Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Trip to Remember - Part 1

This is going to end up being a fairly long post on a wonderful trip I made to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh from the May 26-29. I will therefore attempt to publish this in two separate parts.

The trip will go down as one of my most memorable trips and definitely the best wildlife experience I have had in all these years. I missed a chance to visit Bandhavgarh back in 2009 due to work commitments and when the opportunity to make this trip presented itself back in March this year, I did not want to miss the chance.

Vallish Vasuki, a wildlife conservationist whom I met on Facebook was running the trip and I highly recommend anyone wanting to experience wildlife in the Indian forest to participate in the tours he offers.

We were to be a group of 5 originally but had last minute drop outs and this meant only me and Vallish were to make the journey. The cost of this adventure had just jumped three fold but the excitement of being able to sport and photograph tigers laid to rest any apprehensions on the cost front.

We had last minute headache's getting train tickets and this pushed back our trip by a day. We finally managed to get tickets for the 24th of May and I was wondering how the hell I was going to spend 38 hours on the train. Luckily, technology was there to lend a helping hand and I had loaded a couple of movies on my Nexus 7 and also took 3 books to read and I ended reading none of them but that's a different story. 

The train journey took us through the longest possible route in my opinion with stops at Chennai, Vijaywada, Warangal, Ramagundam, Nagpur, Itarsi and Jabalpur (and several other stations) before chugging into Katni Junction at 11:45 pm on the 25th of May. A full 38 hours after it left Bangalore City Junction. Food served by IRCTC was pleasant for a change and there were no upset stomach's, people running to bathrooms kind of episodes.

The alternative route to get to Bandhavgarh is to take a flight to Jabalpur but options are limited with only Spicejet flying out of Bangalore (via Bombay). Air India flies direct from Delhi. I had made arrangements to take the flight back to Bangalore.

We had a cab arranged by the resort at Katni and I found myself at the Tiger Inn at 2 am on the 26th after a 2 hour horror journey across non existent roads. We managed to spot the Indian Jackal on the way and also stopped by for some "chai" on the way at one of those dhabas that would have your better half shaking her head in disgust!

Contrary to the weather reports that forecast 45-47 degrees for the rest of the week, the weather was very pleasant.

Bandhavgarh apparently employs a system of advance bookings for safari's now that can be made on-line. Only 50 jeeps (mostly Maruti Gypsy) are allowed into the park for a safari. There are 3 major zones that people can opt forthe safari  namely Tala, Magadi and Tittoli (not sure if I got the spelling right). Tala is by far the most visited zone with Magadi being the next. Titoli is not used by many as it is the largest zone with the least probability of spotting the big cat.

We had booked safari's to Magadi on the morning of the 26th and the rest of the trips were all to the Tala zone.

Side notes: I had rented a 100-400 mm Canon zoom lens from Toehold. The rental was Rs 800 a day. As usual I carried my Canon EOS 450D with an assortment of SD cards (54 GB in total storage capacity) and a spare battery (a lesson I learned the hard way when I made a trip to Agumbe in Sept 2013 and ran out of battery on the first day)

May 26 Morning Safari:

We were on the jeep headed to Magadi at 4:30 am. The gates are opened at 5:30 am and the morning safari lasts a whole 4 hours (much longer than what the parks in South India like Kabini, Bandipur offer) with the afternoon one lasting 3 hours (1530-1830 hrs).

There were about 12 Gypsy's that morning but we were first in the line and I was quite alarmed to see the driver dashing through the jungle once the gates were opened. It seemed that every driver wanted to out do the other by trying to get to sighting spot first. Speed rules be damned. 

15 minutes into the drive we approached a bend and straight ahead of us was a sub adult female tigress sitting right in the middle of the tracks! An adrenaline rush swept by body and I pulled out the camera and began snapping away. A tinge of fear with all that excitement of seeing the apex predator of the Indian jungle just 10-15 feet way is one that I believe every wild life lover must experience at least once in their life time. I'll let the pictures do some talking for now

Subject: Sub-adult Female Tigress. She is one of three off springs (another female and an adult) of the Rajbhera Tigress. Age - approx a year and 4 months per the guide.
Spotted: 26 May at approx 5:45 am

Just as I was hoping to study this magnificent tigress for some more time, a Gypsy driver came beside our vehicle and literally stamped on his brakes making a noise that disturbed her and she quietly got up and walked away into the thicket's not to be seen again for the rest of my trip. She was of course spotted several times on other safari's but this was the last I saw of her. I wonder why people can be so stupid but such questions rarely give us the answers we need.

The rest of the morning safari was spent on trying to look out for the other cubs of the Rajbhera tigress. Vallish had seen these tigers when they were cubs back in 2013 and he knew the name of almost every tiger and their cubs which I found quite fascinating.

I did take some photos of the Indian Roller, Madhya Pradesh's state bird.

May 26 Afternoon Safari:

We headed to the Tala zone in the afternoon but had no luck with spotting anything significant. Towards the end of the safari we witnessed a strange spectacle that is worthy of mention. Vallish spotted a Rhesus macaque troubling a pea hen near by and on looking closer we were told by the guide that the peahen was protecting an egg she had just laid. The monkey sensed an easy meal and began to annoy the peahen. She finally gave up and left and the monkey quickly grabbed the egg and ran away with his prize. I did not know that monkeys ate eggs i.e until now.

May 27th  Morning Safari

We found ourselves back at Tala gate at 5 am and I was a little desperate to spot a tiger after "disappointing" afternoon the previous day. We took the route to the territory of the Rajbhera tigress in the hope of spotting her and we saw pug marks all around but did not see anything. We heard several alarm calls from the langurs and sambhar but our wait ended in disappointment. We were about to head back when a Sambhar alarm call once again ran out through the forest and we stopped and were rewarded with the sighting of the Rajbhera female, making her way down from the forest, possibly to a water hole that was to the left side of the track. 

She made her way down and sat down just about 6 feet from the vehicle and no amount of words in my limited vocabulary will be justice to the excitement I felt at spotting a fully grown female tigress sitting probably at striking distance from our jeep. She was too close at that point for me to get a full shot with my 100-400 mm lens but I managed to get quite a few closeup shots of the tigress and once again her stay was short lived when another idiot of a driver wanting to provide his guest with a better viewing angle raised the accelerator thereby disturbing the tigress. She ambled across the road and went off into the thickets, marking her territory on the way. She cross the road behind the gypsy but to my disappointment, I saw that the photos I took had been overexposed as I failed to adjust the focal length when she was crossing.

Subject: Rajbhera Female (approx 10 yrs old)
Spotted: 27 May at approx 8:30 am

Other Subjects:

Sambhar, Spotted Deer sparring, Indian Roller bird be continued

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