was transformed through Buddhism from a ruthlessness ruler to one of great virtue. In honor of this king, the Ashoka Chakra wheel graces the center of the Indian flag . And of course I learned about Shah Jahan, “King of the World,” who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife who died in childbirth with their 14th child.

 

What I didn’t know was that I’d be treated like a king (queen in my case) during my stay by Wild World India, the Delhi-based travel company I used.

 

Both Vikram, the owner of the company, and Guarav, an associate, joined me for portions of the trip. At times I had an entourage that made me feel like Jo-Lo, minus the Gigli credits and “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” title. Guarav also accompanied me on the train to Agra and provided me luck in Bandhavgarh with his presence. My last hours in India were spent in his home meeting his lovely family and enjoying one of the best meals I had in India, compliments of his wife. Her special kidney beans were so renowned that a nephew came over specifically for them, smart lad!

 

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Atravelynn

There are no stupid questions on Safaritalk, except maybe this one:

 

"Would you rather spend the afternoon seeing wild dogs regurgitating back at the den that houses a dozen pups; six nursing cheetah cubs; an elephant giving birth; mating pangolins; an entire pride of lions in a fig tree; a caracal family on a kill--or--spend the afternoon back at the lodge eating chocolate covered strawberries on doilies?"

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Game Warden

Oh, that's a tough one to answer...

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Atravelynn

Itinerary

 

Designed to optimize the chance of seeing a couple of tigers, along with other Indian wildlife, plus the Taj Mahal, this trip exceeded my expectations.sml_gallery_108_446_26338.jpg

 

Summary:

1 nt Delhi - day of Delhi sightseeing and overnight train

4 nts Kisli section of Kanha National Park

2 nts Mukki section of Kanha National Park

4 nts Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

1 nt Delhi, after overnight train to Agra to see Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

2 nts Corbett National Park-Biranji section

2 nts Corbett National Park-Dhikala section

 

 

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Day by day:

26 Mar, 11/Sat: Direct 14-ish hour American Airlines flight from O’Hare to Delhi

 

27 Mar, 11/ Sun: Arrive Delhi

Ahuja Residency –

http://www.ahujaresidency.com/gh_defencecolony.html

 

28 Mar, 11/ Mon: Day tour of Dehli, Delhi rail station Hazrat Nizamuddin to Jabalpur by overnight train (depart 1525, arrive 0715)

 

29 Mar, 11/ Tue: Arrive Jabalpur then by road 4 hours to Kanha (Kisli) in time for afternoon drive

Tuli Tiger Resort – http://www.tulihotels.com/tuli-tiger-resortkanha.html

30 Mar to 01 Apr, 11/ Wed to Fri: Kanha National Park (Kanha Kisli)

 

02 & 03 Apr, 11/ Sat & Sun: Kanha National Park, morning drive in Kisli, afternoon game drive and transfer to Mukki (Mukki)

Royal Tiger Resort – www.royaltiger.com

 

04 Apr, 11/ Mon: Morning drive in Mukki, Kanha. Drive 5.5 hours to Bandhavgarh National Park by road

Nature Heritage Resort – http://www.natureheritageresort.com

05 to 07 Apr, 11/ Tue to Thu: Bandhavgarh National Park

 

08 Apr, 11/ Fri Morning drive in Bandhavgarh. Drive 2 hours to Katni rail station and catch overnight train to Agra (depart 1710; arrive 0415)

 

09 Apr, 11/ Sat: Arrive Agra in early morning with day room at Mansingh Palace, visit Taj Mahal & Agra Fort – Drive to 4.75 hours to Delhi for overnight

Ahuja Residency

 

10 Apr, 11/ Sun: Delhi to Corbett by road, 7.25 hours, with afternoon bird walk in Biranji zone

Camp Forktail Creek – www.campforktailcreek.com

11 Apr, 11/ Mon: Corbett (Bijrani zone)

 

12 & 13 Apr, 11/ Tue & Wed: Corbett Morning game drive between Biranji and Dhikala (Dhikala zone)

Dhikala Forest Rest House -

http://www.corbett-national-park.com/forest-lodges-in-corbett.html

 

14 Apr, 11/ Thu: Morning drive in Dhikala, Corbett to Delhi by road, 8 hours, and depart for onward destination -

 

15 Apr, 11/Fri: Fly back to O’Hare through Brussels, arriving midday. A direct flight AA would again have been possible.

 

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twaffle

Wonderful Lynn, thank you. Would you consider Kaziranga on a future trip?

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Atravelynn

Certainly would consider Kaziranga visit.

 

The main differences in landscape are:

Kanha has meadows and forests. Bandhavgarh is surrounded by cliffs and has lakes and reservoirs. Corbett has vast open areas, and the thickest jungles, plus the Ramganga River.

 

For animals, there are tigers in all 3, but they are toughest to spot in Corbett. Of the 3 only Corbett has elephants and hog deer. The best birding is in Corbett. Kanha has wild dogs, most easily seen in the Mukki section and is the only place to see Hard Ground Barasinga antelope. I only saw Gaur (Indian bison) in Kanha, but they are present in Bandhavgarh too.

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Atravelynn

Timing:

The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.

 

For the best chance to see tigers or other wildlife, March or later is better due to limited water sources forcing animals congregate in smaller areas. I was told repeatedly that into May it gets too hot. But that is when a lot of the professional photographers come.

 

Indians have told me that it is great viewing into June, if you can stand it. Most of the parks close when the monsoons start in June. If the monsoons come early, then the parks close in May.

 

Controlled burns that are conducted in the parks generally start in April and continue into May. These make some parts inaccessible and it can be hot and uncomfortable driving when flames are shooting up on either side of the road, but I did not find the burning, which was done sparingly, to be a big distraction.

 

February is best to see the most birds. March and April have the advantage of resident birds, some winter hangers-on and early arrivals for summer.

 

The Flame of the Forest tree with its orangey flowers, blooms in March and still has blossoms in April.

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Toward the end of April and into May, the light gets harsher for photography but the light is softer in March.

 

Some photographers prefer November because the backdrop is very green and contrasts nicely with the orange tiger, whereas dry orange leaves (March-June) blend in with the tiger.

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But the thick vegetation makes it harder to see animals in November. November is also when the famous camel fair takes place.

 

The first couple weeks after the parks open up again in Sept or Oct, the animals are more skittish.

 

As you get into April, foreign tourism drops off due to heat and the majority of the park guests are Indian.

 

Avoid national holidays to reduce crowds. Holi is a big one in March. On the other hand, you may want to visit during Holi to partake in the unique Festival of Colors. So it may be a tradeoff of avoiding crowds vs. enjoying the festival experiences. Some links to festivals:

http://www.worldtravelguide.net/country/120/public_holidays/Indian-Subcontinent/India.html

http://schooladmissionindia.com/list-of-holidays-and-indian-festival-calendar-2009-2010.html

 

Avoid school holidays. That is harder to figure out. March is ok.

 

Between Christmas and New Years and during Holi are the busiest times in the parks.

 

To have the best chance to see elephants in Corbett, go March through May.

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Avoid going to the parks on weekends if possible. I did notice additional people in the more remote Mukki section of Kanha on Sunday compared to Monday. In Bandhavgarh, limits are imposed every day of the week so that no more than 10-11 visitor vehicles are allowed on each of three open tracks in the Tala zone, for a total of 32 vehicles. While permits may be harder to get on a weekend than a weekday due to higher demand, the crowds cannot soar out of control with the limits. During the weekdays I was in Bandhavgarh in the popular Tala zone, I noted some days the limit was reached and some days not. So if planning way ahead in time to secure permits, a weekend in Bandhavgarh would be ok.

 

As of April 1. 2011, the Madhya Pradesh parks (including Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, Panna, Sanjay to name a few) are closed on Wednesday afternoons.

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks so much, Lynn for all the information here .......... I do hope you add Kabini in Karnataka to your next Indian safari.

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Atravelynn

Looks like I'll need to head to India almost as many times as Africa to hit all the hot spots. Karnataka is on the list. It has usurped the title of TIGER STATE from Madhya Pradesh, as you well know, Hari.

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Atravelynn

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Dhole in Mukki section of Kanha

 

Packing & Flight:

 

The carry-on rules posted on the AA website had an exception for flights to India--only one carry-on bag, not a purse/laptop plus a carry-on. I followed those rules which meant I had to check a bag, so I brought a roomy suitcase and didn’t worry about trying to cram everything into my carryon. That meant I could bring not only the local delicacy of dried cranberries for gifts but some locally made jellies and jams as well.

 

I should have used the extra space to bring my monopod, in addition to my home-made bean bag. Not packing it was a mistake. The monopod omission was quickly rectified by my first naturalist, Rajan, who kindly offered me the use of his--not only while he was guiding me, but throughout the trip. I gave Rajan’s monopod back to Wild World India at the end of my trip. In the open Gypsys, especially if it is a private vehicle, a monopod is worthwhile. Thank you Rajan! In keeping with the “treated like royalty” theme, it was as if I had been bestowed with my monopod scepter upon commencing my reign. Since I mentioned bean bags, Wild World India would provide them for you if you ask.

 

Lots of people carried two items onto the airplane, despite the “one carry-on only” rule posted on the American Airlines website and at both check-in and boarding. The carry-on rules may have been relaxed though, because the plane was only about 80% full on the way over and only slightly more crowded on the way back.

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Hard Ground Barasinga in Kanha

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Atravelynn

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Weather:

 

Here’s Kanha weather. Bandhavgarh was the same and Corbett just a shade cooler.

 

http://www.meoweather.com/history/India/na/22.283333/80.616667/Kanha.html

 

I had feared the heat would be accompanied by humidity, similar to what I had experienced in other parts of Asia as early in the year as June. To help combat the dreaded humidity, I made sure all my clothes were 100% cotton. In retrospect such fabric extremes were not needed. March-April, not being summer yet, is pre-humidity, so morning and afternoon outings were pleasant and midday temps of a dry 85-90 Fahrenheit heat were tolerable back at the lodge.

 

Most of my accommodations, except those in Corbett, were air conditioned, but not once did I turn it on. Some also had a big fan and water contraption, which also went unused. Occasionally I did enjoy the breeze of the ceiling fan. The materials used in construction of these lodgings kept them cool in the daytime and warm enough during the night. In fact, at Nature Heritage in Bandhavgarh it could be baking outside in the afternoon sun, but inside it was naturally cool enough that I needed a long-sleeved shirt!

 

Very similar to dry season East and Southern Africa, early mornings could be brisk, especially zipping along at 5:45 am in an open Gypsy, so sometimes I wore a wool headband and even gloves. Not many people did this. Some mornings I might have been the only one, which made me laugh because I knew I had endured winters far colder than any of the Indian drivers or naturalists around me. However this past winter in India, temperatures apparently dropped into the negatives (Centigrade.) The hint of brown, dead leaves mixed in with the vibrant green foliage in the forests of Sal trees was testament to the harshness of the previous winter that was still a topic of conversation in April.

 

As to clothing color, I saw signs posted at park entrances and brochures in hotels requesting neutral shades be worn in the parks. Beige, brown, green, and gray were suggested. I was mostly beige and saw lots of forest green, along with every other shade in the color wheel. Unlike some African countries that ban camouflage, it seems to be ok in India and I saw a variety of camouflage.

 

I had wondered about trousers, zipoffs, and/or capris, to balance airflow and comfort with modesty and insect protection. I saw no shorts on women but lots of capris, including mine. While I did encounter mosquitoes in the evening and in enclosed spaces, they were not a problem in the Gypsys and did not devour my ankles or shins that were exposed in the capris.

 

I wore capris and sandals in the afternoons only, preferring the warmer shoes and trousers for the chilly mornings.

 

I read after returning home that a fanny pack/bum bag at the Taj Mahal is a gauche accessory marking one as an obvious tourist. My Taj photos show I not only wore a small fanny pack/bum bag but a larger camera bag strapped around my waist. However, I maintained custody of those items buckled to my body, in contrast to a water bottle which became a casualty of inattention to my possessions while in the presence of such an awe inspiring architectural marvel.

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Me in front of marble tile at Taj Mahal.

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Atravelynn

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Other Parks I Didn't Choose:

 

 

As a solo traveler who wanted a private vehicle, Ranthambore did not fit well because private vehicles are more expensive in Rathambore than other places and not guaranteed to be private. Going by cantor (large truck) is an option, though. If you were a group or even a couple, then Rathambore would work better for your own vehicle. If I ever do a group trip to India, I’ll look for Rathambore in the itinerary.

 

I think Pench and Tadoba would be great, but I wanted to maximize my chances of seeing a tiger and that is the only reason I did not seek out these less crowded parks. Maybe another time.

 

Kaziringa has elephants and the one-horned rhinos, but it takes more time and effort to get way over to the northeast, whereas Corbett (which I did choose) is more accessible for elephants, but Corbett does not have one-horned rhinos.

 

I did not include any of the southern reserves such as Kabini, Nagarhole and Bandipur in the state of Karnataka, but I bet these will become much more publicized and popular due to the recent tiger census which shows Karnataka has the most tigers in India.

 

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Corbett--Sambur and River Lapwing

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Atravelynn

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Rupees / Tips:

 

For tips and other transactions, rupees are preferred, though I found US dollars were accepted in a pinch. I changed money at the airport, where I was able to request bills as small as 100 rupees. I used ATMs in Jabalpur and Mandla. It was the first time I ever had an audience of cows overseeing my ATM transaction. Denominations from ATMs varied and weren’t necessarily small. There were no opportunities to change money at the lodges where I stayed, nor were the lodges able to change large denominations of rupees into smaller bills.

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Suggested tipping by Wild World India, provided upon my request:

“Tips for accompanying guides at the park - INR 500 or USD 10 per drive, drivers at the park - INR 200 or USD 4 per drive. Tips at hotels can be a consolidated INR 1000 or USD 20 at each lodge. Drivers may be tipped INR 500 or USD 3 per transfer at the city. Mahouts at the parks may be tipped INR 200 or USD 4 per elephant ride. All other tips to bell boys etc. may by INR 50 or USD 1.”

 

(I had almost no luck in getting 50s)

 

When I went last for the elephant ride and got to a much longer outing, I increased the suggested tip.

 

Since I was alone, sometimes a second naturalist would join us. I appreciated their added expertise and eyes and gave them 100 rupees per outing.

 

All lodgings had a tip box for consolidation except Corbett. At Forktail Creek in Corbett I gave the tip to the resident naturalist. At Corbett’s Dhikala Forest Camp, I gave tips individually, which was their policy.

 

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Dhole pair with Langur Monkeys in background in Mukki section of Kanha

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Atravelynn

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QUOTE OF THE TRIP

 

 

Rather than a verbal quote, this time it is a series of numbers: 260/9, 231/10, 274/6, 277/4, 1706,16%, 1411, 70, 25, 14-ish, 17, 6, 2, which will appear in blue throughout the report.

 

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Atravelynn

Tiger Census:

 

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Before I had seen my first tiger or even pug mark, Naturalist Rajan in Kanha told me the 2010 tiger census figures had just been released. The results were approximately 1706 tigers live in the forests of India. That was a 16% increase from the previous census figures released in 2007, which showed 1411 tigers. The current census included 70 tigers not previously in the count, located in Sundarbans. 1411 x 1.16 = 1636.67 +70 = 1706.67.

 

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The Indian state of Karnataka, in the south, had the most tigers and Madhya Pradesh had a decrease in tigers, therefore Karnataka has earned the title of Tiger State, relinquished by Madhya Pradesh. Upon release of that report there were rumblings in Kanha that the count was in accurate and a recount was in the works.

 

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Atravelynn

My Own T iger Census:

 

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Census Methodology: If I saw the same tiger in the morning and again in the afternoon, that was two sightings. If I saw it from the elephant in an area that vehicles could not access and then later saw it by vehicle when no elephants were around, that was 2 sightings. When I arrange and pay for the trip, I make the rules on how to count the tigers.

 

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I had a total of 25 tiger sightings of 14-ish different cats and had an audio-only of 1.

 

17 in Kanha

(8 drives in Kisli resulted in 10 tiger sightings from the vehicle and 6 tigers from 3 elephant viewings called tiger shows, 1 tiger growl in the jungle for no apparent reason that was very cool to hear; 4 drives in Mukki resulted in 1 tiger from the vehicle.)

 

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6 in Bandhavgarh

(6 drives in Bandhavgarh resulted in 6 sightings of 5 tigers from the vehicle and 1 tiger from 2 tiger shows. On my first tiger show in Bandhavgarh, the tiger moved away by the time we arrived and I did not see it.)

 

 

 

2 in Corbett

(7 drives in Corbett resulted in 2 brief sightings from the vehicle, both in the Dhikala zone.)

 

All but the Mukki tiger were possible to photograph, though perhaps not with Nat Geo quality.

 

For one of the Corbett tigers, I could have gotten a snap but declined because viewing required me to perch atop the Gypsy, straddling the two narrow bars that serve as the frames for the windshield and back of the cab. While I did have a nice view of a tiger tummy from that precarious position, I feared that adding the task of photography to my balancing act might result in me taking a topple. The other Corbett tiger photo was a streak of orange obscured in a jungle of green à la “Where’s Waldo?”

 

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There is a tiger in the upper right portion of the photo.

 

In Kanha, we enjoyed two private tigers; in Bandhavgarh we had one private tiger which I spotted first!, and in Corbett we had the Waldo tiger to ourselves for the few seconds before it disappeared, after which a fleet of other vehicles appeared and surrounded us.

 

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Lynn-Fasinating report with beautiful pictures. Thanks for your sharing and report!

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Game Warden

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Atravelynn - what were your thoughts about this kind of behaviour, was it something you saw a lot? Was there silence or a lot of excited voices?

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Atravelynn

Thanks, it was not my plan to have the most gigantic photo be of people standing on vehicles. Must not have reduced that one.

 

Fortunately people were not loud when a tiger was spotted. I encountered big groups like these just a few times. This group was in Corbett.

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Atravelynn

Wildlife In Addition toTIGERS

 

Dhole (Indian Wild Dogs)

While there were packs of dogs in the Kisli section, the Mukki section of Kanha had been reporting almost daily sightings and that is where I saw them. There was a pack of 3 and a pack of 11. Our viewing began when we saw 2 members of the pack of 3 briefly as they ran into the forest. Naturalist Ashok employed his excellent tracking skills and intuition and we located them as they exited on the other side of the swath of forest. Alarm calls within the forest kept us updated on their path.

 

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The dogs decided to rest in the shade of a bush upon leaving the forest, so we waited about an hour for them to advance into the open and were well rewarded. For 20 minutes they darted around in short grass and on the road, making the occasional rest stop and putting on a show in front of us and one other vehicle.

 

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Atravelynn

Jackals

In Kanha we saw at least one jackal about every other drive and spent 30 minutes with one that had just made a young chital (spotted deer) kill, joined only momentarily by another vehicle. That phenomena was unique enough that Rajan wants the photos sent to him.

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I saw about 4 jackals in Bandhavgarh. Enroute to Corbett we saw one with carrion in its mouth, but no jackals in Corbett.

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twaffle

These jackals look more robust than the ones I've seen in Africa. The jackal kill I saw in the Mara was quite different in that the jackals had to eviscerate a very small fawn to kill it, whereas this jackal appears to have made a more traditional kill singly with quite a large fawn. Very interesting.

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Sverker

The jackal really looks more like a wolf. So it is the golden jackal, Canis aureus. In Wikipedia I find that it is more related to the grey wolf than to the other two jackals.

 

How about the wolf in India? Have you seen any?

 

Thank you for a great report and photos.

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Atravelynn

The Indian Jackal (Canis aureus indicus), also known as the Himalayan Jackal is a subspecies of golden jackal. That's from Wikipedia and other sources indicated this is a golden jackal. This guy was indeed robust. After finishing his chital meal, he'll pack on even more weight.

 

This one in Bandhavgarh looks like a healthy fellow too.

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This pair in Kanha are more in need of a meal.

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I saw no wolves but I was not in the places where it would be likely to see them.

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Atravelynn

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Elephants

There are no wild elephants in Kanha or Bandhavgarh, but many hundred in Corbett. Huge monsoons last year meant the normal routine of grass burning was suspended because whole meadows were left as piles of sand from the river. Therefore elephant viewing conditions were below average for my trip and I still saw several herds in the grass, crossing the river, and in the forests. The herds attracted 3-6 other vehicles, well spaced, and the individual elephants we had to ourselves.

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We were charged for about 100 meters by one disgruntled ele who suddenly popped out of the jungle. Fortunately she was not moving at full speed and fortunately I had a very skilled driver who could drive backwards in a hurry, so while tense, it was not a heart-pounding experience. I was impressed with the preemptive caution that was always taken to avoid elephant problems, even if it meant maintaining a distance that compromised photos or keeping the motor running.

 

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Elephants were a priority for me in Corbett, even sacrificing some potential tiger sightings. Afternoons were far more productive for herds of elephants, although I had some morning sightings of lone eles. I saw all the elephants in the Dhikala zone, which is typical, though ele sightings in Biranji are possible.

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gallery_108_462_4036.jpggallery_108_462_34059.jpg

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